In its earliest days, Carmel-by-the Sea was known to be a Bohemian artist colony. The village had a grocery store, a stationary store, a small inn, and a bakery along the road that led down to the most enchanting white sand beach along the Pacific Coast.
Carmel Bakery was established in 1899 and is now Carmel’s oldest running retail business in Carmel-by-the-Sea and has been owned by the Pèpe family since 1986. As a matter of fact, it is the oldest building still standing in the village. There have been only four owners in the bakery’s over 100-year history. The original owner, Fritz Schweinger, lived in the apartment above the bakery for many years and is considered one of the founding fathers of Carmel.
When Pèpe moved to Carmel in 1974 he worked up the street at Wishart’s Bakery and some years later had the opportunity to purchase Carmel Bakery from the then retiring owner, Hector DeSmet.
In this historic picture below the bakery is seen depicted in 1906, with the Slevin’s Stationary Store, which doubled as the post office to the upper left, and the Leidig Grocery Store to the right. In effect, this part of Ocean Avenue was the town center and remains so today. Ocean Avenue was a dirt road in those days, not paved until the 1930’s, and not a car in sight, only a horse and buggy in the lower right corner.
Rich Pèpe started working in a family bakery in New Jersey at the age of 14, where his sister Joanne and brother Jay also worked. “I’m a baker first, a chef second”, said Pèpe, who worked thirty-two hours a week during high school. While his school grades may have suffered, he graduated with his baking trade in hand. Pèpe has never worked in any other field other than baking or restaurants in his long and storied career.
Carmel Bakery has been a community affair for many generations. Pèpe says, “Carmel High School is just up the street, and every year we have dozens of kids coming in for jobs, often their first job ever”. Pèpe’s own boys, Christian and Gian had their first jobs here as well and learned not only baking, but working the front counter and catering to the guest needs.
No stranger to getting up early, the motto for Pèpe and his baking crew at Carmel Bakery is “we bake while you sleep”. As Pèpe says, “For over 100 years the bakers at Carmel Bakery have supplied the ‘village in the forest by the sea’ with fresh baked goods, and I am so proud to own this piece of Carmel history”. Equal parts bakery, deli, Starbucks Coffee Bar and neighborhood hangout, Carmel Bakery specializes in Scottish shortbread, English scones, Italian biscotti and giant soft Bavarian pretzels. Deli-style sandwiches, house made soups and fresh salads are also served.
Chef Pèpe with his giant Bavarian Prezels