I arrived at Wingen Bakery after the morning rush. Baker and co-owner Aimee Wingen told me I’d missed out on a savory scone made with bacon, chives and asiago cheese. “It’s usually the first to sell out,” she said. Her prosciutto-and-plum brioche buns had also flown off the shelves before she and her husband Bryan had the chance to eat one themselves. That combination of ingredients came to Aimee after they’d held an Italian-style happy hour with prosciutto on the menu. “Every week I go to the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market, where I buy a lot of our fruit from Kashiwase Farms,” she said. With the extra fruit, she’d made “a ton of plum jam” and figured out that the prosciutto, jam and brioche bun would “make a nice combination.”
The Wingens make loaves of sourdough bread, and sourdough bagels, too. I ordered the veggie bagel, which comes with herb cream cheese, avocado, cucumbers and allium blossoms. In addition to arranging a pretty plate, it’s immediately apparent that the vegetables are fresh, spelled with a bold, capital “F.” My BLT sandwich—by far the best BLT I’ve had this century—was delayed because a local farmer had just delivered the lettuce. And in the summer veggie bowl, I discovered a new favorite: lemon cucumbers cleaved apart like giant gemstones. Every vegetable in that bowl tasted as if it had just been cut loose from a stem. Aimee finishes this elegant, rustic dish off with generous dollops of goat cheese and crisp focaccia croutons.
Wingen Bakery gained a following last year at Bay Area farmers’ markets. What started as a cottage bakery evolved organically into their downtown Livermore storefront. “We posted little advertisements on Instagram,” Bryan said. “And we had a metro rack outside our house.” They wrote customer names on bags of bread for people to pick up at their convenience. By December though, the Wingens heard that Casse-Croute Bakery was for sale. After renovating the space for a few months, they opened their bakery in June.
“I would describe us mainly as a sourdough bread bakery,” Aimee said, “but also a cafe. Bread is our staple and everything is built around that, but it’s the place for people to come grab a coffee and a delicious scone, or they can come for lunch and get a sandwich and a salad.” She qualified Wingen further as an artisan cafe because they make everything—from the jam to the mayonnaise to the breads and baked goods—from scratch.
Aimee acknowledged that moving into a French bakery with a local following upended some people’s expectations. Currently, there aren’t croissants on the menu. Because so many customers asked for them, however, they decided to develop a croissant program. “It’s been a big ask here,” she said. “We love croissants, but it’s just not something that we’ve ever tackled before, so we’re teaching ourselves with the help of some of our friends who are pastry chefs.” They inherited a big sheet laminator from Casse-Croute Bakery. Now that the staff is settling in and the bread program is fully baked, they’re ready to start operating that lamination machine. “We’ve done a couple rounds of croissants,” Aimee said, but the technique needs tweaking before they show up on the menu.
Aimee and Bryan met at Homeroom, one of the restaurants that invigorated the Temescal dining scene and made parking there a lot harder to come by. Livermore may be 40 miles away, but the Wingens brought some of Oakland’s culinary spirit further inland. “There are a lot of restaurants in Oakland that are farm-to-table and sourced locally—and they don’t even have to say it,” Aimee said. Oaklanders have come to expect it, and, perhaps, take all that good produce for granted. “Out here, we’ve posted on our website where we get our goods from.” An unofficial mission statement on their webpage reads, “We believe every good bite begins with great ingredients, and that’s why we prioritize partnering with local farms and distributors who understand quality.”
Florescent Farm of Livermore supplies the cafe with lettuces, microgreens and other vegetables. Another one-man company in town, JTM (Jeremy Troupe-Masi) Spices, provides the seasoning blends. While Bryan honed his management skills at Homeroom, Aimee, who grew up in Livermore, spent some time in the kitchen at another restaurant nearby, Range Life, run by Chef Bill Niles. “We’re an extension of that, doing something different during the day,” she said. “People see Range Life as a place for a special occasion. People can come [to Wingen Bakery] every day for their coffee and breakfast, and really get used to delicious, hyperlocal food.”