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Background photo by Don Sylor

Erik Gura

Baker

Dan Cutrona
I was born and raised in Newburyport. When I was an undergrad, one of my friends had done a semester at sea with the Sea Education Association (SEA). My friend suggested I become a ship steward—they cook on the tall ships. So I came down here to be a ship steward on the SEA’s Corwith Cramer, and I went to sea for the first time. Over the next 10 years, I probably spent a grand total of three solid years at sea, working with SEA aboard their three schooners.

Woods Hole is SEA’s home port, so we would be here for about a month in the summer. But I just found it to be a neat, cute little seaside town very much like Newburyport, much smaller, with an interesting mix of folks. It sort of has a mix of the Cambridge academic crossed with the Gloucester fisherman type. And with the Steamship Authority and the folks coming from around the world to either travel to the Vineyard or to be part of the scientific community, it makes for a very diverse group. You’ll sit next to a professor emeritus on the left and a commercial fisherman on the right, a marine engineer over there, a carpenter over there. And a baker in the middle as it were.

I had known Pie in the Sky bakery was here—it had started in 1982. A sister of one of the owners had worked at SEA and I found out it was for sale. I took out all my savings and a big old loan, and I went for it. I got off SEA’s newest boat, the Robert C. Seamans, on the West Coast on May 16. And we took over this place on June 1, 2002. That was a while ago now. My hair wasn’t gray—it was brown and there was a lot more of it.

You’re only as good as your last meal. It’s a daily effort, and it’s a game of nickels and dimes. You get what you put in, sometimes a little less. My grandmother said, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” She taught me to bake as a little kid, and I’ve always enjoyed the special connection to the process. You can start at three o’clock in the morning with some flour and water, and by 7 a.m., you have a beautiful baguette. To see that transformation, for a lot of people, is an excellent way to build confidence and self-esteem, and a way to see some tangible results for your efforts on a daily basis.

The general manager has been with me for the entire time. A lot of the crew are five, six, seven-year veterans. And since we live and work so closely together, it’s like a big extended family.

For anybody who’s had a small business, it’s a minor miracle every day the lights come on. You create this illusion that everything’s always perfect. The reality to it is there’s a lot of sweat, blood, and tears that go into maintaining it. It’s theatre—there’s a lot that goes into it that you don’t let people see because that sort of destroys the magic of it.

June, July, and August we are straight out. The rest of the year, it’s pretty civilized. I definitely encourage my parents to come before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. The shoulder seasons are pretty much the most beautiful times on the Cape—not nearly as crowded, everybody who is still here actually has time to pause and talk. At the height of the season, you’re either in full-on vacation mode or, if you have a business, you’re in full-on work mode.

In the summertime, we do more than 500 pieces of handmade pastry per day. We have no automation. The most advanced piece of equipment we have is a rolling pin. We hand-make all of our fillings. It’s all real fruit and hand-rolled dough—no sheeters or anything like that. And every day we start fresh.

I usually start my morning with a cup of tea. And I roast all the coffees here, every last bean, and have for years. So after my tea, I’ll look for a nice mild roast. I’m probably good for about two or three of those most mornings. By the time most people see me at 7 a.m., I usually tend to talk pretty quick.

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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