Next time you think Santa Claus is busy at this time of year checking his list twice, consider Bill Griffin.
The owner of Concord’s Sally Ann Food Shop gets up at 2:30 a.m. six days a week so he can be in the bakery by about 3 and start the ovens for the day. All the pies, cakes, breads, cookies, soups, and sandwiches are made fresh daily, and at this time of year, Griffin must also prepare the special orders for “buches de Noel,’’ or Yule logs, stollen, and the popular linzer cookies that he sells by the dozen.
Griffin has worked at Sally Ann for almost 30 years, and in all that time, he said, the menu items and holiday orders have not changed much. It’s a business built on repeat customers who rely on Griffin’s expertise and laid-back demeanor.
Standing in the kitchen, his apron spattered with chocolate frosting and bits of colored dough, Griffin wears beat-up sneakers and a baseball cap. He snaps on thin plastic gloves and bends low over a tray of cookies to decorate. He is rarely without an impish smile. He knows everyone who comes in, and usually what they want. He even gets regulars coming in the back door for an afternoon chai and a chat.
“Even in hard times, people will spend for ingredients that make their holiday treats,’’ said Griffin, waiting for a customer to pick up a buche that he finished decorating during the afternoon. He had the cake, mousse, and chocolate leaves made hours earlier, so it was a matter of assembling and decorating the rolled confection with strawberries, leaves, spun sugar mushrooms, and powdered sugar.
It’s safe to say Griffin is working flat out, but he is not alone. He has a part-time staff who wait on customers and help in the back where the baking takes place. Hanna Wang is the go-to girl for icing cookies, while Otis Francis cuts straight lines through the brownies, and Leah Guertin prepares the base for lemon squares. He likes seeing the students who used to work for him return from college and say hello. One has already sent in a request for a summer job.
When the shelves and bakery cases are empty, Griffin is a happy guy. He tries to get to bed by 7:30 p.m., but that doesn’t happen too often, especially this week.
He said he sells easily 1,000 Christmas cookies a week in one of five shapes: boys, girls, snowflakes, trees, and angels. Each is meticulously piped with icing mixed with food coloring. Griffin said the recipe for the icing has changed to eliminate the raw egg whites that he once used, replacing them with a homogenized egg white powder that he mixes with cream of tartar and powdered sugar.
His four ovens date from the 1940s.
“I love them,’’ said Griffin. “I can’t remember the last time they had to be repaired. They don’t make cars like these ovens.’’ He also bought an old scale at an auction for weighing ingredients, but the young staffers seem to prefer the newer models. He also has a freezer with stacks of trays holding dough that will be baked into pies, tarts, and rolls. Griffin uses no preservatives.
He will rest for a few weeks next month, but not now. Christmas is different from other holidays.
“Thanksgiving is one day,’’ he said. “Basically it’s breads and pies. You know when it’s coming. But for Christmas, we get crazy with orders.’’