On a pleasant Saturday morning in September clad in a comfortable black and white wrap dress paired with black Chelsea boots and hair pulled up into a bun, Atlanta baker Sarah Dodge inspects bins of late-season tomatoes at a stall at Freedom Farmers Market. She’s looking for the ugliest tomatoes. “The uglier the better for tomatoes,” she says of her preference. “I feel like they get picked over, so I love them. I bet they have so much more flavor.”
Dodge would know. Having recently opened Colette Bread and Bakeshop in Poncey-Highland, Dodge has been baking rich pastries and breads using seasonal produce and ingredients from local markets like Freedom for years. With these plump tomatoes, she’s thinking of making a savory galette with a little bit of chèvre (goats milk cheese), or simply laying sliced tomatoes atop a piece of fresh pain au levain she baked earlier that morning. “I just love the magic of how [tomatoes] grow,” she says holding up a rather bulbous specimen. “It’s a like a tomato booty right there.”
Colette Bread resides along North Highland Avenue in what was the Highland Row complex, next door to the building that once housed the iconic Highland Inn. The bakery mainly deals in wholesale baked goods for clients like Portrait Coffee in the West End and Capella Cheese at Armour Yards. Dodge reluctantly added a retail component to her plans for Colette Bread. That decision is paying off.
Since opening in early September, Colette Bread has seen lines out the door on the days the shop is open to the public, and sold out of pastries nearly every time.
Dodge is an introvert, but enjoys having a permanent location to connect with her customers. “It’s a nice little community spot. We get people walking their dogs, heading to a doctor’s appointment, getting their oil changed,” says Dodge. “It’s just a nice little stop in the day.”
Her bakery is also a five-minute walk to Freedom Farmers Market, where Dodge likes to purchase ingredients for Colette Bread and heads to for inspiration.
All of the farmers markets in Atlanta are great, she says, but it’s hard to beat Freedom. She always sees people she knows there and loves the neighborhood vibe of this particular farmers market. Sometimes Dodge ends up bumping into Colette Bread customers at the market, or sees people from the market later on in her shop. “It’s just synergy and connection,” she says.
The journey to opening her own bakery has been long. Dodge first started baking in 2008 when, as a recession-era college grad, she discovered working in retail wasn’t satisfying. She decided to go to grad school instead, pursuing a degree in mental health counseling. To make ends meet, Dodge worked as a baker for Holman and Finch, before its bakery arm was acquired by Engleman’s.
“It was so soothing for me. It was just exhausting. It exhausted my mind,” says Dodge. “I was baking and drawing the connection between our mental health and the act of baking and I just ended up loving [baking] a lot more.”
She ultimately ended up dropping out of grad school and went to work for Sarah O’Brien at Little Tart Bake Shop in Grant Park, and then at Octopus Bar and 8ARM, while teaching baking classes between restaurant gigs. Dodge made a name for herself in Atlanta with biscuits, sourdough, and cinnamon rolls and launched micro-bakery and delivery service Bread is Good. As Bread is Good grew in popularity, the opportunity to open a permanent bakery became a real possibility.
Colette Bread and Bakeshop materialized during the early days of the pandemic when Dodge lost the commercial kitchen space for Bread is Good. She had already chosen the name Colette for her future bakery — an homage to her favorite early 20th century, mononymously named French author. Working with Atlanta design firm Square Feet Studio, Dodge wanted the Poncey-Highland bakery to feature vintage charm, seen in the green and white checkered flooring, with modern touches in elements like white subway tiles set off by brass accents.
Now that Colette Bread is open, Dodge has more space to play and get creative with local and seasonal ingredients and to continue honing her bakes.
“I got more and more interested in how to tie ingredients together, what makes us feel good,” says Dodge of why she leans into seasonality with her baked goods. “Not all pastries have to be laden with sugar. They can be interesting with fun fruits and vegetables and coconut oils.”
Dodge wants sweetness to take a backseat to butter or fruit in her bakes. What she doesn’t want is people biting into one of her pastries and getting a mouthful of sugar. For the shishito peppers she purchased at Freedom Farmers Market on that September Saturday morning, for instance, Dodge might roast the peppers with salt and pepper to use in a savory galette topped with hollandaise sauce.
With the wholesale operation stable at Colette Bread, Dodge says her next project is settling the retail side of the bakery into a routine. It’s been hard to keep up with demand — a good problem to have, but one that needs to be resolved. Many people can’t make it to the bakery in the mornings. She hopes to begin selling bread to the public on Tuesday evenings soon. Baking classes at Colette Bread are also in the works, something Dodge is really looking forward to and calls her “favorite part” of being a baker and owning her own shop.
“It’s been very stressful, I’m not going to lie,” she says, having to constantly remind herself it’s okay to enjoy owning and operating Colette Bread. “Last night I was baking and I turned the music up way loud. This is my space. I don’t have to wait for someone to kick me out.”
Current retail hours: Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
636 North Highland Avenue, Atlanta. coletteatl.com.
Lia Picard (@helloitsliapicard) is a lifestyle writer who has called Atlanta home for nearly a decade. Her work frequently appears in Atlanta magazine, the New York Times, Eater, and Garden & Gun, among other publications.