by Elizabeth Turnbull
Beach Bakery is closing its doors after bringing baked goods, pastries, and a sense of community spirit to the South End for the past seven years — baking through all the rainy days and surviving the global pandemic.
The bakery’s flaky pies, warm muffins, and frothy lattes were the dream of Amy O’Connell, who opened the bakery in the spring of 2016 at Rainier Avenue S. and S. Kenyon Street.
Since its opening, the business has been more than a source of sweets and caffeine; to some in the neighborhood, the bakery was an extension of home.
“It’s like family,” Chris Morningstar, a regular at the café, told the Emerald. “It was started by a family, and families come here, families meet here. It’s just a very special spot in the neighborhood. … I don’t know what to say without getting emotional.”
O’Connell is from the area and went to Emerson Elementary in South Shore and attended Rainier Beach High School and Franklin High School. She opened the business after her enrollment at Le Cordon Bleu Academy in Tukwila and after working as a tour baker and chef at bakeries across Seattle.
The bakery was partly founded as a way of giving back to the community, and community members supported the business by making it into a space for meetings, an informal office space, and somewhere for family gatherings.
“This was our office, where we meet people,” said Mark Pascall, a regular patron. “This is a fantastic place to meet people. It is a fantastic place to get the best pastries, probably in the whole Pacific Northwest. … Amy does spectacular things.”
In addition to being a space for others to get together, O’Connell made an effort to engage customers and spark conversations herself.
One patron, Maries Huening, moved to Rainier Beach three years ago and came to the bakery on the weekends. During one of these visits, Huening had a conversation with O’Connell that lingered.
“One time, I had a really great conversation about books, just, like, what we want to read in the summer. Actually, that was last summer, when we came out of the lockdown,” Huening said.
“And we were exchanging titles of, like, what should we all be reading this summer.”
Huening remembers the conversation fondly.
“It was just great,” Huening said. “[To] be able to have conversations like that with people who see you.”
O’Connell holds a special place in the hearts of Emerald staff as well; she would help the organization celebrate its birthdays by baking cupcakes decorated with candy emeralds.
Marcus Harrison Green, the Emerald’s founder and publisher, specifically remembers the feelings that the bakery gave him.
“You could have $1, or you could have $100 to spend in there. And you were treated just the same,” Harrison Green said. “Amy made sure that it really felt, in some ways, like a home.”
For seven years, O’Connell worked hard to maintain her cafe, at times working as much as 80 hours a week. The long work hours and physical and emotional toll ultimately led to Saturday, May 28, being the café’s last day of service.
“The last couple years have challenged me in ways that I was not prepared for, but I have weathered them because of [the community’s] amazing support,” O’Connell wrote in a social media post about the closing. “I have to move on to things that allow me to take better care of myself.”
Despite the closing, O’Connell’s love for the community and baked goods has remained unchanged, and she said she will find a way to keep her baked goods in circulation.
“I will find ways in the future to bring you butter, whether it is pop ups, or a cookbook,” O’Connell wrote. “I love you all so much. You have become my family and I will miss being the butter in your day.”
Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.
📸 Featured image by Susan Fried.
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