By Tim Rowland
The first instinct of some vacationers popping into Pine Cone Mercantile and North Woods Bread Co is to apologize. Surely this must be the exquisitely decorated living room of a private townhouse, not an open-for-business bakery, farm store and home-decor shop.
This tickles co-owner Lisa Hess-Marks, who laughs and invites them in, assuring them they are in the right place for breads, pastries, onions, steaks, cheese, salsa and all that, along with an assemblage of some of the most unique Adirondack-with-a-twist home fashions anywhere in the park.
Lisa and her husband Edward Marks opened Pine Cone Mercantile on Schroon Lake’s Main Street in 2015 after becoming enchanted with the area and buying a house four years prior. “We wanted something four hours from New York City with mountains and lakes,” Lisa said. “We had never been to the Adirondacks before, we jumped in a car and when we got to Schroon Lake we said, ‘this is it.’”
Lisa and Edward bill themselves as “simple city folks,” which they were in the sense that Sam Irvin was just “an old country lawyer.” Edward was an antique merchant turned bread baker, while Lisa was a fashion designer at The Gap, Aeropostale and L.L. Bean, sporting a go-to ensemble that included a string of pearls, nuclear red lipstick and a flannel shirt.
Wanting to open a business that would make a difference for the small town while taking advantage of their own strengths resulted in Pine Cone Mercantile and North Woods Bread Co, a combination that at first puzzled the community.
“They said it was crazy — sofas and bread? That will never work,” Lisa said. “But it did.”
To think about it, it made sense: food and furnishings being the building blocks of everything that is good about a home.
When they recognized Schroon Lake had no farmers market or grocer selling anything local they expanded with Pine Cone Provisions, which scours Adirondack and other regional farms for a base of local products. Edward said he drives through the Adirondacks, finding locally sourced products from farms including Asgaard, Blue Pepper, Crown Point Dairy, Juniper Hill, Sugar House Creamery and Wild Work Farm.
Supporting local farms is important to the Marks because of the products’ exemplary freshness and flavor, and ultimately because it’s important to their customers. “We’ve set a high quality level for ourselves, so we want to keep (our products) as local as possible,” Edward said.
The Marks didn’t know it at the time, but local foods would become crucial — both to them and the community — when Covid closed down all nonessential businesses in 2020. With the help of Wild Work, Pine Cone Provisions developed an online shopping cart that’s open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, selling a broad array of groceries from delmonico steaks to baked goods to beets.
When the pandemic hit, Pine Cone closed for three days and then came back, reinvented with a pre-order and pick-up model that thrived, thanks to online shopping and contactless pickup. “We provided food for a good chunk of the neighborhood,” Edward said. “Before, we had been doing everything with Post-It notes and legal pads; this was a lot more efficient.”
Their pre-order and pick up model is still going strong today. Each week roughly 30-120 households place an order online and the Marks work with local farms to purchase and package the customer orders for pick-up.
Always an excellent cook, it was in Manhattan, Lisa said, that Edward “became magnificent at baking bread,” while she became adept at pastries. “This is all made from scratch, and we mean scratch,” she said. “This is old-school cooking.”
Edward said he has a base of 15 recipes that he rotates through the year, often cycling with seasonal availability of local ingredients — butternut squash, for example, for squash toasting bread.
“We have the basics, white and brown breads, and then something that is a little more ‘cheffy,’” Edward said. This includes, for example, a black pepper and fig sandwich bread born when a customer asked if he ever put black pepper into the dough. At the time, Edward said he’s been reading about sweet fig breads in the nature of banana bread. So he subtracted the sweetness, added the pepper and a new creation was born.
To get to the baked goods, customers walk through Lisa’s aforementioned living room, a juxtaposition that is no accident. “To get to the bakery you have to go through all this beautiful stuff,” Lisa said.
Lisa said she wanted products that were of an Adirondack flavor, but without infringing on other businesses. There is little in the way of birch bark and twig, but if that’s what the customers want, Lisa is happy to refer them to shops that carry what they’re after.
Pine Cone leans more toward barnwood, creative art and saucy takes on ADK staples. Because, technically, no one had ever proved that the Adirondacks DOESN’T have its own Sasquach, so why not put him on a set of coffee mugs?
She peppers antique skis, paddles and minnow buckets among the leather sofas and heavy barnwood dining room sets that would be at home in any great camp. But there are also pillows in a Native American design and paintings of deer and bear from Oregon in a distinctively bright Tlingit style.
“Cozy/modern” might describe it, Lisa said. And if you mistake the shop with its snug decor and scent of candles, spices and warm bread for someone’s living room, that will be fine with her.