Bakeries Rising in Morrisville
The patience of the baker can be easily overlooked if you’ve never waited hours for a loaf to rise or methodically frosted intricate decorations onto dozens of cupcakes or held your breath while transporting a towering layer cake to someone’s once-in-a-lifetime event. Bakers truly are a rare breed of persevering humans.
One such baker is Nicole Maddox, a New England Culinary Institute-trained pastry chef who, after working at a number of northern Vermont fine dining restaurants, embarked on her own business in 2015 making made-to-order cakes and confections for weddings and special events. North Country Cakes started small with Nicole baking from her home kitchen in Morrisville, VT. But as business started to pick up, her summers were becoming so booked that she couldn't also keep a part-time restaurant job to pay the bills. “I needed something to do on my own during the slow season,” she said, “and I thought there's really no better winter treat than a fresh, handmade donut.” So Nicole quietly started selling her doughnuts from a pop-up shop located on her front porch every Saturday morning. With a rotating weekly menu of flavors like passion fruit glazed, maple bacon and ricotta cream-filled that she’d tease ahead of time on social media, the doughnuts routinely sold out within hours. “It totally blew way past my expectations in popularity, and it also gave me the awesome chance to meet lots of neighbors and community members,” she said.
When I stopped by her doughnut pop up last year, I thought of my own failed food business I ran for a few years in New York City and remarked how lucky she was to be able to incubate her bakery business as a pop-up from the comfort of her own front porch. Unlike the space-constrained and ultra competitive business environments of the big cities, rural Vermont dwellers with business ambition can pretty much just hang out a shingle and go for it, allowing the business to grow at its own pace. And when she first started working from home, it was the total dream. “It’s so exciting, there's so much freedom, and the opportunity to spend more time with your loved ones and pets! But eventually I was just getting so many orders and requests, it was totally taking over all aspects of my life. Every single minute of my days and every inch of my living space, and even then I had to turn down like 20-30% of orders just because I was out of time, resources and space on a regular basis,” she admitted.
When I learned that North Country Cakes recently found a storefront in town, I felt so happy that her successful pop-up was rising to the next level and she was able to move the cakes business into a more accommodating commercial kitchen. The shop opened its doors just in time for Valentines Day this year. And it turned out that this was all possible because another patiently growing bakery vacated its space on Morrisville’s Lower Main Street after fourteen years in the same location. Thompson’s Flour Shop, known for its soups and sandwiches served on heavenly fresh baked bread, moved across the street to a storefront more than twice the size with patio seating out front. The move has allowed owner Keith Thompson to expand the menu, adding beer, wine and ice cream, and offer much more seating.
I asked Nicole what plans she has now that she’s settling into her new full-time bakery. “Wow, there are so many it's hard to even know where to begin,” she said and then rattled off a whole list of delicious ideas including over-the-top ice cream sundaes in the summer, pop-up dinners featuring the Cajun country food she was raised on, and maybe even a mobile beignet cart to take to events. But first and foremost her goal is to be able to serve more people now that she has the space. “With the greater kitchen capacity and more staff, it's easier to take on more orders and reduce the cost of smaller cakes since they don't take as much time,” she said. “And I want to make our town a little happier every day, serving baked goods and food with supreme attention to detail, great ingredients and creativity!”
While all this baking action is taking place in the heart of Morrisville’s downtown, up in the backwoods west of town there’s yet another baker who’s been quietly crafting semi-weekly batches of fresh bread, flaky croissants and the occasional soup from local ingredients. Henk Groenewald’s Secret Bakehouse begs to be tasted, if nothing else just so you can say you’re in on the secret. (Fact: I got an order of sugar-coated croissant bites, and they were delightful). Whether Henk’s baking passion project evolves into a full-time operation or simply stays a delicious secret will largely be up to him. And that is the beauty of many small businesses in Vermont: yeah you might not be an overnight success selling your goods in our sparsely populated state, but the human-scale way of doing business in these parts means if you’re patient, you can figure out what works over time and truly enjoy the ride.