From farmers’ markets and local cafes to delivery and shipping services, pies, cakes, cookies and more have made their way to satisfied customers in Berkshire County.
Five years ago, professionally trained pastry chef Leslie Milton, fresh off an internship at King Arthur Flour in Vermont, was looking for a place to start her new business, Goodnight Kitchen. Moving to Williamstown, she got her residential kitchen certified and began production for the weekly local farmer’s market. “I was making a huge amount of product and selling every week,” says Milton. “It would erase me. I couldn’t move for two days. After a successful summer, she broadened her sales approach and began working with several local businesses and organizations, supplying baked goods for the Williamstown Theater Festival, sending care packages and birthday cakes to students of Williams College, and ultimately securing a spot with Mezze Bistro. & Bar offering wedding cakes and desserts for their catered events.
As the pandemic approached, working from home, Milton was unsure whether it would be easy to continue reaching his customers or how things would affect his business. The weddings were called off, the students returned home, and kitchen production stagnated for about a month. But Milton took advantage of this time to focus on improving its online presence, which quickly led to an increase in orders. “None of the bakeries were open,” says Milton, “and a lot of people wanted to send care packages to people they couldn’t see or to cheer them up with. So I shipped a lot of cookies and brownies. Birthday cakes, quarantine gifts, and celebration cakes have become a focal point and have helped maintain business consistency during an unpredictable time.
Milton’s love for baking is genetic. “As a child, I used to cook. And I have a grandmother who was an incredible baker; she always sent me care packages. Summer camp, throughout college, she sent me shoe boxes full of things. When Milton’s daughter Emma went to college, she found herself sending out pastries once a week for her and her friends to share. This allowed him to reconnect with pastry making and allowed him to stay close to his daughter, despite the distance. They both later explored their love for baking together on the Fox Crime Scene Kitchen TV show.
While operating from home, Milton was also looking for a commercial space to make his pastry shop. Its current configuration includes an oven, and although it is even more high-tech than the one it was originally supplied with, two racks can pose some production challenges. “I always thought this would be a great business, because of all the people who make small batches, but there are no commercial kitchens for rent, so your choice is either to get a license for it. do at home, either build a space, which is expensive, and you sell there.
When asked about the challenges of working and living in the same space, Milton expressed surprising comfort with her situation. “For me, it’s ideal because my business plan is not to get fat,” she explains. “This is exactly the kind of life I want.”
Milton’s drive to create things and inspire joy is what keeps her in the kitchen. “I think people are happy around baked goods. It makes people happy, and so when you can do something that makes someone happy, it’s a cool business.
Milton is taking advantage of being on a small scale by collaborating with other small businesses, like the local Sweetbrook farm, using their maple cream to create a new flavor of maple buttercream frosting. Its products are available on order or on personalized request on its website.
A few miles away in North Adams, Dede and Gabe Vanore started their own small batch bakery business, Bohemian New Bakery. From desolation to destination, the married couple and their business are enjoying great success after only three months of living in the Berkshires, having relocated here in May from rural northern Maine. “I’m finally in the right place,” says Dédé.
The couple spend their Saturday mornings spreading out bread, cookies, biscotti and more at the North Adams Farmers Market, which sells out almost every weekend. “The worst day we’ve had is pretty close to the best day,” Gabe marvels at the community’s support. “You know how long we’ve been waiting to find the place where people come up and say, hey, I love what you do! Dede said. “The whole town is like, we love your business, you can do it for a full time job now!”
Their initial strategy when they moved here, Dede thought, was “We’re going to land there, make some money in the market and most likely get a job somewhere. That was the plan. But to their surprise, the predominant success of local sales at the farmer’s market as well as their business with The Parlor Café has allowed them to take full advantage of the bakery, allowing them to live the small, sustainable and comfortable lifestyle they both gravitate. towards.
But the Vanore’s life hasn’t always been as sweet as the treats they are making now. “The more I talk to people about my business, the more I remember when I went to food banks and was homeless for a while,” says Dede. “Even if you go through these times, a while to have money and success, you forget.” Gabe said. “So we don’t want to forget that.”
Their goal is to eventually become a partial nonprofit or find ways to give back to the community through the business, either financially or with a product. “We knew we always had to be charitable if we had the chance,” Gabe remarks. Dede, having worked in public school systems, is also passionate about tackling food insecurity and making her skills available as a resource for people in need. “I lived the bread life for a day,” she says, “and that’s what made me creative in the kitchen. “
The simplicity of the Vanore lifestyle allows them to be more successful as a business. “When you don’t have money, you don’t waste it,” Gabe said. “There is a benefit to what we call being a small batch bakery. It’s more of a philosophy than a reality. He doesn’t use big electronic mixers, doesn’t mass produce, doesn’t get five ovens and fifteen grids. One of the challenges we face as a small business is this pressure to grow your empire when it’s not yet justified. The couple are satisfied with the current operation of their residential business; However, if the opportunity arises, possibly through a grant or over time, it is best to have a physical storefront. “My dream would be to live on a property where I have a bakery,” says Dede. “That natural cadence of a bakery life is missed.”
In the future, the couple are hoping to get a few more wholesale accounts across town so they have more security behind them to start implementing charitable practices and donations. They will also collaborate more with local businesses, including making special-order breads for the Chingón Taco truck in North Adams. They also hope to implement a CSA-style distribution method for the winter to supplement lower market incomes and get goods to customers efficiently and productively during the cold Berkshire season.