Exit Interview with Sassafras Bakery’s A.J. Perry

The owner of Worthington’s beloved Sassafras Bakery talks about her decision to close and what’s next.

Erin Edwards
Columbus Monthly
A.J. Perry at her now-closed bakery in Worthington

Pie-making is a very long tradition dating to antiquity. There’s something special about those walking among us who carry on the craft and spread joy—and even magic—through the manipulation of flour, fat, salt and water into something divine. A.J. Perry, founder of now-closed Sassafras Bakery, has done just that over the past 14 years.  

After getting laid off from her job, she launched Sassafras out of her home, selling her baked goods at the Worthington Farmers Market for six years. In 2013, Perry opened her first retail shop at 657 High St. The small café’s yellow walls were like a warm hug that complemented Perry’s delicious food, from sweets like cookies and pies to savory soups and quiches. I spoke with Perry in August, the same week that she shuttered her neighborhood bakery. Closing Sassafras was bittersweet, but she accomplished everything that she set out to do, she says. Here, she reflects on Sassafras and her future. 

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Your last day of business was Aug. 21. I was wondering if you could reflect on that final day? Oh, it was beautiful. It was just really amazing to see how many people came out to say goodbye and give well-wishes and to collect memorabilia from the space. It was just really humbling. 

What kind of memorabilia items did you sell? So, all the pie plates on the wall when you first walk in. People were asking to buy those off the wall, and we were selling our ceramic dishes and silver-plated silverware and display dishes, [and] just some basic kitchen equipment. 

What were some of the factors that led you to the decision to close? There was no one single thing that led to the closing. Ultimately, what I care most about is the quality of the food. That people experience comfort, nostalgia and magic when they come into the space or eat the food. … Through the pandemic we were constantly spending time pivoting and evolving just to stay afloat. Changing up the menu. As a sole business owner, I was in charge of the space itself, as well as applying for loans and grants, [following] CDC guidelines. It’s just day-in-day-out, week after week. It led to some personal exhaustion, and [I was] just personally burned out. Once restrictions were kind of lifted and we were able to expand our hours, getting the right people to produce the food to the quality of our expectation of comfort, nostalgia and magic—it just really became incredibly difficult despite multiple social media posts for hiring, thousands of dollars spent on hiring outlets. ... I’ve been doing this for 14 years, so I just really felt like this was the best time to make a pivot and reimagine Sassafras Bakery and my own personal future. 

When you announced the closure, you said Sassafras would evolve. Can you expand on that? The first thing that I’m going to do is just take time for myself. I’ve got plans to travel and visit friends and places that have [been] on the back burner while I’ve kept things going at Sassafras. First up is Chicago. … I’m really gonna spend the rest of this year just traveling, resting and just enjoying life. And I have a fistful of ideas for ways that the business could evolve and highest on the list, I think, is writing a cookbook. It’s something that customers have asked for throughout the years. Especially when I made the announcement on social media … most of the comments were, “Please write a cookbook.” 

What do you think is Sassafras’ biggest contribution to the community? That is a hard one. The comments, both online and in person, that really touched me the most [are] when people talk about how they relied on us for celebrations and family gatherings and just, you know, people gathering together and creating memories around food.

This story is from the October 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.