Expanding Carissa’s Brand

Carissa Waechter at the front of her new restaurant in East Hampton. Michael Heller photo

First things first. Carissa Waechter isn’t in this alone. It may be her name you see on the window of Carissa’s The Bakery, her first project, at 68 Newtown Lane in East Hampton. It may be her name you see, too, when you’re welcomed into the airy, glass-and-wood-adorned space at 221 Pantigo Lane in East Hampton, a full-service restaurant that boasts far more than her trademark breads and meringue-topped pies. But the vision for her brand, which has expanded beyond what she even could have imagined herself when she began her fledgling business, is the work of more than just one woman. “It’s definitely collaboration,” Waechter said.

The collaboration comes in the form of well-defined roles. Lori Chemla, Waechter’s business partner, has been instrumental in shaping Carissa Waechter’s brand. Once a baker and pastry chef, Waechter is much more; she’s a business owner, a production manager, an overseer, and, now, a restaurateur.

“I’m not coming in at 2:30 in the morning, in order to stretch the day out longer. So physically, my role shifted,” Waechter said.

The gleaming new space, which simultaneously operates as a production kitchen, supplementing the Newtown bakery (which outgrew itself almost immediately), offers sit-down service for breakfast and lunch — as well as dinner on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays — and a fully operational bar, thanks to an inherited liquor license. The space already had restaurant zoning, too. In some ways, the space told its owners what it would become, and not the other way around.

In her position as restaurateur, Carissa Waechter has chosen to take a step back from certain elements of service. The kitchen at the new space, for instance, is not her domain. She cedes control to her chef d’cuisine, Molly Levine, who travels to the local farms between services to select whatever produce looks best for the day. Lori Chemla’s input, Waechter said, is instrumental, too.

“[She] does a lot of traveling and eating and has an amazing palate and sense of what would work,” Waechter said.  Chemla has also planted a makeshift garden beside the restaurant, where verbena, baby eggplant, garlic scapes, tomatoes and edible flowers abound. “I’m not supposed to steal all the flowers for the cakes, but I do,” Waechter joked.

For anyone who knows Carissa, it may seem surprising that her broader vision means taking a step back. This is the woman, after all, who embraces perfectionism so fiercely that she wants her pies facing a certain way when they meet the customers. And who can blame her? Her Instagram-ready confections are things of local legend, with Dr. Seussian tufts of meringue rising from edible flowers and gold leaf. Was it hard for her to relinquish control as she expanded into arenas that covered more than just baked goods?

“I get very caught up on my end with this stuff,” she said. “I have complete trust, and I know it’s going to be awesome, and I get to show up and enjoy the food and the drinks. I’m continually impressed. It wasn’t my original baby, my original vision, so it’s easier for me to be impressed by it.”

The main retail space at Carissa’s Restaurant in East Hampton. Michael Heller photo

Her original baby — and the baby that she continues to nurture — is the baby of bread. Her breads remain superlative, her wheat local. Her cake and pie business, much of which still operates out of the original Newtown Lane space, thrives, just as it did before the birth of her restaurant. The restaurant, in any logical sense, is merely an extension of her sensibility: smart, delicious, local food that feels both impossibly simple and deceptively brilliant. Consider a hotly debated breakfast sandwich, available on the breakfast menu, which arrives with Waechter’s homemade bread, wilted local greens, and farm-fresh eggs. It is a symphony of texture and flavor, and an homage to the farms that surround the restaurant. Such is the prevailing style of food at Carissa’s newest establishment. “We go with whatever’s looking really delicious that weekend,” she said. “We only opened in early July. We had peaches pop up, and now they’re on their way out. We’re moving into the fall, so now we’re incorporating fall fruits, fall vegetables. With anything, it’s a lot of trial-and-error. What dishes are people really receptive to?

Of course, restaurateur or not, Waechter still has a presence behind the line. Once a highly respected pastry chef in New York, her restaurant provides an opportunity to return to her roots, so to speak, to the dinner line, and to plated desserts.

“It’s almost romantic,” she said. “You have everything lined up, with these perfect garnishes. We do a tatin on the menu. I ran over and grabbed plums. And apples are starting to come in, and I decided to do apples and plums. To have that all ready to go, out of the oven… there’s something about that. I hadn’t done plated desserts like that in forever.”

She has also had the opportunity, wittingly or otherwise, to combine efforts with other departments.

“Mid-summer, I was buried,” she said. “We were creating an ice cream program and knee-deep in decorated cakes. It worked out that simultaneously [the bar and I] were doing simultaneous things. [The head bartender, Marc] did a hibiscus cocktail, and I did an apple-hibiscus sorbet. So we decided to start collaborating.” The result has been a cohesive program, where flavors are mirrored throughout savory, sweet, and drink menus. “That’s the beauty of working with anyone who’s passionate about what they do,” Waechter said. The bar program, as a whole, produces classic cocktails with an (often local twist), iterations that Carissa herself describes as “super delicious.”

Still, Carissa Waechter believes her role as restaurateur to be secondary to her role as baker.

“It has always been bakery first, so this is complementary.” If overseeing a new restaurant while still maintaining the integrity of her massively popular bread and pastry business has been a shock to the system, she certainly isn’t showing it.

“I actually just love to eat,” she said. I promised to quote her on that.

Carissa’s Three Favorites

Plumb and Apple Tatin

Plum and Apple Tatin with Verbena Ice Cream

Carissa picks the verbena from Lori Chemla’s herb garden on the side of the restaurant. It doesn’t get much more local than that.

Roasted Eggplant Sandwich.

Roasted Eggplant Sandwich

The line of ever-popular sandwiches actually began over at the Newtown Lane space. This vegetarian option is one of Carissa’s personal favorites.

An Iced Matcha Latte.

Iced Matcha Latté

A gorgeous, creamy, dreamy shade of green, this appealing drink is one for the photo archives.