During the Great Depression between 1932 and 1933, around 300,000 American companies were forced to permanently close their doors due to financial hardships. The California-based candy manufacturer See’s Candies, however, was not only able to weather the decade-long economic storm, but flourish in the 1930s, expanding its footprint on the West Coast and opening a $100,000 candy factory.
Spring Hill Bakery owner Sarah Gonzalez, perhaps better known in Spring Hill as “The Bread Lady” explains this anomaly with one simple phrase: “Cookies make people happy.”
It’s those words that Gonzalez has lived by since finding her passion in baking at a young age, and even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic that saw families experience isolation through quarantines and lockdowns.
Opened in March 2018, the Spring Hill Bakery instantly became a Spring Hill community staple, attracting thousands of customers every week. After a health scare in late 2019, however, Gonzalez was forced to close its storefront, though the Spring Hill Bakery and its owner were by no means done serving the community.
Not long after the closure, Gonzalez launched a series of efforts to continue the bakery’s legacy: in-person cooking classes, a cookie delivery service, and a new book titled Baking with the Bread Lady.
The in-person classes, Gonzalez explained, had been a goal of hers for years, but due to the high demands of running the bakery, had been put on the backburner. Beyond just sharing her insights on baking, Gonzalez explains, the classes were planned to often feature older family members as a sort of historical record for their families.
“I wanted to do this big legacy piece for all of these families because I had inherited a book with my great-grandmother’s recipes,” Gonzalez says. “She passed away in 1951, but if I could have seen her animated and answer questions about [things] like who her childhood best friend was... we wanted to give that content to each of the families.”
Then, in March of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“When COVID shut everything down, my concept for the show was out the window because it involves a lot of the older generations,” Gonzalez says. “Everyone canceled because nobody wanted to be around each other.”
Rather than throw in the towel, Gonzalez soldiered on and moved her classes to an online format. Sales for her online cookie delivery service exploded, and at times were difficult to meet demand.
“At the beginning, we were selling out of cookies within an hour, and we’re talking thousands of cookies,” Gonzalez says. “The first week it took us more than eight hours to deliver everything, so at some point we needed to split up; I did the outskirts and then [my husband Cory] did everything in Spring Hill proper.”
Over the summer of 2020, Gonzalez and her husband personally delivered tens of thousands of cookies to Spring Hill residents, something she hoped would bring at least a sense of familiarity and joy to people in the new post-COVID world.
As Thanksgiving approached, Gonzalez says she really wanted to hammer home a sense of warmth and consistency to her community through offering a Spring Hill Bakery autumn favorite: cinnamon rolls.
“The bigger the cinnamon roll, the more you feel like a kid if you think about it,” Gonzalez says. “I think all baking kind of speaks to your inner child; your responsible adult person is like ‘I probably don’t need these many calories,’ but your inside’s like ‘yay, cinnamon roll.’ Baking is for your inner kid. That’s how I see it.”
Minutes before the cinnamon rolls were available for order, more than 100 people were waiting in an online queue to make their purchase. Once the cinnamon rolls became available, the orders flooded in by the thousands.
“We baked for 18 hours straight... It was
between 2,500-3,000 cinnamon rolls,” Gonzalez says.
“It was less than half an hour and they sold out and I’m like ‘we have to put another 1,000 on.’ Cory’s like, ‘are you sure you can do that?’ I’m like, ‘we’re going to try.’ They wanted it, and I don’t know how to say no to these people because I want to be there for them.”
The bakery would go on to fulfill online orders by thousands throughout the duration of 2020 and into 2021, and while the logistics of how people received their treats might have changed, Gonzalez’ mission has never changed.
“When I first started the bakery, I was noticing that a lot of people are not from here, so when they moved here, they started to have that home-sickness,” Gonzalez says. “If they can’t be around their family, then why don’t we create a new kind of family here?”