Signe Gardo was still baking celebration cakes in the final week that her Heaven Bound Bakery & Café was open. COURTESY SIGNE’S BAKERY & CAFÉ

Signe Gardo, founder and owner of Hilton Head Island’s landmark eatery, Signe’s Heaven Bound Bakery & Café, has retired and closed her shop Dec. 24. “I have plans to finally relax and then write a cookbook with one of my daughters,” said Signe.

The business marked its 50th year in business, with Signe at the helm the entire time, on Aug. 11, 2022.

Although the iconic Heaven Bound Bakery Café at 93 Arrow Road will be closed for good, the facility itself is being refurbished and will re-open in February with a new eatery, Sprout Momma Breads. This family venture has become popular locally over 12 years as an artisan bread baking enterprise on Hilton Head Island’s north end, with regular appearances at regional festivals and farmers’ markets plus wholesale clients.

“They will do well,” said Signe. “Kim Tavino and her family are enthusiastic, youthful and have the right kind of work ethic to succeed in the restaurant business which can be stressful.”

Signe’s original bakery café was opened in the summer of 1972 in a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage in the area of Sea Pines Resort called Harbour Town. It moved to its current location in 1984. Unpretentious in nature, the eatery has garnered both local and national celebrity status for its expansive, unconventional menu and fanciful, low-key décor. It was a favorite stop for Heritage Golf Classic greats like Johnny Miller and Tom Watson, as well as tennis superstars Martina Navratilova, Evonne Goolagong and Chris Evert in the Family Circle Cup.

Named Hilton Head Island’s Small Business of the Year in 2007 by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, Signe’s was once described by the New York Times as a “café with food that is as healthful as the climate and activities on Hilton Head Island.”

Over its 50-year span, the bakery café has been featured in Southern Living Magazine three times as well as Bon Appetit, Travel & Leisure, Town & Country, Destination Weddings plus numerous other publications, as well as The Food Network, CBS Sunday Morning and the Today Show. Signe herself has been portrayed in US Weekly Magazine and South Carolina Living. 

TV celeb Rachael Ray stopped by in 2004 and swooned over Signe’s deep-dish blueberry French Toast. Grandmothers have routinely arrived with their granddaughters in tow to share the same jumbo oatmeal raisin cookies that they once ate while vacationing on the island.  

Now 81, Signe figures she has made more than 4,000 wedding cakes and that she had plenty of help. “Staying in this business for this long, I didn’t do it by myself. I have worked with more than 2,000 employees over the decades,” she said. “They are part of my life and I just try to be respectful and appreciate what they are doing to make it happen.”

She also acknowledges to have never followed a business plan other than making her customers happy and living by her faith. “About two years ago when I broke my leg, I began wondering how long this would last,” said Signe. “I did not think of an exit plan. I just try to listen to the Lord each day. I knew that when it was time, he would let me know. And, now he has.”