Costeaux French Bakery’s nutcracker collection a Healdsburg tradition
As the fall light wanes toward winter, row upon row of military-precise nutcrackers of every shape and size are lined up at Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg to get customers and visitors in the holiday spirit.
The nutcrackers stand in all their mostly painted jacketed glory, on shelves installed just for the holidays, on the mezzanine and in every nook and cranny. There is even a special tall nutcracker to greet you as you walk through the open gates.
Costeaux is a Healdsburg fixture, and when the holidays come around they are known to get into the spirit of things, but never did Will Seppi think he would be immersed in nutcrackers in November.
The young man who left for Villanova University in Pennsylvania thinking he was never to return to the Burg now embraces everything about it. At Villanova, he became an accountant and went on to work in Pennsylvania, until a fall on the ice and a pair of ripped pants made him long for California’s sunny weather. After transferring to the Silicon Valley and working there for several years, he returned home in 2005 and became general manager for the business in 2006.
As a scion of Nancy and Karl Seppi, owners of the bakery since 1981, he seems to be a natural in the job. And then, there are those holiday nutcrackers. One day, Will Seppi was out looking for a new “Santa chair” for the cafe’s holiday breakfasts with Santa and while he was wandering through the Salvation Army’s store at Lytton, he picked up a half-dozen nutcrackers. In line to check out, a woman asked him if he collected nutcrackers.
He thought about saying no, but the cargo in his arms would belie that answer. The woman’s mother had passed away, leaving her with a collection of nutcrackers that she didn’t know what to do with. So Seppi handed her his card, they sent along photos, and soon, “The nutcrackers came marching in.” He had bought the whole collection of more than 500.
Each year the collection grows. This year, Will Seppi received three new ones for his birthday from a long-term employee.
His favorite? The one that sits on his desk all year round. It’s been coined the “Gingerbread Baker,” he said, and it’s considered the bakery’s mascot.
“The design represents our core business of baking,” Seppi said. The baker nutcracker is an authentic Steinbach collectible made in Germany. It was a gift from the Healdsburg Raven Performing Arts Center given because of Costeaux’s long-term support of the organization. … It’s a reminder that a strong community is based on the collective contributions of many.”
Another favorite is a baker with toque, apron, tray and pastries, which is considered the business’s mascot.
In mid-November, willing and available employees join Seppi in the afternoon and evening to string garlands and lights down and across the walls, to unpack nutcrackers and place them in ranked rows, then to enjoy a meal to celebrate turning the bakery cafe into a holiday wonderland. Here is a ship’s captain, steering his wheel with a tiny boat at his feet. Over there is a nutcracker, “bought in Forestville” in 2004, with place and date marked clearly on his base. His military dress, fluffy white hair and beard are common among many of his fellow nutcrackers.