Sweet 16th, A Bakery
311 N. 16th St. 226-8367
Open 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat.
Closed for the Jewish
holidays Sept. 16 and 25
At 10:30 on a dreary Friday morning, the only thing left on three of the platters in one case at Sweet 16th, A Bakery, are crumbs. Handwritten labels clipped onto heart-shaped markers reveal what the early birds carried away: Holy Mocha chocolate coffee cake, peach-and-sour cream coffee cake and apricot scones.
Three women, one with a baby snoozing peacefully in a Snugli, consider the remaining options. One points to the raspberry flake-outs, which resemble traditional Southern fried fruit pies, except these are filled with preserves, then baked and iced with a confectioner's sugar glaze. Another chooses a copa barchocolate chips, apricots, oats and pecansto go with her cup of Bongo Java Yirgacheffe coffee. The baby's mother ponders the Heavenly scone and the cheddar cheese scone, picking the former. "The scones were a huge hit in my office last week," she gushes to the man behind the counter, who also happens to be the owner, the manager, the cashier, the baker, the dishwasher and the bookkeeper. He shares all these duties with his wife, who, like him, wears an apron around her waist and a bandana tied doo-rag-style around her head.
It doesn't take a genius to recognize the bounty of business opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs in East Nashville, a bustling model of transformation since the tornado of 1998 spun through the historic neighborhood, leaving in its horrific wake a clean canvas ripe for restoration, renovation, rejuvenation and reinvention.
But it did take two Einsteins to identify a corner on South 16th Street as the perfect location for a small bakery that would find its inspiration from beloved patisseries they frequented on annual trips to Paris, and from the words of a father who had come to spend the remaining days of his life with his daughter and son-in-law. Dan and Ellen Einstein moved to Nashville in January 1993, when his company, Oh Boy Records, relocated here from Los Angeles. Dan, general manager of Oh Boy, preceded Ellen by a few months and often went into Cafe Crossroads at 14th and Woodlandwhich later transitioned into Radio Cafefor coffee in the mornings. He bragged on his wife's cooking and baking to the owners so much that when she did join him here, she had a job for the taking, overseeing the kitchen and food at the small restaurant. The couple bought a house on Gartland Avenue, and Ellen eventually left the cafe and began doing freelance food styling and independent professional baking.
The tornado, which sucked up all of the trees in their yard and caused tens of thousands of dollars of damage to their home, kick-started a period of personal introspection. The deaths of three parents in four years drove thought into action. "Your priorities become vastly rearranged when you have major events like that land in your life," Dan says from behind the case of scones and pastries. "We started scouting locations for Ellen to open a bakery; there was already a building on this corner that had been a grocery built in the '40s, and we liked the corner, so we bought it in September 2002. We thought about renovating, but the building was in bad shape, so we started meeting with the historic commission, neighborhood associations and MDHA to come up with an approved plan for new construction. Meanwhile, Ellen's father, who was ill, came to live with us, and those plans were put on hold to care for him. He passed away in January 2003, but before he did, he told us several times, 'Live your life. Do it now.' Her father and mother were Holocaust survivors, so you listen when they offer advice. We knew we had to do it."
They worked with architect Nick Dryden, acclaimed for his renovation and new construction projects in historic neighborhoods. Construction began in September 2003; at the time, the plan was that Ellen would do the bakery, and Dan would keep his day job. But somewhere between ground-breaking and grand opening, Dan had another epiphany. "I had been in the music business my whole adult life; I was at Oh Boy for 22 years, and I finally got to the point where I said, 'Enough. I'm done.' I have always loved being in the kitchen, and this made sense to do."
The neighborhood had been keeping a keen eye on what was happening at the corner of 16th and Ordway. Without a formal announcement, an ad or even a sign on the door, the Einsteins executed a stealth debut on a short week and opened their doors on Thursday, May 27. "We had no idea what to expect," says Dan. "By 11 a.m., we were cleaned out. It was the same thing the next two days. We were pretty overwhelmed. On the first Saturday after we closed, Ellen went home and cried and I wondered what we had done."
It's obvious from the steady flow of visitors, many of whom know the Einsteins by nameand vice versathat what the Einsteins have done is create not only a business to satisfy the sweet tooths of clients from all over the city, but a connective touchstone and cheery gathering place for the neighborhood. Even customers who zip in on their way to work end up lingering for a moment to chat with Dan and Ellen, or with the other people there to get a cup of coffee and biscotti to go. The lucky ones with no tight schedule settle in at one of the two small tables, or claim one of the half-dozen stools at the bar along the large front window. Thanks to that window and another one looking onto Ordway, the tiny roomwith cream-colored walls, golden wood, framed black-and-white photography and fresh flowersis drenched with light, a luminous beacon of warmth and welcome.
The Einsteins, who are the only two employees of this venture, begin their day long before any of their customers awake, at about 3 a.m. By the time they open four hours later, the two cases are filled with platters of coffee cake (their most popular item), scones, flake-outs, brownies, bars, macaroons, cookies, cupcakes, fruit tarts (sold by the slice like the cakes) and biscotti. They rotate the selection every day, but there are always scones, coffee cake and cakes"Ellen makes the best chocolate cake in the world," Dan insistsand a specialty that has proven addictive: the Mama-rangues, scrumptious nuggets of chocolate meringue and toffee. "We don't do bread, bagels, donuts, pies or wedding cakes," says Dan. They will, with 48-hour notice, whip up special birthday cakesthough they steer clear of artificial adornmentand boxes of goodies for business meetings and celebrations.
Hanging on one wall, just beside the swinging door that leads to the busy kitchen, is an old, tarnished silver spoon in a narrow, vertical frame; it was Ellen's father's, and it hangs there in humble memoriam to Jerry Krause. "He used that spoon almost every day," explains Dan. "His heart is here, and we wanted a visible part of him here as well."