Well-known to longtime locals, Sam’s Bakery is one of those places that can leave a foodie downright conflicted: do you shout its greatness from the rooftops, or selfishly keep it to yourself so you are sure that they won’t run out of your favorite pie when you do make the trek from the East Bay?
Fortunately, it’s not a choice that needs to be made. They have plenty — and it’s all good. How good? So good that its Fall River location may well be responsible for a measurable percentage of the opposition to the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls. So good that I (have a friend who) once abandoned a funeral procession after noting how close the cortege would be passing by the Flint Street landmark.
Sam’s isn’t just any bakery, it is a Lebanese bakery that produces pita bread so thin, so tender and delicious, that one bite will ruin commercially-baked pita for you. Forever.But what elevates a trip to Sam’s to full treat status is their pies. Some open, like a small pizza, others closed like a calzone, the list of offerings range from the standard spinach with tomato and feta to cabbage, chourico, broccoli, meat with laben (a Middle Eastern cheese made from strained yogurt), sweet sesame, and menich, a magical combination of Lebanese thyme, sumac, sesame, salt and lemon that settles in between your teeth and should not be consumed en route to a date or job interview. (Otherwise, totally worth “Menich teeth.”)
The woman behind the legend is Georgette Yamin, who opened Sam’s with her husband Saleem in 1961. Georgette hails from Lebanon, the daughter of the town mayor; Saleem was born in the United States to Lebanese parents. His mother brought him to Lebanon as a child and raised him near Georgette’s home, and they met and eventually fell in love. Drafted to serve with the U.S. military in WWII, Saleem told Georgette that if she waited for him, he would come back. She did, he did, and not long after, Saleem decided he wanted to return to the United States. Georgette’s response? “I told him ‘wherever you go, I will go.’ I had nothing but love and respect for him. He asked me once, when we were young and working hard, if I was happy. I told him if I were married to a prince I would not be as happy as I am.”
These days, Georgette and Saleem’s daughter, Dora Yamin Peterson, is the face of Sam’s, and she runs the operation smoothly with the help of a dependable staff, including baker Gabe Martins and Gabe’s daughter Amanda, who serves as Dora’s right hand.
Gabe’s day begins at 3 a.m. with a cup of strong, black coffee, and ends at noon. In between, he’s responsible for the day’s prep and bake, which goes well beyond flour and water — pie ingredients from spinach to laban, meat and menich, are all fresh and prepared onsite. The bake ends at noon, but sales continue until about 2 p.m., earlier if they run out.
Like most of the Yamin children, Dora began working at the bakery as a small child, catching the bread as it emerged from the machinery that mixes and shapes the loaves. Between her five sisters she has many nieces and nephews as well as children of her own. Most have worked at Sam’s for a time, before going on to professional careers.
Dora credits Georgette, who in turn credits her own mother, for her culinary skills and knowledge of Arabic cuisine. She points out that bread is just flour, water, and salt — it is the process that is at the heart of the quality of their product. “When you do anything, no matter what it is, you start out and improve as you go, until it is the best it can be,” Dora says. These days, Sam’s many customers, who line up right out the door for a chance to scoop up fresh, hot bread and pies, are enjoying the result of more than a half-century of the Yamin family’s quest for perfection.
256 Flint St., Fall River
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Thursday (no bake day) 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.