A sweet smell fills the air as a fresh batch of warm and gooey pecan rolls emerges from the oven. I’m in the kitchen of my latest discovery – the Pecan Roll Bakery in Fernandina Beach.
Not many people get to live their dreams but Jeff and Ellie Weisfeld are doing just that. A husband and wife team, they first met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. After raising a family and working in the industry (Ellie baking and Jeff managing restaurants) they decided they wanted to be near the beach. They were looking for something small with a local friendly vibe and chose Fernandina for its “small town America feel.” Though they describe it as their “retirement plan” they are no shrinking violets. “We didn’t start it to hand it over to employees and go boating or fishing,” Jeff says. “We are here working every day.”
I know from personal experience running a business with a spouse has its ups and downs, but they make it appear easy. As Jeff looks across the dining room at Ellie, he says, “We know our strengths. It can be challenging but we have built a successful and growing business together and we enjoy it.”
Ellie and Jeff say what sets them apart is their ability to make both sweet and savory items, but I would say what really makes them special is their desire to please their customers. For instance, if a customer requests an item made from a favorite childhood recipe, they jump at the chance to make it. “It’s important to listen to your customers. Almost everything we offer was originally made after a customer requested it,” says Ellie. Clients from Michigan and New England wanted whoopie pies and poof, they appeared. Native New Yorkers wanted bagels and rye bread; done and done. Jeff says customer satisfaction is key: “I love being asked ‘how do you like having a job that makes people smile?’” As our conversation nears its end, a man walks in the store and they greet him by name. The man is excited that they still have their famous croissant doughnuts. He has a big smile on his face. Another satisfied customer.