Food & Drink

Bidding Farewell to Back in the Day Bakery

As Cheryl and Griffith Day close the doors of their beloved Savannah bakeshop after twenty-two years, a friend and fellow baker considers their quietly groundbreaking impact

A man and woman stand in a bakery

Photo: Angie Mosier

Cheryl and Griffith Day.

I often find myself wondering about zeitgeists—how they come about, what the catalysts are. Who is quietly (and maybe unbeknownst to themselves) wielding their genius around, influencing not only the universe at large but the day-to-day human moments that truly impact us? Who are the ones finessing us toward more interesting, higher stratospheres? 

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Something funny I’ve noticed, it’s never the people who really are trying for that level of shift, but who are simply teasing out meaning in their own lives and wanting something better, or even just “nice,” for the people they love. These people often have their heads down, focusing on the skill and craft of their work, aiming for, not perfection, but evocation. 

You might suppose that in my line of work, restaurants and food celebrities and the like, I’ve met a lot of folks brazen enough to think they are the zeitgeist. You’d be supposing right, and good for them. What I’d like you to suppose in addition is that I’ve had the distinct privilege of meeting some folks who would never assume they were doing much in the way of a Big Deal, but who actually changed the landscape, the pathway, and the heart and soul of a thing forever. 

Here, I’d like to say Cheryl and Griffith Day’s names as the standard-bearers of that kind of quiet vision. 

photo: courtesy of lisa donovan
The author (right) with the Days.

In 2002, Cheryl and Griff opened the doors of their Savannah-based bakery Back in the Day. It opened like any local bakery would, with an eye on their neighborhood and town. Over the years, though, it would prove a sort of center of gravity for so many bakers—not just in the South but across the country. When Back in the Day opened, we as a culture were living blissfully with our flip phones and by word of mouth and magazines. Yet a new crop of Southern bakers took root that year, myself included, all of us sort of vortexing around this feeling, this spirit, that Cheryl and Griff were cultivating in one of the most mysterious, sultry, and tucked-away parts of the country. We weren’t watching it packaged on social media. We just felt it, the beginning of a zeitgeist that changed the landscape of baking culture in the country at large.

Back in the Day, with their biscuits, Church Cakes, pies, and stacks on stacks of cookies, was a study and reflection on what some might consider basic Southern Americana dessert territory—an often dismissed category under the pastry pedagogy. In the gifted hands of the Days, we learned just how complex and exciting this canon can be beyond regionality; they reveled in this form and gave us permission to celebrate something familiar, something friendly. We all went to work, delving into the old cookbooks, revitalizing the spirit of something lost in the contemporary kitchens of the time. What Cheryl and Griff created was a foundation for soul, history—just enough nostalgia to get you through a day, and a deep sense of reverence for not only what came before you, but also for what’s right in front of you. In my life, I have yet to meet two people who tell the story of being human in their food, in their books, and in their interactions quite the way Cheryl and Griff do.  

Back in the Day becomes a memory this year, closing its doors on February 14, actualizing its name in a new way. It will be added to the list of places that created something important in our world. Their sweet, unassuming spot on Bull Street established culture and vision in its own way, breaking barriers and lifting often-dismissed stories and voices through years of dedication and hard work, led by two true and good hearts that, I can tell you after years in this blissful, floury, and patient work, are deeply specific to bakers. 

Cheryl and Griff. We love you. Thank you for giving us all a truly beautiful “remember when.” 

Lisa Donovan is a baker, James Beard Award–winning food writer, and author living in Nashville. Lisa is currently a columnist for The New York Times and is the author of Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, which was a recipient of the LDEI’s MFK Fisher Prize for Excellence in 2021.