Nearly two years after she decided to open a bakery in Mill Valley – and with an abundance of turbulence, both Covid-related and otherwise in between – Karen Fong is set to open Mill Valley Baking Co. at 17 East Blithedale Ave. in advance of Valentine’s Day.
“I’ve had so many neighbors walk by and be very excited that we’re here and finally ready to open,” says Fong, who has taken to making and handing out heart-shaped moon versions of flourless chocolate cakes in advance of the holiday.
Fong says she’s got plenty of deliciousness on the way in the coming weeks, including wheat sourdough bread, baguettes, focaccia, scones, cheddar biscuits, muffins, chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies and much more (maybe even bagels and english muffins down the road).
“I’ve baked all my life,” she says, pointing to her father Sunny Fong’s decades-long work as a line cook in Berkeley. “He taught all four of us kids how to cook. He went to work at 2am, so when he got off, he was exhausted, so he’d come home and put us to work for him, giving us instructions. We were basically his kitchen help – he had his own assembly line at home.”
Before Fong headed down the baking-as-profession path, she graduated with a computer science degree and became a software engineer and later a project manager at none other than Apple Inc., where she remained for more than 13 years. She took time off for maternity leave and later resigned as her husband battled cancer, and eventually decided that the time was right to go to San Francisco Cooking School, focusing on baking both sweet and savory.
Fong says she picked up a “middle of the night work ethic” from her father, often baking brownies and cupcakes as a helpful tool “to push the engineers to meet their deadlines,” she says with a laugh. “Baking has always been my thing.”
Fong has worked at A16 in San Francisco on both the savory and dessert side and later realized baking was still where she found the most comfort and ease. She then moved on to be a baker at Cavallo Point Lodge. In her time baking in the middle of the night at Cavallo, she decided that the next place she baked at would be working for herself.
“Cavallo has been my training ground,” she says.
Fong had been looking for a space in San Francisco and elsewhere for more than a year when a friend suggested a Mill Valley visit. They happened upon the former Noci space and Fong knew it was a great fit.
“I’m really excited to open,” Fong says.