City 'Laundry' bakes up brick oven cuisine
VERGENNES — Near the back of Vergennes Laundry, the brushed metal walls of the industrial oven flickered orange with the light from the fire inside.
The bakery, which opened on Main Street this month, is full of eclectic combinations — the traditional, two-hearth brick oven with a sleek modern finish is a start. But even more noticeable upon entering the bright, airy space are the two fur-draped folding lawn chairs and the wall-mounted antique caribou head.
“Its name is Benjamin,” said owner Julianne Jones last Thursday evening. “He’s pretty friendly.”
Globe lights hanging from the high ceiling shine on the long counter along one wall, and the sleek wooden tables and chairs along the other. The centerpiece of the bakery is the large oven in the far corner, which warms the whole shop.
“It’s just a fresh, clean place, but it’s still got its little Vermont charm,” said Jones about the design.
And the menu, which she plans to expand in the coming months, is also a mix: it’s a wood-fired bakery, espresso bar and cheese shop, according to Jones. The food is a mix of French pastry cuisine and Vermont chic, with an emphasis on fresh and local produce. Early in the day the shelves boast a rainbow of tarts, croissants and other pastries, plus granola and yogurt. A strip hanging down from a paper roller lists the day’s specials, soups made with local parsnips and celeriac. Jones said squash soup was on the menu for the weekend, and paused while considering the possibilities for the coming week that could include produce from a Middlebury farm.
“I’ve got some black beans from Elmer Farm,” said Jones. “I’ll probably do something with those.”
Jones said she’s been making more than 100 fresh croissants each morning, plus a wide array of other pastries. Last Thursday, one of the specials was persimmon tarts, which sold out early in the day.
That’s been the trend so far, said Jones. During the weekends, the tables have been full, and by the end of the day, there are few leftovers. But that’s not a problem: Everything is made fresh each day — granola is roasted at the end of each day, while the fire dies down. With a plug in the brick oven’s opening, the cavern inside is the perfect temperature for baking in the morning, Jones said.
The store opened the weekend of Dec. 4, and Jones said many of the people who have been eyeing the construction curiously since she began working on the space six months ago have poked their heads in to see what it looks like. The cold weather doesn’t hurt business, either.
“People want a drink, and they want a treat,” she said. “We’ve sold a ton of coffee — lattes, cappuccino. And hot chocolate.”
So far, the 25-year-old first-time business owner said it’s been a fairly easy ride. After a successful fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter.com, a website designed to connect creative projects with people who pledge small amounts of startup capital, Jones was able to finance the building of the brick oven.
And she’s put in many hours of her own time to complete the space, the former home of the Vergennes Laundromat. Jones, who has a B.A. in architecture, designed and constructed the bakery space with help from her fiancé, Didier Murat. Murat owns Vadeboncoeur, a Vergennes business that makes traditional French nougat (a product that appears on the shelves of Vergennes Laundry). Last week, she said Murat was in the middle of making the second display case for the store’s counter, which will be refrigerated. The case will hold local and imported artisan cheeses, which will be cut to order.
Then, in the next few weeks, she said, the store will begin selling fresh bread, baked daily. Jones apprenticed with Gérard Rubaud, a renowned artisanal bread baker in Westford, and, like Rubaud, she plans to sell just one type of bread.
Those are Jones’s plans going forward: Add in bread and cheese and expand the lunch menu. And as for the heavy focus on local produce?
“It’s going to stay that way,” she said.
The store is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m.
While she rolled out soft, buttery croissant dough on a work table last Thursday evening, Jones said she’d been in the shop every single hour since it opened. But she’s also practicing skills she never had before starting the business, like delegating tasks for her three employees.
“For somebody who’s never employed anybody, that’s a lot,” she said. “But it’s been good. I’ve learned a lot.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.