Hampton Bay stalwart Krieg's Bakery takes the time to keep the art of the local bakery alive
Every morning, Wally Krieg tries to beat the Long Island Railroad to the bakery. It arrives at around 3 a.m. in Hampton Bays, a lesser-known hamlet of Southampton.When the train pulls up, he can hear the squeal of the wheels from the kitchen, where he has already started mixing his dough. By 6 a.m. the fryer will be full-blast and churning out the day’s bear claws, Boston creams, jelly donuts and this writer’s all-time favorite, powdered crullers. On a weekend, Wally says he makes around 400 doughnuts a day, in addition to the pies, rainbow cookies, and crumb cakes that have kept customers returning to Krieg’s Bakery for the past 33 years.
“We are not a factory. It’s me who does all the cooking,” says Wally, who estimates he goes through around 2,000 baked goods during a summer weekend. “I’m old time, old school, old way. I don’t do anything fast.”
It’s always at least 10 degrees hotter in the kitchen than outside, and a thin layer of flour covers most of the industrial-sized machines. There’s space for at least five other employees but most days, it’s just Wally, unless his wife Sonia is doing cake decorations.
“It’s a dying art,” admits Wally. A fourth-generation baker, Wally made his first chocolate chip cookie when he was 13. He apprenticed in different kitchens, including in his grandfather’s famous Stork’s Bakery in Whitestone, Queens, and by the time he was 23, opened up Krieg’s Bakery in Hampton Bays with his parents.
As we chat, his wife Sonia, who is originally from Brazil, fixes the pink frosting on a cake. She’s in charge of the front-of-house and has a knack for remembering cookie preferences for the under-three set. When I tell her that my grandmother used to bring me into Krieg’s once a week for a rainbow cookie she says she hears that all the time.
“I may not remember a name but always a face,” says Sonia, 55.
Despite their personal touch, the hometown bakery is facing tough times. Wally estimates that their heyday was in the late 1980s, when the stock market made summer residents flush with cash. There was also less competition from national grocery stores or chains like Dunkin Donuts.
“It’s convenience,” says Wally. “When you’re in the supermarket and your kids sees cookies, you’re buying it.”
Another issue for the family-run business is increasingly strict health code regulations. Wally’s recipes, which were devised by his father who was chemist and baker, focus on whole foods like real milk, butter, or eggs. However, he says that recent New York State Department of Health regulations put a preference on using processed ingredients like pre-cooked eggs or fruit.
“They want to stop a problem before it happens,” says Wally. “But there’s never been a problem with a bakery… it goes into a 400 degree oven.”
In order to keep up with the times, Sonia has plans to update their website so that customers can order online. They are open every day except from Monday, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and encourage clients to call ahead to place orders, as favorites like their blueberry Danish sell out fast.
Longtime employee Annika Kennedy, 20, now helps out with the Instagram. She was a former customer as well, and remembers, “I would come in with my dad after church… it was the only reason I liked church.”
No matter how difficult the business has become, their baked goods are a mainstay at local fundraisers, always presented in a white box with the traditional white and red string.
“It’s always important to support the local community,” says Wally. He and Sonia send pies and crumb cakes to all the nearby districts. “I don’t care what school it is as long as it’s for the kids.”
As Wally says, “That’s what small towns are all about.”