Martha’s Country Bakery: Slice of The American Dream in Forest Hills
by Michael Perlman
Jul 25, 2012 | 9666 views | 2 2 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Carrot cake, chocolate mousse, gelato, marble yogurt pound cake, very berry napoleon, Oreo cupcake, frozen mixed drinks, hot chocolate, coffee…this is only the beginning of what meets the eyes upon entering the newly expanded Martha’s Country Bakery in Forest Hills.

The Forest Hills visionary who has big eyes for classic American sweets and values his four decades of experience is George Stertsios. He is the founder of what has become a slice of the American Dream at 70-28 Austin Street, and a fine relatively new “mom & pop shop” addition to the diversity of Forest Hills.

Martha’s Country Bakery opened in 2007, and moved next door in June 2012, bringing it up to 2,900 square feet, with room for 70 seats, 12 pastry counters, a new coffee bar area, and a significantly larger kitchen for tasty creations.

Martha’s Country Bakery is a family-owned and operated business, which can be distinguished from other bakeries by its diverse treats and ambiance. Stertsios’ mission was to be a bit of a bakery supermarket, which then evolved to a bakery coffee shop.

“We are the only bakery where you can come in the morning to buy a danish and coffee, return in the afternoon to purchase a cappuccino and cupcake, and then return in the evening with friends and hear music,” Stertsios said.

Martha’s Country Bakery is named after Stertsios’ mother and now his daughter, who is also named Martha. Two other branches are located at 36-21 Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, which opened in April 2004, and at 41-06 Bell Boulevard in Bayside, which opened in May 2009. In the near future, Stertsios plans on opening another branch in Manhattan.

Generations sitting side by side dominate the ambiance on any given day.

“We are a happy place where grandparents feel comfortable bringing grandkids, mothers come in with strollers, and young people bring their dates,” Stertsios said.

On an average Saturday, Martha’s serves about 2,000 or more patrons. The bakery caters to birthdays, Sweet Sixteen parties, and customizes its treats for holidays by offering challah and Irish soda bread.

Customers indeed take pride.

“This is a great place for dessert, and I enjoy everything,” said Mariam Buchman, a Forest Hills resident since 1965 and a patron since 2007. “Since there are more seats, the waiting time is not as long.”

Brenda Zuckerman of Forest Hills has been taking her children to the bakery for two years, and boasted how tasty the cupcakes, tarts, and cookies are.

Stertsios, 46, is a Douglaston resident who came to New York at age 7 from Konitsa, Greece. He grew up in the bakery business alongside his father, who operated a small bakery at 53rd Street and 9th Avenue, which was where Martha’s originated in 1972. Stertsios began working at age 12 on weekends.

“I witnessed everything from sweeping the floors and washing sheet pans, to learning how to write on cakes and design flowers for cakes,” he said.

Some of the first treats he prepared were pound cake, linzer tarts, and hamantaschen. One of his earliest recollections is the days it took to put an icing on a black and white cookie.

“My father told me to make sure the fondant was always perfect and shiny, and the chocolate part doesn’t go over the vanilla part,” Stertsios said, whose father still works at the Astoria location.

Martha’s has a recipe for success.

“As an owner, it involves 17-hour days, 7 days a week,” Stertsios said. “You need to have your own recipe, ideas, and believe in yourself. My father and I struggled for many years, and success didn’t begin until five years ago.

“Success wasn’t just handed down,” he added. “We learned what it was like to struggle. If you are willing to do everything, then you should consider opening a bakery business.”

Stertsios said the work is fulfilling.

“Nothing is more rewarding, especially on holidays, when you sell thousands and thousands of pies,” he said. “I can’t believe how we came from a tiny place to serving about 50,000 patrons during a holiday.”

In addition to having the financial vision, Stertsios visualizes the design of each cake and location, and is the unique designer.

“Everything at Martha’s goes through my hands,” he said.

He coined his style as “Country Chic,” or a warm country feel with a touch of modern. It took him a few weeks to design the Forest Hills store, and it was built in three months. Atop the wood floors sit illuminated pastry counters with gaslight-style fixtures. Traditional wood seating contrasts the whitewashed rustic brick wall with a decorative shelf with mirrors. O collectibles are nearby.

Stersios’ wife designed bakery-inspired signs with slogans like “A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.” The coffee bar is in the back. Wood beams echo Forest Hills’ Tudor character.

“When I was younger, I would always visit Forest Hills,” said Stertsios. “Once we opened our Astoria location, I knew I could expand. There weren’t many bakeries around Forest Hills.”

It was indeed a sad note when local classics such as Jay Dee Bakery, Evelyn’s, Peter Pan, Cakeland, and Cushmans shuttered.

“Old-fashioned bakeries had a few pastry displays with no sit-down component,” said Stertsios, blaming high-rents for the lack of space. “Those who ran Jay Dee probably retired, and there wasn’t anyone young to take over and contribute ideas.

“I am most honored to be in Forest Hills because of its diversity and successful businesses, which we contribute to with our home-cooked desserts, which everyone seems to enjoy,” he added.

Most native “mom and pops” may have closed shop, but as long as Martha’s continues to enchant palettes with a resonating taste complemented by savoring aromas, our love for pastries and more is here to stay.



Comments
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Natalija
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December 03, 2013
Hi,

I have been a regular customer at this location for many years. But what I have experienced the last two times that I was there prompted me to write this comment that is just so disappointing.

The last time that I was there (a few weeks ago) the lady who was helping me behind the counter did not speak any English and it took me more than five times for me to explain to her what I needed. So I said, ok it's a melting pot, we all need a chance.. However, this last time that I was there, the attitude of a few servants was so unacceptable that I had to take precious time from my day and write this comment.

I went to the store in Forest Hills to buy a few pieces of cake. I had spent $ 41.05 on purchasing various cakes. Being that I was there with my four year old son he has decided that he wanted to eat at the table rather than at home. I asked the waitress if we could sit down. She said yes and told me that one of the 'waitresses' would bring me my cake to the table and no need for me to pay at the counter. So I went and sat down with my son expecting my cakes to be brought to me. I waited about 20 minutes. Not only were the cakes not brought to me (even though I told the waitress that they are ready in the box) but no one even paid any attention to me or my table. Two other waitresses came by and asked me what I needed. I told them the same thing - that the hosted told me that no need to pay for cakes one of the waitresses would bring in to me. NO one did. So I went to the hostess and asked her where my cakes were and she said that I had an attitude and that I needed to sit down and someone would help me. Well.. no one did.. I went to the waitress behind the counter who took my order. OMG!!!!!!! Seriously, she looked at me like she just could care less about anything and with her mouthful (because she was eating something behind the counter) told me that my cakes were ready and were was I because she could not find me... Seriously????????? Then... I looked inside of my box and a few things were missing. I asked her if she had charged me for it.. she told me no.. because I did not give it to you? What? She knew she missed my order and did not even put an effort to accommodate? Wow... Did not expect this from your store. It will be a long time before I go there.. and the by Twitter everyone will know of your bad practice and of your bad customer service... Horrific. I had spent thousands of dollars at your store over the years.. and what is this? Horrible.
Marty b
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April 17, 2013
I was in Martha's country bakery yesterday and had a bad experience.. First of all, the cakes were mislabeled ( the eclairs and the cannolis,

the German chocolate cake wasnt labeled at all and the airhead server, who gave us the wrong cakes 3 times, kept on licking her fingers whenever she pulled out the (waxed paper? ) sheets from the box which she used to handle the cakes from the display cases...and this place as an A rating? With the chance of contracting Hepatitis C aside, they should really step up and make this place as good as it was before it expanded...