Every market needs a great baker and Chef Carole Griffin has made sure Pepper Place has always had one. The chef-owner of the jewels of English Village, Continental Bakery and Chez Lulu, Carole was a vendor at the Market at Pepper Place on day 1, on June 10, 2000. Her light, buttery croissants, scones, galettes, crispy baguettes and famous wild yeast sourdough have been staples at the Market every since. In those early days, Carole often talked with Market founder Cathy Sloss Jones about farmers markets. “It took a lot of people rolling up their sleeves to start the market. Cathy was trying to do something in Birmingham that hadn’t been done before.”
On the opening morning of the market, June 10, 2000, Carole showed up at Pepper Place with her baskets and crates filled with baked goods from Continental Bakery, and set up in a tent next to the farmers. It was a great first day, but the real treat for shoppers was when Carole joined the performers of Red Mountain White Trash, the band that was playing onstage, to sing a couple of songs.
Carole loved getting to know the farmers and being an active part of the market. She hosted cooking demos for standing room only crowds.
She recalled one morning when she and Frank Stitt made box lunches with homemade egg salad sandwiches for a market meeting, so they could talk to the farmers about the importance of growing crops organically and sustainably.
Throughout her career, Carole has practiced the fine cooking techniques and sought out the best quality ingredients. She was an advocate of sourcing locally before people realized it was “a thing.” From the time she opened her bakery in the mid-80s, she said, she was always on the lookout for the freshest local products she could find. She drove miles out of town to get homemade cheese from a family dairy. She traded baguettes for local honey, or for a basket of figs off a neighboring tree. “We always cooked with local produce but we never thought we had to advertise it.” Her commitment to quality was shared by fellow chef Frank Stitt, and over the years, many of the employees who trained in her little bakery and café would graduate to Frank’s restaurants downtown.
When restaurants and food establishments in Birmingham shutdown in April, due to COVID, Carole made the hard decision to close Continental Bakery and Chez Lulu. Regulars and fans were devastated and afraid their daily bread source might never return. Within a few weeks, however, she and her staff had come up with a plan to reopen, and have been offering their full menu on their website, preorder/prepay, with curbside pickup ever since. “The safety of our employees and our customers was and still is paramount We all wear masks in the building, and follow the strictest guidelines.” She continued, “This new way of operating has been interesting. We’re making everything fresh to order and that’s been great. We’ve had pre-ordering with curbside pickup for several weeks. Now we’ve installed a little window that allows customers to walk up and order from the street. People can also come in and shop if they’re wearing a mask, and this weekend we hope to offer socially distanced dining in the café.”
We’re so glad to have Continental Bakery and Carole Griffin back at the Drive-Thru Market this weekend. We’re truly fortunate to have her spirit, generosity and incredible baking in Birmingham. From all of us to all of you, Carole, welcome back!