Everything at Junda’s Pastry Crust and Crumbs is homemade, from the breads, pies, strudel, babkas and cakes that have made it a fixture on the North Fork, to the sign out front, leaning against the façade of the building — which happens to be the oldest residence in Jamesport — with the words “homemade pies” painted in broad, slightly uneven strokes of green against a tan backdrop on a large piece of plywood.
That theme continues inside, where crossing the threshold feels like stepping into another era. Antique cabinets and display cases made of rustic and ornately carved wood are stacked with carefully wrapped packages of shortbread cookies, pound cake and homemade granola. Homemade dog treats sit in a brown wicker basket atop a small antique stove that, fittingly, has the word “charm” stenciled on the oven door.
Behind the register stands the man who made it all happen, Chris Junda. He has a commanding presence: tall and broad-chested, with spiky black hair, waiting to greet customers from behind an L-shaped display case, wearing a black shirt and simple gold chain around his neck. The hands responsible for crafting some of the most sought-after baked goods on the North Fork, and across Long Island, give a predictably firmer handshake than most.
Junda, a 54-year-old Jamesport resident, has been in business for nearly two decades. He started out with $100 and a dream 17 years ago, when he decided to start selling homemade pies on the side of the road in front of his parents’ home in South Jamesport. A framed photo of that scene hangs in the entryway of the store, showing the small table covered with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth, surrounded by three to-the-point signs with the word “PIES” in capital letters.
Since then, Junda’s Pastry Crust and Crumbs has become a go-to destination for people with refined taste when it comes to pastries, sweets, wedding cakes and all baked goods. As consumer preferences have tilted toward the allure of convenience, frugality and instant gratification, Junda’s business has remained viable and thrived precisely because of his staunch refusal to alter his recipes or the ingredients he uses — even as prices continue to rise
Junda is a proud man, passionate about both his life’s calling — which he said was clear to him from the time he was a small child — and the values he says were instilled in him by his large Polish family, from his parents and three older brothers to grandparents and a long list of aunts, uncles and cousins. He has named several of his most popular baked goods after them, including Aunt Alice cake (a chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and chocolate ganache filling) and Alice’s carrot cake (named after a different Aunt Alice).
“When I was a little kid, I knew I was going to do a bakery of my own,” he said in an interview at his store on a sunny midweek morning in September. The feeling of fall was in the air, aided by the heady smell of baked goods filtering from the front door.
Junda described his mother, Marion Junda, who still lives in Jamesport, as someone who “did phenomenal food” but never baked. That skill was passed down from his grandmothers, Josephine Junda and Anna Castner. While family members had their preferences about what they were drawn to in the kitchen, Junda described his entire family as dedicated to the craft of making food from scratch. They were backyard gardeners who canned pears and peaches, he said, adding that he is still in possession of the cleaver his paternal grandmother, Josephine, used to cut the heads off chickens and make a traditional Polish soup.
“My grandmother said, ‘We never had a lot of money, but we always had a lot of fun,’ ” he said with a smile.
It’s clear that Junda’s reverence for that way of living has informed his business philosophy and it appears to be a core tenet of his personality as well. Unsolicited, he brings up the topic of his pricing, which customers have been known to balk at from time to time. He is eager to explain the good reason behind it.
“We use butter and good ingredients, the things that my grandmother would have no other way,” he said. “People can get freaked out; sometimes they don’t understand. I could cheapen the products, but then you’re not going to be [eating a] Junda’s pastry anymore.
“The recipes and what you’re putting into the product are key,” he added.
Junda wants people to understand what it takes to make his food, but he wants them to savor and enjoy it too. When a customer stops by to pick up an order of cupcakes, he offers instructions about the best time to take them out of the refrigerator, so they can come to proper room temperature before being eaten. He speaks with the care of a parent leaving their child in the hands of a babysitter.
Junda’s strongly held convictions about his food and the ways he prepares it come from a place of deep experience in the field. Not only was his upbringing a natural education in the art of baking and preparing homemade food, but he also studied culinary arts at Newbury College before going on to work in the upper echelon of the industry, both as a private pastry chef for mega-rich clients on Nassau County’s north shore, to establishments whose names speak for themselves, like the Plaza Hotel, the Garden City Hotel and the Old Westbury Golf and Country Club. Being a head pastry chef for such top-notch operations gave Junda the confidence he needed to start his own pastry shop. Working in that environment, which he described as stressful and “dangerous,” also reinforced his desire to be his own boss, and do things his way.
With $100 worth of ingredients, he made those first few pies that were sold at the stand, operating the infant stage of his business mostly on weekends while still working at the country club. His mother often manned the stand, leading many to believe it was she who had made the pies. A year later, Junda purchased the house the business currently occupies at the top of a small crest on Main Road in Jamesport. It was formerly an antique shop, and because collecting antiques is another of Junda’s passions, he was naturally drawn to the building. His father, John Junda, a longtime builder, helped update the house and prepare it for an opening. It was the last project his father worked on before he died.
“I wanted a certain look,” he said. “I wanted you to come into grandma’s house.”
He added antique windows with frosted glass designs and a pie display case that had belonged to one of his aunts — there are also aprons on display that were used by his grandmother. Giving up a well-paying job was a risk, he admitted, but he said he never doubted himself.
“There was just something about it that I knew it was going to work,” he said. “I just had this feeling that it was the right thing.”
Junda and his staff of six full-time employees will be busy through the end of the year, particularly during the holiday season, when several specialty items are in demand.
“It’s all about seasonality,” he said, before casually rattling off the names of items sure to push even the most strict diet adherents to the limits of their self-control. “During the fall it’s all about the pies and strudel. We have apple cheese strudel, chocolate cheese strudel, sweet potato brown sugar meringue pie, apple pumpkin pie, caramel cakes, apple cranberry strudel. At Christmas, we do a lot of hand-dipped cookies.
“We do everything by hand,” he said. “Nothing is machine made.”
The mid-week September morning was a bit of a calm before the holiday storm, but the customers who did filter in provided a sampling of conversations Junda has surely heard dozens of times. One man paced the store anxiously, looking at items and lamenting that if he didn’t “get out” he’d buy the whole store. His wife ordered one item then quickly pointed to something else and added it to the list. And did that again. Not far from where they were standing, handwritten thank-you notes were affixed to the walls, many from married couples whose wedding cakes were made by Junda. One small note, on a piece of fluorescent orange paper, was taped to the wall and said simply: “Roy Lynch from Louisiana called. He loves your apple strudel.”
The notes are a testament to the fact that Junda’s exacting standards exist for a reason. He has high expectations for his employees as well, but says he also takes care to treat them with the kind of respect and dignity he often did not receive — even as high-level employee in the food industry.
Carlos Chavez has been working at the shop for a decade, starting without any baking experience and learning the tools of the trade from Junda.
“I really love my job. I put all of my love in it. I think that’s why it comes out delicious,” he said with a laugh. “When you love something, you do your best.”
That’s the kind of work ethic and dedication Junda prizes, and which he says was passed down to him from family members, along with their love for baking.
He acknowledges that it’s an “old school” mentality, and that making baked goods the way he does is “a dying art.” The phrase “freshly baked” is thrown around a lot, he points out. He wants people to know that there is a big difference between a pie that is freshly baked and one that is homemade, even though, to most casual observers, those words carry the same significance. But he also knows that as successful as his business has been, the ability to adapt and change with the times is also key to staying viable. To that end, he says he has plans to renovate the house and add a café soon.
“We have a lot of ideas that will happen within the new year,” he said.
It is clear, however, that Junda will never stray too far from his roots. It’s why, he says, he’s still here.
“I’ve always cared,” he said. “That’s the reason this has been so successful.”