notable edibles

Sam's Graces Cafe and Bakery

Photography By Tamara Stevens | July 01, 2016
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Interior of Sam's Graces Cafe and Bakery

When you walk into Sam’s Graces Café and Bakery the first sight, sound and smell image is freshness. The whitewashed walls, open ceilings and eclectic mix of furniture and music provide a perfect backdrop for the hanging baskets of bread and other baked goods waving at you. The ovens near the door fill the air with the craving of every human I know: fresh warm bread. Sam’s even makes their own English muffins.

“The baker gets in around 4 AM, in the winter, but in the summer it’s around 2 AM,” says Victoria Conklin, business partner and owner with husband, Chad.

Sam's Graces Cafe and Bakery exterior

As a native Alaskan, I fell in love with Sam’s the first time I walked in soon after they opened in April 2014. Victoria and Chad had been working in a lodge at the foot of the Brooks Range at Gates of the Arctic National Park, and well north of Fairbanks in Coldfoot, Alaska. Except for the oil lands north on the Slope and some other bush communities, there’s not a whole lot of humanity in those regions. In fact, it’s always unsettling knowing when you walk out the door, you’re not on the top of the food chain. So how does this translate to a wonderful café in Harbor Springs?

“Chad and I were both working in a lodge where he was running the camp and I was running the kitchen from around 2007 through 2012. Then we decided we could do this on our own and began a business plan.”

If you’ve ever driven the Alaska Highway you may feel a special appreciation for Sam’s. Fresh homemade food from local farms, dairies and markets is one of the features of the North. There’s not a grocery store to shop down aisle after aisle. Food is provided as it arrives in season and people eat hearty meals to stay warm and energized. Running that type of kitchen can only be done with the freshest ingredients, especially for lodgers looking for that ultimate experience.

Chad and Victoria have parlayed those talents into an amazingly simple menu and a wonderful approach to entertaining guests. After two short years, everyone knows everyone, and the café is already set to expand. Not into other walls, which would shatter the elegant coziness, but additions of new cook tops, ovens and space for faster service. With a newly acquired liquor license, they’re also adding a bar.

Organic Cherry Scones from Sam's Graces Cafe and Bakery

Victoria walks the Harbor Springs Farmers’ Market for necessities, and they obtain everything else from Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs, George Dent Farm in St. Joseph, Jake’s Country Meats in Cassopolis, Whispering Pines Ranch in Mio, Double Farm in McBain, Victory Farm in Hudsonville, Coveyou Farm and Martinchek Dairy in Petoskey and Third Day Farm in Zeeland. Besides making their own English muffins, the Pugliese bread, multigrain bread and lemon-blueberry scones are to die for.

Come early, by the way, because many of the baked goods are gone before the lunch menu begins at 11 AM. Breakfast begins early most days, but it’s best to call for seasonal hour changes.

The name, Sam’s Graces, is a touching memorial to Victoria’s father, Sam.

“Chad and I had moved back to Michigan and were scouting for a location, when my father was killed by a drunk driver in 2013. He was an organic gardener, and at age 75 used no medication of any sort. He ate very healthy, and it made sense to us to name the café in honor of him.”

You’ll find pictures of Sam around the café along with other favorites, like the dog sled team Chad cared for and the dreamlike settings of their Alaskan lodge. The northern roots are authentic here, and Sam’s Graces Café and Bakery captures an aura of health and vitality that’s sincere and found in few places.

—Tom Renkes

Sam’s Graces Café and Bakery

339 State St., Harbor Springs
231-242-1230 •

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