Bremerton is abuzz about Saboteur Bakery, as evidenced by social media posts singing the praises of Saboteur’s brioche sucré, swooning over its ham and cheese croissants, and driving two hours to procure some of its panettone. “I can’t believe it,” says owner and baker Matt Tinder. “People are driving from Bellingham to buy scones.”
Saboteur may be a relative newcomer to the Bremerton area, but its products have taken root in the community’s palate. No matter what sweet or savory bundles of baked goodness Tinder puts on the display shelves, supply at both Saboteur locations is reduced to crumbs by closing time at 1pm, sometimes earlier.
So what’s Saboteur’s secret? Nothing, says Tinder, who has been known to share his recipes. “I just want to make food that people want to eat.”
Tinder was raised in Hawaii and developed a palate for fresh and natural foods. “It wasn’t deliberate, we weren’t strict,” he says, “but there was a lot of tropical fruit, an avocado tree in the back yard. It’s just how we ate.” Although he grew up eating carob instead of chocolate and dried fruit instead of candy, Tinder’s approach now is balanced. “I like really good ingredients,” he says. “And I want foods that are supposed to be treats–that are supposed to be a bit sinful–to taste great and be well-made.”
It’s this acceptance of the appropriateness of “sin” in food that makes Saboteur’s cafes such welcoming places. “I don’t preach about ingredients,” Tinder says. “I present the food the way I believe it should be presented, and then we treat people with respect and let them make their own decisions.”
Self-taught through jobs ranging from burger joints on Kauai to Michelin-starred restaurants in northern California, Tinder moved to Bremerton to start a bakery business with his fiancé, Kate Guiggio. Two years later, Saboteur operates in two locations: a full bake shop in Manette and a retail location downtown.
Tinder does all the baking himself. “I like working alone,” he says. For some, a baker’s punishingly early hours are a necessary evil of the job; for Tinder, they’re one of the benefits. “It’s quiet,” he says, “I like the focus.” This preference for professional independence supports the online reputation that Tinder is developing as a “restless perfectionist.” He laughs when I tell him about it. “If you do anything for a living that’s redundant, you’re inevitably going to end up with some things you’re not happy about,” he says. “What I like is being able to go back into the bakery again the next morning and do it all again, and make it better.”
There is redundancy in baking, certainly, when one has customers lined up outside the bakery door at opening time, all seeking a twice-baked almond croissant. Tinder must bake a lot of croissants, dozens of bagels, and mountains of bostock. But Tinder also thrives on doing what few others do, so he has verged into meat pies, and is quietly becoming one of an elite cadre of artisan panettone bakers in the world (read more about panettone–considered “the Everest of pastry”–here). “If it isn’t widely available,” Tinder says of infrequently-baked pastries, “I want to make it.”
Tinder learned of Bluebird Grain Farms when he was working at Coi and The Restaurant at Meadowood in northern California, but it wasn’t until he moved up to Washington that he was able to test it. “When I moved to Washington I got every local flour I could get my hands on,” he says. “I wanted the best performing flours. I wasn’t going to use a local flour just because it was local–it also had to be great. Out of all the stuff I tested, I liked Bluebird the most.”
Saboteur offers whole grain breads using Bluebird’s emmer, Einka, and rye flours. “I like to offer whole wheat as whole,” Tinder says, “I don’t cut it with white flour.” He continues, referring to the cost of some of his loaves, which can run as high as $10 or $11. “If I’m buying the best ingredients,” Tinder says, “I have to charge what I charge. And if customers care about what they’re putting in their body, they’re going to realize why the cost is higher than they’re used to.”
Owning and operating his own bakery, as well as being the sole baker, does not come without challenges. But Tinder faces them philosophically. “The more organized I get, the more product I can make,” he says. “The demand for Saboteur to grow is there, but I don’t want to grow too fast. It takes time to put all the pieces together.” Pieces such as connecting with farmers and identifying sources for his products, developing new products, and–his most recent project–getting Saboteur’s sandwich program off the ground.
Some of the time to figure out new programs and next moves comes during the biannual bakery closures–once in the summer and once in the winter. They travel a bit, visit old friends in California, and then head back to Bremerton to work. “I do a lot of brainstorming in my head and on paper,” Tinder says. “Saboteur is a small business and I can’t afford to just buy a bunch of expensive ingredients and experiment. But I do pretty well with the preliminary stages happening on paper.”
Once the bakery has been closed for a while, it takes a few days to get it up and running again, says Tinder; he has to order in fresh supplies and get his leavening active again. Customers have usually been forewarned to stock up in anticipation of a bakery closure, but for many customers Tinder’s brief breaks represent a time of simply enduring until the next fix of fresh currant scone or almond torte. And then Saboteur’s doors open again and Tinder goes back to the business of doing the same thing over and over, making it better and better each time.