When it comes to baked goods, Waco is, for the most part, firmly rooted in the early 2000s. If you want softball-size cookies or cupcakes heaving under three inches of frosting, this is your town. True, folks in search of something more nuanced have enjoyed a recent uptick in artisan bakers offering items such as sourdough boules, cakes that favor salted honey buttercream over fondant, and Costa Rican empanadas stuffed with guava paste and cheese. But for a long time, those of us devoted to laminated pastries, of which the croissant is queen, had just two options: H-E-B, whose bready, pliant croissants are more suitable for lunch-box sandwiches, and Nightlight Donuts, whose signature cronuts are positively juicy with frying oil.

That changed in 2021, when Little Foot Farm, run by Laurie Zaminski and Victor Sandoval, joined the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. The homespun hippie vibes of their stall, with its woven table coverings and hand-stamped packaging, might lead you to think that the two are amateur bakers cranking out the usual cupcakery. And in some ways, you’d be right. Everything from tea cakes to kouign-amann are made entirely by hand and baked in an unreliable, hot spot–riddled home oven. Yet the goods on display on Saturday mornings—with their shimmering butter-bronzed tops, pools of glistening caramelized sugar, and swirls of Gruyère or dark chocolate—recall a Parisian patisserie or San Francisco’s best bakeries.

This is the vision of Zaminski and Sandoval, two chefs who met while working in an impressive array of Austin fine-dining restaurants and bakeries. While Sandoval was putting in sixty-hour workweeks on his journey from cook to sous-chef, Zaminski was honing her croissant-making skills with a pastry team. The couple dreamed of one day opening a business together, but with most of their waking hours devoted to the service industry and all their money going toward rent, the dream would have to wait.

When the pandemic hit, both Zaminski and Sandoval found themselves suddenly and unceremoniously out of work. Sandoval’s employer notified him and his colleagues of the closure and shuttered the doors that same day. Zaminski, who was about to start a job as a pastry chef, was told that her start date was on hold indefinitely. “We started panicking at that point,” Zaminski said.

Victor Sandoval and Laurie Zaminski.
Victor Sandoval and Laurie Zaminski.Courtesy of Little Foot Farms

As weeks of unemployment became months, Zaminski and Sandoval spent the time reevaluating their careers, saving money, and envisioning a life beyond restaurants. “We just stopped doing everything,” Zaminski said. “Some people were getting their COVID checks and spending them on stupid s—,” Sandoval said, “but we just saved it. Laurie’s unemployment money went straight to the bank.”

In 2021, the couple bought a tiny house with two acres of farmland in equally tiny Durango, just northeast of Temple. Zaminski spends the weekdays baking in her small kitchen, where she pays particular time and attention to her croissants and other laminated creations. Lamination is the magic behind every croissant and adjacent pastry, and it is the key to achieving those signature flaky layers. Cold (but not too cold), high-fat butter must be folded again and again into yeasted dough with delicacy and precision. Without the aid of a professional dough sheeter (a kind of rolling-pin table that takes the heavy lifting out of rolling and folding), it is a labor-intensive process which Zaminski tackles entirely by hand. When he isn’t working the farm, repairing hail damage, and wrangling chickens, Sandoval assists Zaminski in the kitchen with the nonlaminated bakery items like strawberry pop tarts, blueberry-lemon chess pie, and black-sesame cream puffs.

While all of their baked goods are excellent, the stars of the show are the laminated pastries. “Making croissants is hard,” Zaminski said, “and it’s kind of a dying thing. I’ve been making them for years and I’m still learning.” A bite of her pain au chocolat is accompanied by the signature crackle of perfect lamination, the result of that carefully folded butter releasing steam, creating layers, and essentially frying the outer edges of the pastry. A shower of golden flakes gives way to a dizzying spiral of layers and a tender, buttery center, shot through with a bittersweet chocolate baton—and that’s just one of the delicacies Zaminski is known for. The kouign-amann is crowned with gooey, darkly caramelized sugar; the cruffins are stuffed with a variety of fillings, such as passion-fruit curd and plum-raspberry jam; the pecan sticky buns are both decadent and restrained; and the croissant loaves make the best toad-in-the-hole. 

Because croissants tend to lose their je ne sais quoi when they’re produced en masse, Zaminski and Sandoval plan to keep their operation small, although they just hired their first market employee to allow Zaminski more time with her oven. The bigger picture for the couple is sustainability, not empire-building (a refreshing concept here in Waco, where the Magnolia model for world domination is an entrepreneurial beacon). 

“I won’t sugarcoat it,” Sandoval said. “It’s hard. We live in a small house. We make sacrifices. And if I didn’t know how to build and tinker, it would be impossible. But we never raised our prices, even when eggs and flour were at an all-time high, and the farm never grows larger than what our pastry sales can pay for.” Homesteading and baking for a living requires an immense amount of grit, pluck, and know-how, but it’s enough for Zaminski and Sandoval that they are doing work they love, investing in a life that is truly their own, and sharing their talents with the Waco community.