In March of 2021, Patches’ Pastries sprung up as an independent bakery operating out of Arcata’s Northtown Coffee. A year later, the trans-owned business is celebrating the opening of its own eatery at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, where 23-year-old owner and sole employee Patch Fraga is serving up baked goods and espresso four days a week.
The Humboldt County native told the Outpost that he initially moved his business operations into the fairgrounds’ newly renovated commercial kitchen in April, to focus on wholesale orders. However, he and Humboldt County Fair Association General Manager Richard Silacci quickly started discussing the idea of transforming the fairgrounds into a lively year-round restaurant scene similar to Redwood Acres. A month later, Patches’ Pastries is the fairgrounds’ first long-term eatery and Ferndale’s newest cafe.
“I’m opening shop because I’m here baking all day anyway,” Fraga said. “I have a rotating base of items including Belgian waffles and hopefully some savory stuff down the road.”
Fraga and Visit Ferndale hosted a grand opening ceremony for the eatery on May 20. Since then, Patches’ Pastries has been serving cakes, danishes, scones, cookies, muffins and more from the fairgrounds’ Friendship Square, Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Now that his first restaurant is officially open, the fledgling business owner said that he plans to build on his success by hosting unique events inside the fairgrounds.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “With the stage here, we can host some drag shows, late night movies and more fun events — especially ones involving the LGBTQ community, because that’s definitely missing on this side of town.”
While Fraga isn’t aiming to make his gender identity the theme of the bakery, he said that he does want to be transparent with customers and also use the opportunity to promote the visibility of transgender people in society.
“I’m excited to be here and to be that support for people,” Fraga said. “I don’t want customers coming into a situation where things are uncomfortable. But if I put it out there that this is a trans-owned business, people can choose to support me, or not. It doesn’t mean I bake better than the other guy.”
The opening of Fraga’s shop is an important moment in Ferndale’s history. In recent years, the city of less than 1,500 people has made local headlines for racist and antigay incidents that have occurred around town — an issue that’s been perpetuated by Rev. Tyrel Bramwell of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Bramwell last made Humboldt news in February for using a local radio station’s “Community Comment” section to call the Black Lives Matter movement “evil.” However, a quick look at the church’s website shows that Bramwell recently used public airwaves to go on a transphobic rant in April.
Fraga said that these incidents of discrimination likely drive visitors away from Ferndale. However, he added that the reverend’s words may have unintentionally inspired a positive change in Cream City.
“Being openly hateful is never a good way to start a conversation,” he said. “But the response to [St. Mark’s Church] was Ferndale’s first Pride Parade. So I process [intolerance] like that knowing that there’s always a beautiful reactionary movement. Back in the day, things like that happened and nobody said anything. The fact that people in Ferndale came out to the parade to show support, I can only see that as an improvement.”
Despite the ongoing turmoil, another openly gay business has thrived in Ferndale in recent years. Foggy Bottoms Boys co-owners Thomas and Cody Stratton have racked up millions of likes promoting their family farm on social media. As a result, Executive Director of the Humboldt County Visitors Bureau Julie Benbow said that the farm has become a popular tourist destination.
Thomas Stratton and Fraga say they have been close friends since they first worked together at the Humboldt County Fair Ice Rink in 2018. Before creating his bakery, Fraga helped the Strattons build their successful website. Now, Stratton is actively working on ways to help Fragas business grow.
“It’s always good to have folks who are able to authentically be themselves,” Stratton said about Fraga’s business. “It’s amazing to watch young business people become successful and have others believe in them.”
With the two businesses operating 10 minutes away from each other, Stratton said that Foggy Bottom Boys and Patches’ Pastries are collaborating on new products like waffle dog treats.
“We have Grade B eggs that we can’t sell in grocery stores and we have an opportunity to turn them into dog treats,” Stratton said. “We’re in the research and development phase right now.”
In addition to the local LGBTQ community, Fraga is also an active member of the local Portuguese community. Coming from a proud Portuguese family, Fraga frequently bakes Portuguese-style pastries and rice pudding for his cafe. Last weekend, he was also hired by the Ferndale Portuguese Hall Association to make sweet bread for the annual Holy Ghost Festival.
“Family equals food,” he said.
Raised on a dairy farm in Loleta, the local food industry has been a constant part of Fraga’s life. After selling the family dairy, which supplied milk for the Humboldt Creamery, the Fragas moved to Arcata, where they produced goats milk for Cypress Grove cheese for 20 years.
It was during his teenage years in Arcata that Fraga discovered his passion for baking. Forced to transfer to Arcata High after St. Mary’s closed in 2012, Fraga attracted new friends with homemade cupcakes.
“I was one of two people that transferred to Arcata high,” he said. “My way of getting to know people was saying: ‘Here’s a cupcake.’ That’s my secret way of making friends. I honed my skills and it kind of just turned into a thing.”
After graduating from Arcata High, Fraga decided to pursue a career in the food industry, and in 2018, he graduated from a culinary institute in Portland, Oregon with a focus in hospitality and baking.
Fraga’s parents sold the family goats and essentially retired from the dairy business last year, but Patch Fraga is following in his parents’ footsteps and working to run a successful small business of his own.
“I’m proud of him,” his father Michael Fraga said. “He has always been an entrepreneur.”
In addition to his Ferndale store, Patches’ Pastries goods can be found around Humboldt at Shotz Coffee, Gold Rush Coffee, Northtown Coffee, the Redwood Riverwalk Motel and elsewhere. Fraga will also be open for business during the Humboldt County Fair, where he plans to sell Belgian waffles. With enough success, Fraga said that he hopes to one day hire employees and open up a separate location in Fortuna.
“Since I got here, even though I’m just casually open, I am making enough money to pay rent and pay off equipment like the espresso machine,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to reinvest back into the business. I’m excited to make some profit.”