It’s the day before Easter and Deep Sea Sugar and Salt bakery buzzes with activity. David Bowie’s “Oh! You Pretty Things” and other rock classics play over the speakers. A line forms out the door of the airy shop, which is located inside a historic, century-old green building on a residential Georgetown block. The workers behind the counter greet everyone with a smile, giving each new group of patrons a short explanation of the cupcakes and cakes gleaming from behind the glass next to a sign that reads, “Yes, this is all we have.”
There is no menu. Customers must listen up to hear the specials of the day: cakes dripping with syrup or topped with edible gold, layers upon layers, all offered by the slice. The ordering system invites customers to engage in a conversation with the workers, to discover new flavors and build a connection.
Peach bourbon. Ginger molasses stout. Chocolate salted caramel. Everything is bright and inviting. Many who get to-go orders end up eating them out of the box before they get back to the car. They can’t help themselves. That’s just one of the many reasons why this spot earned the Eater Award in 2018 for Best Bakery.
On this Saturday, owner and head baker Charlie Dunmire has been swamped with holiday orders (booked up weeks in advance) in addition to the walk-ins, but she’s not sweating it. Between decorating cakes and checking on supplies, she bounces around the bakery with an easygoing energy, giving a quick little shoulder dance for one young customer, then hugging and chatting with many of the other regulars, including a UPS guy who discovered the shop on his route and now stops by at least three times a week.
At one point during the post-lunch rush, Dunmire remarks on some of the controlled chaos behind the counter.
“Who made this mess?” she asks one of her employees.
“Must have been the ghost,” the employee replies. Everyone laughs knowingly. In an old building like this, spirits have been known to wander around from time to time. No big deal. Karen Kirsch, who works behind the counter on Wednesdays, says she’s heard there are several ghosts in the shop that “like playing tricks.”
Not that anything (supernatural or otherwise) would phase Dunmire. The Edmonds, Washington, native spent her formative years working at various restaurants from here to Michigan and back, and even spent time in Alaska processing cod aboard a fishing vessel. There were some harrowing moments back then, like the time her boat — which was disturbingly old — got stuck in a six-day storm and took on water. But Dunmire made it through in one piece and eventually became a cook on the ship, making birthday cakes for everyone on the crew and hosting movie nights in the galley.
Those years at sea not only inspired the name of her bakery, but gave her a lesson in the values of solitude. Says Dunmire, “It really challenged me to get to know myself a lot better.”
Back on dry land, Dunmire settled in the Seattle area again and put down roots in Georgetown, but her passion for baking never abated. In 2016, she outfitted an Airstream parked in the Georgetown Trailer Park Mall to launch her own operation, and two years later, she found the place on Carleton Avenue that serves as the current digs. Even with more space, Dunmire still stayed up until the wee hours of the morning baking during the first few months the shop was open, before she added more members to her crew — including her dad, who still helps out four days a week.
It was a lot of work, but rewarding. Dunmire sees the connections that customers have to Deep Sea, where everyone — from the delivery people to the customers to those behind the counter — is meant to feel like family. “If I was going to put everything into this space, it needed to be a space for the community, where everyone has a really good time,” she says.
And that loves gets channeled into the cakes, whether it’s the subtle beer flavor of the 9-pound Porter from local Georgetown Brewery (a fan favorite) or the light, Earl Grey-infused comfort of the popular London Fog. Dunmire is also continually thinking up additions to the rotation, too, whenever she’s eating or sipping a cocktail. Customers should look out for a tahini apricot cake to appear at the shop at some point in the near future, once the fruit is in season.
“The cakes are simple and beautiful,” says Kirsch. “Charlie has a thoughtful, specific vision for every cake.”
But new flavors aren’t the only things planned. Dunmire says June 1 will be an important benchmark for the bakery, when her and the team members will expand the operation. The goal is to have whole cakes available for walk-in customers and to turn over double the amount of orders they usually are able to tackle. A small remodel is in the works for the summer, as well, to “try to max out the space,” says Dunmire.
A couple of days after Easter, Dunmire (pictured above in the Instagram post) finally takes a well-deserved break — the first vacation she’s had in three years. A short little trip to Portland with her French bulldog, Chopper, just to reset and breathe a bit. She deserves it. Whatever ghosts lurk around the baking ovens can chill for a while until she gets back. They’re friendly ones, anyway, as Kirsch says: “Charlie has seen them and respects them.”