Natasha Gaskill and Matthew Palmerlee open eagerly awaited brick-and-mortar bakery cafe

Updated July 4, 2024 at 12:20 a.m.

On Day One of an eatery’s opening, a line is a great sign, especially one a dozen deep before the door even opens.

Without a doubt, longtime friends and food fans of Natasha Gaskill and Matthew Palmerlee had been following Instagram closely for the past several weeks, knowing that the grand soft opening of Sixby’s retail space was imminent, and on the morning of June 29, patience paid off in orders of overnight oats, egg-and-cheese sandwiches, crumble buns, baguettes to go, and plenty of baristaed beverages.

Everyone seemed to know others in the steadily lengthening queue and caught up while inching up to the door, and eager eaters sat in the shade of the ample front courtyard and out back.

This past Saturday’s launch was the culmination of a partnership and a plan that Gaskill and Palmerlee have been working on for roughly two years, and their bakery cafe fills a neighborhood niche, nestled in the same East 41st Street block between Abercorn and Lincoln that is home to Lone Wolf Lounge, Moodright’s, Over Yonder, Picker Joe’s Coffee & Vintage Soda Shop, and Russo’s Seafood.

Another food feather in Thomas Square’s cap.

click to enlarge Natasha Gaskill and Matthew Palmerlee open eagerly awaited brick-and-mortar bakery cafe
Robin Elise Photography

NEW BREADQUARTERS

Sixby came into being when Gaskill and Palmerlee baked up a pop-up brunch at Lone Wolf Lounge back in 2022. This past November, 218 East 41st Street became the first operations address from which the partners ran their Forsyth Farmers’ Market and wholesale bread businesses, supplying Brochu’s Family Tradition, Husk, Provisions, Sobremesa, and Uncle June’s.

“It didn’t need to be built out like this is,” Gaskill said of the tabby duplex, what is now their hub of mixage and storage. “We were able to turn that into working space pretty quickly.”

Throughout that time, though, all of the baking was happening in her own home.

“My kitchen was basically half commercial kitchen, half residential kitchen,” she said with a wry smile. “I lined my oven with a bunch of pizza stones so it was all-ceramic. Every Saturday morning, I was spraying it with a garden pump sprayer.”

As of last week, the actual retail and baking operations are now housed in #220’s 415 square feet, utilized to the smallest crumb, and in time, #218 will be built out as an additional prep kitchen.

Sixby’s co-everythings started looking for the right location in 2021, so landing in Thomas Square next door to Lone Wolf Lounge was timely.

“We had looked at a space over by Perc. We looked at a space on 39th Street next to Hop Atomica,” Gaskill recalled.

“The old fire station,” Palmerlee chimed in.

“Yup, Station 5 on West Henry,” she said. “While we were figuring out a place, that’s when we were hoping to do that building on 39th Street. It was a residential-going-to-commercial, so we could never get the numbers to jive.”

Gaskill was working a photo shoot for Savannah Bee Company when the owners of Lone Wolf Lounge, Andrew Jay Ripley and Tom Worley, posted that their nearby properties were going to be leased out. Gaskill left the shoot and hurried down to do a walk-through.

click to enlarge Natasha Gaskill and Matthew Palmerlee open eagerly awaited brick-and-mortar bakery cafe
Robin Elise Photography


She and Palmerlee signed the lease on #220 first, initially unsure of how they might maximize and monetize this house, which was previously a bare-bones office building.

“There was nothing in here: concrete, no water. What else?” Gaskill asked.

“Exposed cinder block,” he replied.

There were not many “style decisions,” she said because the space was what the space was. “It was more about where equipment was going to fit.”

In the end, when everything made its way in, even the big wooden workbench and overhead wall shelving, they realized that the cozy kitchen afforded more room than they had anticipated. New windows make for a basic but bright interior whose walls are lined with shiny steel fridges, ovens, and pan racks.

“Honestly, it’s definitely more spacious than either one of us thought it was going to be,” Gaskill added. “The functionality is good.”

“We’re learning the movements between the spaces,” Palmerlee said.

“Yeah, what are your moves? What are you grabbing to start your day?” she rhetorized.

“If you go over there, take something over there, and vice versa,” he answered and smiled. “We have not mastered that yet. I think walkie-talkies are going to happen.”

Technically a to-go restaurant, Sixby essentially doubles its retail square footage outside, totaling front and back, with eight four-tops plus a stack of stools and a long drink rail looking out on the shared rear lot that begs to host small concerts and midweek markets.

“This area is the locals’ downtown. You can walk. You can bike,” Gaskill said of what neighboring business owners want to be “a little epicenter of community.”

MORNING, NOON, AND (SOON) NIGHT

The bright gold signage on Sixby’s front transom reads, ‘COFFEE, BREAKFAST, LUNCHES, SNACKS,’ and the menu printed up on A7 numbers seven items fit for morning, five midday mouthfuls, and a temptingly undefined ‘PASTRIES & SWEETS’ that will be protean and posted on the socials.

“The focus is really super-healthy, delicious food at a reasonable price point so that you can come here multiple times a week,” said Gaskill of the cafe’s concept: a two-dollar cup of coffee, five bucks for a bowl of overnight oats or a cup of pho-style soup, twelve for a grain salad filled with freekeh (durum wheat), bulgur, Charleston Gold rice, and a garden of fresh and pickled veg.

The za’atar chicken sandwich comes on a benne seed bun, the vegan tomato sandwich is on focaccia, and Sixby’s baguette is the base of the banh mi with Paris ham and chicken liver mousse, all of which are $12.

By the time you are reading this, Sixby will have landed its beer and wine license and will have begun happy hour service and specials.

Also, Sunday brunch will soon be offered, in part to take advantage of Sixby’s being the only place open in the immediate area, and late-night falafel served from the back window “for the bar crowd,” per Gaskill, will see the eatery stay open until 2 a.m.

Perhaps the most appealing part of patronizing this petite patisserie-sandwicherie is stepping into a bakery’s nerve center and placing an order right where the breads are being rolled out, proofed, and baked.

Texts via Toast or a shout from the back window lets you know that your food is ready to be picked up.

Each day, fresh-baked loaves are available for sale, including Sixby’s authentique baguettes and crusty country sourdoughs. Fridays will feature challah, and Gaskill plans to bake rugbrød, a seeded Danish rye, on Thursdays.

“It’s really really dense, like what you would traditionally use on a smörgåsbord. You cut it super-thin,” she explained. “I grew up eating it, and I love it. Ever so slightly sour, such a good bread.”

click to enlarge Natasha Gaskill and Matthew Palmerlee open eagerly awaited brick-and-mortar bakery cafe
Neil Gabbey


YEARS IN THE BAKING

Smallvannah struck again when Gaskill met Palmerlee through Chris Wilkins, who had helped open Hugh Acheson’s The Florence and led its bread program before Wilkins moved to Charleston to open Root Baking Co.

In 2018, Wilkins moved Root to Atlanta, and his new business partner there was Palmerlee, who had just worked for Acheson as a consultant and traveling chef and had amassed twenty years opening and owning restaurants in Athens and Atlanta.

Far fewer than six degrees of cheferation.

Gaskill and Palmerlee connected when Wilkins let her know that a good friend was moving to Savannah. Not long after, Palmerlee bought buns from his future pastry pal at the Forsyth Farmers’ Market.

Sixby’s third partner is Daniel Ray, Palmerlee’s “old friend” and longtime periodic bandmate who opened The Old Pal in Athens and still calls the Classic City home.

“We’ve both worked in restaurants for a very long time, so there’s an ‘I know we can do it,’ but it’s a new space, so there’s always little unknowns,” said Palmerlee.

“There’s so much programming coming out of these two little places, and we’re open a lot of hours,” said Gaskill, whose baking CV is richly delicious: The Grey, Husk, Lulu’s Chocolate Bar, and Smith Brothers Butcher Shop, which was home to her A Squad Bake Shop, plus Nat and Matt Make Ice Cream and Hotel Lugash pop-ups she and Palmerlee did post-pandemic.

Total respect for that deep-cut allusion to The Return of the Pink Panther, by the way.

Once Sixby is running full-throttle, a staff of thirteen will work mix shifts, bake shifts, late-night shifts, and more. Judging by the traffic and trade that first morning, each employee is going to be needed to keep the line from constantly wrapping around the corner.

The day before the grand soft opening, Gaskill’s husband, Nathan, was on the job, sweeping up outside before delivering a tray of rye-caraway buns to Uncle June’s in Pearl, the bakery cafe’s turquoise 1991 Suzuki Carry Truck and unofficial mascot.

“I’m the assistant manager,” said Captain Gaskill of the City of Savannah Fire Department with an impish grin.

His wife quickly corrected him with the correction made famously funny in The Office: “He’s the assistant to the manager.”

On Saturdays, donuts will be on the pastry palette, and in time, ice cream will be added as well as delivery services. When the Two Tides brewtrust opens The Laundry Diner later this year, Sixby expects to have that bread account, too.

No rest for the weary bakers.

click to enlarge Natasha Gaskill and Matthew Palmerlee open eagerly awaited brick-and-mortar bakery cafe
Neil Gabbey

WHAT IS IN A NAME?

Sixby is not a childhood nickname of either Gaskill or Palmerlee. It is not a dearly departed pet. It is an actual address in Savannah, though obviously not the one that has become their bakery cafe’s home.

The name is an homage to a house that once stood at 6 Bee Road: “Six Bee,” see?

For years, Gaskill was enamored of the concrete block abode with an asymmetric roofline that once stood at that address and thought that it would be a great place for a restaurant.

“It was always listed as the number six ‘B-E-E’ Road,” she said. “As it would be spoken around, it would just be ‘Sixby’.”

She made a Pinterest board dedicated to her daydream designs of a Daffin Park-adjacent coffee shop, and the name stuck in her head all these years.

Another true sample of Smallvannah: the owner of that property has an office just a block over from this Sixby.

Sixby (220 East 41st Street) is open Monday through Saturday (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

Published June 3, 2024 at 11:00 p.m.

     
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