When Sarah Harlan was applying to graduate programs, she joked that grad school was Plan A, and opening her own bakery was Plan B. And even though she earned her MFA from the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit, her passion for pastries was never far from her mind. Moving to New York, she honed her baking skills working for Beth Pilar and Ellen Sternau of How Sweet It Is Bakery (now closed) but also worked as a studio assistant for artists William Wegman and Mark diSuvero. Her love for coffee matches her love for baking, and she’s trained as a barista with Counter Culture coffee and worked at Everyman Espresso in New York City.
In 2011, she moved back to Detroit to join the other urban pioneers who were working to revitalize the city’s downtown area. She started up The Gem Bakery, where she created pastries, special occasion cakes, plated desserts, and seasonal baked goods for pop-up restaurants, coffeeshops, weddings, corporate events, and individual orders.
Sarah prides herself on striking a balance between classic French and Southern influences. “I envision The Gem as a place where you could get a really good croissant or a perfect slice of red velvet cake,” she says. And she has a penchant for high-quality ingredients: her creations often feature Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste, Valhrona Chocolate, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, and Penzey’s spices.
Recently, Sarah moved her business from Detroit back to her native Atlanta, where she’s fulfilling custom orders and scouting out the perfect location for her brick-and-mortar bakery.