Operating longtime family bakery is a real treat

Some Crust Bakery is such a Claremont fixture, it seems like it’s been here forever. For all intents and purposes it has, because this cozy bastion of good coffee and delectable baked goods has a decidedly venerable history.

When Larry and Sandy Feemster purchased the business in 1997, Some Crust had already been a Village staple since 1978. In fact, the Yale Avenue shop has been a bakery since 1916. Before that, it was a dry goods store founded in 1889. Those white-painted wooden shelves behind the counter, which are so familiar to the bakery’s regulars, date back to the store’s turn-of-the-century opening.

Upon assuming ownership, Mr. Feemster, who had served for almost 2 decades as the security director for In-N-Out Burger, felt a responsibility to uphold the shop’s longstanding reputation for quality. Ms. Feemster was already a skilled baker, who was making specialty items for Some Crust on a part-time basis when then owner Dorothy Demke approached her to see if she was interested in buying the business. Not to be outdone, Mr. Feemster headed for the International School of Baking in Bend, Oregon for a crash course on artisan baking. 

There, he acquired more than the ability to turn flour, milk and eggs into a bit of oven-warmed heaven. Mr. Feemster acquired a philosophy: If you focus on using the highest-quality ingredients available, and take the time to perfect your recipes, the end product is bound to be outstanding.

While in recent times Some Crust has introduced diet-conscious items like gluten-free cookies in response to customer requests, the bakery is no health food store. Their concoctions feature cream instead of skim milk, and lots and lots of butter. It is, however, an establishment with a fiercely loyal clientele and a decidedly continental flavor. A number of patrons have remarked that Some Crust has the best pastries you can get outside of Europe, and that its croissants, in particular, rival those made in France.

“We’re very busy, but we’re busy because we don’t cut corners,” Mr. Feemster said. “It costs me a lot to make things the way we do, but we don’t want to turn off our customers, so we ride out the price increases.”

Mr. and Ms. Feemster’s success is based on a winning formula. They kept the elements that originally made Some Crust popular, like quality bread and favorite offerings like chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles, but they also introduced some much-needed changes.

Ms. Demke operated the space next door to the bakery as a teashop, which wasn’t actively frequented. The Feemsters turned the teashop into a down-to-earth café where customers could sit down and have a sandwich with some soup or salad as well as opting for a sweet treat. The café has become a sort of headquarters for many Village regulars, including students and staff of the Claremont Colleges.

“There are many professors who just about live there,” Mr. Feemster joked.

The Feemsters have also, over the years, introduced a greater level of business-mindedness and discipline to their staff. While there are still many musicians and artists working behind the counters of Some Crust, eccentricity and the occasional hint of self-indulgence has been replaced with top-notch customer service, according to the Feemsters’ son, Scott.

In recent years, Ms. Feemster has moved away from the day-to-day operations of the business, but Some Crust remains very much a family affair. Some 3 years ago, Scott joined the business as its general manager, a title he shares with 25-year Some Crust veteran Jack Housen, who also happens to be one of his best friends. They attended high school together and, after decades of friendship and years of working with the older Mr. Feemster, Mr. Housen has become like a second brother to Scott.

Some Crust’s coffee alone has a magnetic pull on java junkies looking for a strong cup of joe with fair trade credentials. They brew coffee by Monkey and Son, a company founded by Thom Fuhrmann, a former Some Crust employee.

Another element that helps maintain a devoted army of regular “Crusties” is that, while Some Crust continues to make popular standbys, they introduce new delicacies every year. Mr. Housen helped develop the bakery’s mocha cookie, for instance, which is one of the most in-demand treats on Some Crust’s shelves. Mr. Feemster introduced egg sliders a while back and, as the saying goes, they sell like hotcakes, especially among Claremont Colleges students.

One of Scott’s claims to fame is a maple scone. Mr. Scott was in the high desert when, beset by a fit of coffee withdrawal, he made a rare foray into Starbucks. He noticed a maple scone on their shelves and, since he loves the taste of maple, he decided to give it a try. After a few bites, he tossed aside the scone, which he says was remarkably dry and tasteless. He was inspired by the idea, though, and, after hours of experimentation, created a sweet and moist facsimile to add to Some Crust’s offerings.

Scott, who worked for years in retail, including as a manager and buyer at record stores like Rhino Records and Amoeba, is no stranger to running a business. It is not until he returned to his roots, however, and began working with his father that he realized how rewarding it can be.

“I’ve worked jobs where I’m running, running and I’m beat at the end of the day. You get your paycheck and kind of go, ‘Ugh,’” he said. “But working with my dad and my family, even when I’ve had really rough days—and I do tend to work pretty long hours—it’s a different kind of feeling. I feel like I’m contributing to my family.”

There are things you might not know about Some Crust. Ironically, the elder Mr. Feemster doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth. And there are many customers and employees who are convinced that benevolent, though mischievous, spirit haunts the old building.

For the most part, however, the Feemsters and their business are like an open book. They love being a part of the Claremont community, and take endless pride in what they do.

“Not long ago, I was outside doing maintenance work when a van pulled up and a disabled person in a wheelchair came out—she was missing a couple of limbs,” Mr. Feemster recalled. “I heard her say, ‘This is the best bakery in the world.’ What a wonderful thing to hear from a person.”

Some Crust Bakery is located at 119 Yale Ave. in Claremont. Those who are out of town will be delighted to hear that you can order their baked goods online as well as in their brick-and-mortar storefront. For more information, call 621-9772 or visit SomeCrust.com. 

—Sarah Torribio



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