Teresa and Mark Markarian never envisioned working 100 hours a week in their retirement. But sometimes life presents us with opportunities and we say yes and just keep showing up.
Teresa had long had an executive job where she traveled around the country frequently and managed multimillion dollar accounts. It was stressful, but she did well. Near the sunset of her career, she boxed up a cupcake for her granddaughter’s teacher. She thought nothing of it, it was just a nice thing to do. The teacher said it was the best cupcake she had ever eaten. And also wondered if Teresa would bake her a wedding cake? Teresa did bake her granddaughter’s teacher a wedding cake. But it all started with that first cupcake.
Teresa spent her weekends baking, decorating cakes, and enjoying her grandkids. She still had that executive job, but was beginning to plan her retirement. Her retirement so far as it meant leaving the company and stress behind. Except her weekends kept getting more and more filled with cake decorating, to the point that it was nearly all she did when she wasn’t “working”. Meanwhile, her boss wanted to promote her to a new position where she wouldn’t just be traveling around the country, she’d be traveling around the world. Teresa would be gone from her home, her husband, and her grandkids for six weeks at a time. That was definitely not what she had in mind. She declined the position, retired from her job, and she and Mark opened Nana Teresa’s Bake Shop instead.
Not quite three years ago, a few blocks off Center Street in their home of Fernandina Beach, Mark and Teresa opened a tiny bakery. It was so small only one person could work in the kitchen at a time. But they made it their own, and a name for themselves in the community. Over time, Teresa perfected her cupcake and cake recipes, french pastries, macarons, and cookies, truffles, tarts, pies, and any other sweet she could come up with. For his part, Mark got his hands on a now 67-year old soda fountain, replaced a part or two, and perfected the art of the authentic New York egg cream. He also started creating his own syrups for his soda fountain, which he still crafts in small batches in the bakery kitchen.
Mark explained the process of making his own syrups briefly to us. The process takes a couple days for each batch of syrup. He gets the right flavor and mixes it proportionately with sugar, bakes it in a pot, and then it has to sit for at least 12 hours. The only flavor Mark doesn’t make is chocolate for the egg creams. Fox’s syrup is the best and what makes an egg cream an authentic. That and a 67-year-old soda fountain. The flavors available the day we went to Nana Teresa’s were: Banana, Lime, Pineapple, Mountain Mist, Orange, Old Fashioned Cola, Cherry Limeade, Key Lime, Strawberry, Butter Beer, Black Cherry, Wedding Cake, Blue Raspberry, Cherry, Chocolate Soda, Root Beer, Cotton Candy, Cream Soda, Vanilla, Grape.
Walking into Nana Teresa’s Bake Shop, we were filled with wonder and delight. Nana Teresa’s Bake Shop is to a bakery what Sweet Pete’s is to a candy store. It’s not as big, but it is filled with every kind of sweet you can imagine, and some you’ve never heard of as well. It is bright, adorable, with smiling faces and greetings from young employees. Teresa told us there are three pillars to their Bake Shop: customer service, pride in their product, and community. She and Mark love employing local teenagers and building family-like relationships as they teach and empower them in their first jobs. Former employees who have gone off to college will come back on weekends to visit and as ask about picking up a shift here or there when they’re home. This is all a part of being members in the community, along with supporting local organizations, which Teresa and Mark take seriously.
We tried so many sweets on our visit to Nana Teresa’s that we will break down each one:
-Authentic New York Egg Cream: contrary to its name, an egg cream contains neither an egg nor cream. It is whole milk, Fox’s chocolate syrup (that’s what makes it authentic, and the one syrup Mark doesn’t make himself), and soda water. There is a method to mixing the chocolate syrup into the milk without disturbing the carbonation on top and Mark has it down pat.
-Strawberry Milkshake: It sounds pretty straightforward; you can get a strawberry milkshake almost anywhere milkshakes are made. But the ingredients make all the difference. Like everything else at Nana Teresa’s, a strawberry milkshake is not just your average strawberry milkshake. Made with premium ice cream, real strawberries, and garnished with a big, beautiful, fresh strawberry, you will be ruined for fast food milkshakes.
-Root Beer Float: served in a frozen mug with foam nearly spilling over the sides, Mark’s root beer float is one to be savored. You can appreciate a root beer float made the old fashioned way with a soda fountain from the 1950s and root beer handcrafted in the store.
-Cappucino and Latte: these beautiful and flavorful Italian coffee beverages are made to order and are as inviting to drink as they look. Served in clear glass mugs and glasses for maximum visual effect with layers of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam, these beverages are a perfect compliment to any of the delicious pastries calling your name.
-Honey Lavender Cupcake: This cupcake has just barely a hint of a pale purple color when you bite into it. As Teresa told us, “We wanted people to be able to taste the lavender without feeling like they were biting into a flower.” There is a nice honey buttercream frosting and a small sprinkling of lavender seeds on top. This cupcake is the most tender, pillowy soft cupcake I have ever bitten into. It’s like eating a heavenly cloud. The Honey Lavender is beautifully done.
-Orange Creamsicle Cupcake: Orange blosson cake with cream cheese filling, orange and vanilla buttercream frosting, topped with a candied orange. Creamsicle lovers, rejoice! All of Teresa’s cupcakes are that soft, cloud-like texture with just a bit of flavor working with the filling, frostings, and toppings for a perfect finished product.
-Brownie Cupcake: a chocolate cupcake filled with cheesecake and browies, perfect fpr chocolate lovers.
-Biscoff Cupcake: this cupcake has one of the best stories of any product in all of Nana Teresa’s. When Teresa was traveling the country with her corporate job she flew Delta Airlines regularly. She loved the Biscoff cookies she would get in flight (who doesn’t??) and told herself she would make a Biscoff-inspired cupcake one day. And that’s just what she did.
-Caramel Pretzel Tart: this tart is so pretty, like everything else, that we could hardly take a bite. We persevered. It was rich and creamy and we really tasted the pretzel along with the caramel.
-Meringues: These little buttons of delight are lighter than air, brightly colored, and decorated with edible glitter. It’s like eating unicorn food.
-Chocolate Torte (Gluten Free): This is a flourless chocolate slice of decadence. It’s naturally gluten free, has a deep, rich, chocolate flavor, and is similar to fudge or ganache. It can be challenging for gluten free folks to find truly delicious treats, but this is a dessert nearly everyone can enjoy.
-French Macarons: Teresa bakes 300-500 French macarons every other day. That’s a lot of macarons! But if you tried Nana Teresa’s macarons, you would understand why they go through so many. We tried the strawberry, smore, cotton candy, and keylime. The flavors were subtle, but we could identify them without knowing what each flavor was.
-Stuffed Almond Croissant: Almond lovers, this is for you. Teresa takes a croissant, slices it, glazes it, carmelizes it, tops it with sliced almonds, and fills it with a light whipped filling. It looks like a decadent dessert sandwich. You can eat it with your hands or a fork and knife- we won’t judge.
-Kouign Amann: The piece de resistance. A Kouign Amann is a pastry originating in Brittany, France. It is a shell made of croissant dough, filled with pastry cream, topped with fruits such as peach or cherry, and the pastry is coated in sugar. If you only try one thing at Nana Teresa’s, make it a Kouign Amann. We practiced saying it several times so we can always be prepared if we ever find them offered anywhere else in the world. It sounds like quan uh-mon. We will find them and we will eat them.
-Wedding Cakes: Teresa’s wedding cakes are the one thing we did not try. However, our conversation over the soft, pillowy texture of her cupcakes led to a discussion on cake. Teresa uses a different recipe for her wedding cakes than her cupcakes. The beautiful cloudlike cupcakes, while supremely enjoyable for eating and perfectly stable in cupcake form, would not hold up in a multi-tiered cake. It would fall apart and everyone would be sad. Instead, Teresa experimented and adopted a French method, called the liaison method, to bake cakes that are both delightful to eat and hold their structure better. She uses basic ingredients- eggs, flour, butter, sugar, etc. but mixes certain ingredients in a certain order in a certain way. The result is a finished product that will not collapse and will wow wedding guests. If you want a Nana Teresa wedding cake, make sure to book it early. Nana Teresa’s wedding cakes are in fairly high demand.
Our visit to Nana Teresa’s Bake Shop was a complete pleasure. Whatever my expectations were, Teresa and Mark blew them out of the water. Their commitment to quality products and positive experiences is evident the moment you walk in the door. Teresa and Mark want you to feel at home and taken care of when you walk into their bake shop. Based on the customers we saw on our visit, we’re sure you’ll feel the sweet, decadent, sugary love of Nana Teresa’s Bake Shop.