Meet Sandee Manuel-Van Tassel, an independent baker based in Santa Cruz, California. Sandee began La Point Bakehouse in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic after learning to bake bread. She enrolled in a baking school and honed her craft to build La Point Bakehouse with the goal of supplying her neighbors with freshly baked, high-quality bread.
What did you do before starting your baking business?
“As little as possible... totally joking,” Sandee said. “I love learning new things, so I usually end up changing my interests every five years. I have a B.A. in Fine Art because... money is everything to me. Actually, falling short of that goal has been life’s reward. I was a Special Education teacher for Humboldt County for a while. I also attended two vegan culinary schools after my husband was diagnosed with heart disease. He has since reversed his diagnosis with this diet change. My most recent education has been at The San Francisco Baking Institute.
What is the La Point Bakehouse origin story?
“Our bakery name is La Point Bakehouse since we are located in Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, California,” Sandee said. “It’s also a nod to my husband’s great-grandmother, Susan La Pointe, of the Bad River Band tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa.”
“When we lived in Humboldt County, I never had to make bread because we lived near a talented cottage baker Josh Berger, also known as Josh Fox,” she said. “He introduced me to the concept of cottage foods. When we were homebound because of the pandemic, I started raising Monarch butterflies and sourdough to stave off depression from the ugliness of 2020. Our neighborhood lacks a bakery — we have a donut shop, but the comforting aroma of freshly baked bread I knew would be appreciated. And since I have a love affair with Parisian baguettes, I wanted to learn formally how to bake bread, so I attended a few weeks at the San Francisco Baking Institute.”
Why did you decide to take the leap and start it?
Sandee knew that even if the worst happened, and she shut things down, she’d still end up ahead with her baking business.
“I knew if I failed, the worst outcome would be a kitchen full of amassed professional baking equipment and we’d always have quality bread to eat, not a bad thing. That’s the beauty of the cottage food world — little overhead compared to the amount of capital I would’ve needed to raise for opening a bakery separate from my home.”
“Because of the low overhead, I can offer a baguette to my neighbors for $3 even though it takes a minimum of 18 hours to produce a batch of baguettes. It reminds me of the micro-loans that Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner, made possible for those who just needed a little help to start their small businesses, such as purchasing a cow to make cheese. No one is going to get rich as a cottage food producer, it’s not the point. The concept really fits into our lifestyle — we live small. Three years ago, we sold two-thirds of our possessions, including our home, and moved into a mobile home park. Scaling back our expenses and unnecessary trappings has given us precious time, the most valuable commodity of all.”
How would you describe your products in one sentence?
“Small batch, slow ferment, stone-baked, handcrafted baguettes and savory sourdoughs.”
What’s your favorite way to enjoy your products?
“Tartine is the French word for an open-faced sandwich. It’s the way I enjoy bread, toasted with a smear of avocado and a flick of salt, or, of course, with jam.”
Who is another food entrepreneur that you follow and support? What do you love about their business?
“My cousin Christy Wilson introduced me to her friend Don Guerra, The Barrio Baker, in Tucson, Arizona,” Sandee said. “He has a beautiful mission that I wholeheartedly believe in. He works with regional farmers and creates handmade breads from the grain they grow, an idea that has been around for most of human history until the rise of the industrial complex. Josey Baker in San Francisco is another bakery that I admire because they mill their own flour for all of their breads. I’ll be staging for them in the coming month and am excited to learn their process.”
What is the best thing about this job?
“The essence of being a cottage baker is the love of craft and community. At its finest it can be a cooperative effort: planting the grain, harvesting the grain, milling the grain, shaping the dough and having someone to consume it, the ultimate reward!”
“This is not machine-made bread filled with cheap, complicated ingredients for a low cost and maximum shelf life,” Sandee said.
“The flexibility and control this venture gives me as I bake from my home once a week using simple ingredients— flour, water, salt — is exactly what I am aiming for. I’m creating this magical thing called bread. I don’t put too much pressure on myself for that might curb creativity; it’s a necessary balance.”
What advice would you share with food entrepreneurs who are getting started?
The enrichment is the result of the process, Sandee said.
“It’s real, not fortified.”
“Baking bread is physically taxing and laborious. Baking one day a week means starting three days in advance. Feeding the starter one day, building the levain the following day, fermenting the dough the next day and finally baking the bread. You’re also in charge of everything else like inventory, taking orders, packaging, social media, marketing, scrubbing bins, sanitizing and handing bread out the window, et cetera, all parts of the endeavor to produce the whole food effort.”