Jones converting Laundromat to bakery
VERGENNES — Last week the old Vergennes Laundromat on Main Street was mostly empty, except for a few stacks of boards and the hum of power tools emerging from the open doors.
Inside, 25-year-old Julianne Jones and fiancé Didier Murat were working atop the newly poured concrete floors, cutting and measuring the wood that would become the bathroom walls. Along the wall in the middle of the long room was a platform, sitting at the ready for the brick oven that will form the centerpiece of Jones’s bakery when it opens in September.
Jones is already baking under the name of “Vergennes Laundry,” in part, she said, to test out the reception of the name, since it has the potential to be confusing. But, she said, people immediately know where her store is located when she tells them its name.
“When you say you’re opening a business, people ask two questions: ‘What is it called?’ and ‘Where is it?’” she said. “This answers both.”
Jones currently sells her various baked confections, including croissants, cookies and cheese and vegetable tarts, at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. So far, she said, the baked goods have been flying off the table, leaving nothing at the end of each market.
“I can’t meet demand,” she said.
Early on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, Jones uses Murat’s industrial oven to bake the 400-some confections she makes for each farmers’ market. Murat runs Vadeboncoeur, a business on South Water Street that makes nougat.
But if all goes well, Jones will be using her own oven by early September. The design she’s settled on is a traditional, typically Mediterranean and Middle Eastern design, built of brick. The plans for the wood-fired oven consist of two stacked hearths, with a footprint of about five feet by eight feet. Everything Jones makes — granola, pastries, scones, tarts, bread and croissants — will be baked in this oven.
“(Bread baked in) a wood oven retains nutrients, tastes better and lasts longer,” said Jones. “It’s how it used to be. Even now, bakers in France aren’t doing that.”
A BIG EXPENSE
William Davenport, of Turtlerock Heat in Burlington, has already designed the oven, and will begin building it in August. Before then, though, there is the matter of financing the oven, not to mention the rest of the construction. Jones said the oven alone will cost around $30,000.
She plans to finance it mostly through loans, but she is also seeking out more innovative ways to raise money. One of these ways is through the website kickstarter.com, which pitches itself as “a new way to fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors.” She has asked for $12,000 in pledges and set an end date of Aug. 5 to collect it.
The catch, though, is that unless she raises the total amount she has asked for, none of those who have pledged money to her project must pay — and she won’t see any of the money. The all-or-nothing structure is a gamble, since she won’t know until the beginning of August whether or not she’s got the investment or not. If that doesn’t work, though, she said she’ll find some other way to pull together the funds.
THE TOTAL EXPERIENCE
Jones, who majored in architecture at Middlebury College, has been able to take a lead in the renovation end of things, creating a design that echoes her vision for the restaurant as a welcoming community establishment — she plans to keep the space as open as possible, with a view of the oven and large communal tables in the seating area.
Beyond designing her own space and planning the menu — which she said will change on a day-to-day basis, depending on what fresh, local produce she has in — Jones is also ready to face the hurdles involved in running the day-to-day financial operations of the bakery, the less artistic end of starting a bakery. She said she has had experience working with relatives at their small businesses where she grew up, in Buffalo, N.Y., and that getting these details down won’t be a huge challenge.
“I’m not too intimidated,” she said. “Maybe the only intimidating part is the workload.”
But she’s gotten plenty of experience with the workload in the past — she spent a year as the pastry chef at Christophe’s on the Green in Vergennes, before it closed in 2008, and has worked in dining at the Whitford House Inn in Addison.
And her time as an intern with Gérard Rubaud, a renowned artisanal bread baker in Westford, led to her vision for the bread she will produce at the Vergennes Laundry — loaves and baguettes made of one simple pain au levain dough.
“(Rubaud) makes one type of bread, and he makes it really well,” she said. “He can’t nearly make enough to satisfy demand.”
So all and all, Jones said she is more than ready to open the bakery, which she aims to keep reasonably priced and as local as possible. She envisions a place where people can stop in and pick up a coffee on their way to work in the morning — she plans to open at 7 a.m. to catch the breakfast rush. And she plans to bake bread every day that she is open, planning it to come out of the oven at 3:30 p.m. to catch people on their way home from work.
Jones hopes she can contribute something to the Vergennes downtown. She says anything that draws more people to Main Street will help all of the businesses. And though Vergennes already has Good Companion Bakery, that business does not have a retail operation. She hopes the two will provide different services to the people of Vergennes and surrounding areas.
“(Vergennes Laundry) is about people coming out to eat,” she said.
To learn more about Jones’s progress, visit vergenneslaundry.com, or go to kickstarter.com and search “bakery.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].