‘The Bread Lady of Cape May’ sells loaves of love

Locals and tourists line up every Monday and Tuesday mornings to buy the wood-fired, clay-oven-baked bread from the “Bread Lady of Cape May.”

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Elizabeth Degener standing with customers.

Elizabeth Degener helping customers purchasing bread. (Sana Mahmud/WHYY)

Two mornings a week, locals and tourists line up outside Enfin Farms in Lower Township, New Jersey.

They bring out their lawn chairs and reserve their spot on the grass. Some come with books, while others bring friends and family members. Together, they patiently await the arrival of Elizabeth Degener and her loaves.

Customers wait in line outside of the stand.
Customers waiting in line ahead of the stands opening. (Sana Mahmud/WHYY)

Known as “The Bread Lady of Cape May,” Degener’s one-woman operation of wood-fired, clay-oven-baked bread has residents and vacationers clamoring for her loaves. The bread, which is being sold Mondays and Tuesdays at 10 a.m. this summer, typically sells out within an hour.

“People are passionate because it’s very difficult to find something artisanal and real. It’s not corporate, it’s not mass produced, it’s genuine, it’s delicious, and that’s why I’m here,” said BG Betz, a college professor at West Chester University. Betz, who vacations in Wildwood Crest during the summers, counts herself among Degener’s loyal clients.

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Customers stand outside of Elizabeth Degener's bread stand.
Customers waiting in line ahead of the stands opening. (Sana Mahmud/WHYY)

Degener’s home and farm stand are part of the family-owned Enfin Farms. Her great grandparents bought the property after World War II. After college, Degener worked on farms abroad through an exchange program.

“I learned a little bit about baking on a farm in Germany,”  she said.

When she returned from her travels, Degener ordered a clay oven, converted her garage into a commercial kitchen, and then simply “walked out there” and started selling her bread. That was 14 years ago. In 2017, she was named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker Award for the Mid-Atlantic Region.

A farm stand with a sign that reads Clay Oven Bread
Farm stand where bread, flowers, produce, and more is sold. (Sana Mahmud/WHYY)

Little has changed for Degener despite accolades and recognition.

“I’ve been very conscious to keep it exactly what it’s been since the beginning — a one-person operation, small scale,” she said.”I have never grown with demand, never expanded.”

Elizabeth Degener turns over flavor boards as she sells out.
Elizabeth Degener turns over flavor boards as she sells out. (Sana Mahmud/WHYY)

On the days she sells, Degener wakes up at 2 a.m. to thaw her dough and allow it to rise. She pairs spices and herbs with fruits and veggies, and bakes a wide variety of loaves hours before her customers arrive. Sometimes she bakes muffins and other treats. She admits the schedule can be challenging, but says the work is “absolutely rewarding and super joyful.”

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A list of bread flavors for the day are posted on the stand.
Bread flavors listed for the day. (Sana Mahmud/WHYY)

Her customers appreciate all the labor of love.

“This is like an old-time business that I think most people want to see stay in business,” said Betz.

For some, lining up outside the farm stand on Sunset Boulevard has become an annual summer tradition.

“This is pretty much a ritual moment to come here and stand in line,” said Jill Wodnick who has been coming to Cape May with her family since 2003.

Customers wait on the side of the road.
Customers waiting in line ahead of the stands opening. (Sana Mahmud/WHYY)

Jeremy Levine, a North Jersey resident who regularly vacations in Cape May, said he noticed the long lines every time he drove by the farm. Last summer, he decided to wait in line and try the bread. Levine said he was hooked. He returned to buy more bread on his annual vacation this year.

Degener admits that her customer base and community’s support continue to be a “blessing.” They never complain about waiting in line or returning home empty handed some days.

“People are so friendly,” she said. “Everyone’s talking and meeting each other. I hear people going out for drinks together at the end of their conversations, you know what I mean? They are just creating relationships.”

While the Global Artisan Bakery Market size is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.6% over the period 2021-2028, Degener said she is content with her business’s scale and size.

A customer reads in a rocking chair outside of Elizabeth Degener's bread stand.
A customer sits and reads at the front of the line before the bread stand opens. (Sana Mahmud/WHYY)

She charges $5 for a loaf and has turned down offers to sell her bread at local restaurants and farmers markets.

“I am confident that this is as big as I’ll ever go,” she said.

The future for the “Bread Lady of Cape May” seems to look just as it does now: A one-woman operation, dedicated to producing quality over quantity, and sharing her labor of love with all those who live in and visit Cape May.

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