Otter Creek Bakery marks 25th

MIDDLEBURY — For a quarter-century, Otter Creek Bakery owners Ben and Sarah Wood and their faithful employees have been brightening their many customers’ days with a great cup of coffee and a variety of decadent pastries and wholesome salads and sandwiches.
To celebrate their 25th anniversary in business, the Woods want to brighten the outlook of those less fortunate, as well as to deliver, to the community at large, the secrets of some of their tasty creations. They will do this through their recently released “25th Anniversary 2011 Recipe Calendar,” which includes recipes and photos of some of the bakery’s most popular creations.
Any profits from the sweet venture will go to Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE), a nonprofit that provides services to Addison County’s neediest citizens.
“For years, people have asked for recipes and I have said, ‘We’re going to do a cookbook,’” Ben Wood said. But when the couple actually looked into the process of creating a cookbook, it became clear that it was too ambitious an undertaking while running the bakery.
Instead, the couple decided it could take a smaller bite of a cookbook project — a calendar that would showcase the bakery building and 12 recipes along with photos to illustrate those final products or their main ingredient.
“We wanted to display our beautiful building and acknowledge our staff and extend a thank-you to them and the community for supporting us for all of these years,” said Sarah Wood, the author of the recipes, which use products typically in season — or in theme — for the calendar month in which they are featured.
For example, May’s recipe is cherry coffee cake. February is “red hot meringue.” December is “candied cranberries and gingerbread cookies.”
The Woods carefully considered each recipe and reduced the ingredients to a household batch. They, of course, are accustomed to mixing very large batches for their bakery.
“We wanted to make things that people could tackle without failure,” Sarah Wood said. “There is nothing worse than getting all of your ingredients together, spending the time and money and failing.”
David Wimmer, a former bakery employee, painstakingly photographed the calendar pictures that bring the recipes to life.
Each calendar is being sold for $18, or $23 if mailed. All of the profits — roughly $8 per calendar — are going to HOPE.
“We are very grateful to Ben and Sarah for donating the profits from their calendar sales to HOPE,” said Jeanne Montross, the organization’s executive director. “Such community support is vital to us, never more so than now. More and more people are needing help and at the same time the state is providing less help. In fact, state employees are sending people to us for what they used to provide. We are hard-pressed to meet the needs. Right now, we are trying to help many people who have no food, no money for heat, and quite a few who are living in tents, basements and cars. The profits from this calendar will be immensely helpful to our efforts.”
The Woods are pleased to lend a hand, and are also gratified the calendar recipes will allow some former county residents to again enjoy some of the treats they thought they had left behind with the bakery. Sarah Wood noted a recent call from a former Middlebury resident who wanted an Otter Creek tart sent to New Jersey.
“I sent him the calendar instead,” Ben Wood said, noting the tart would not likely have survived the trip.
It was back in 1985 that the Woods began serving up their products in Frog Hollow, at the Otter Creek Café. They outgrew the space in about six months. As luck would have it, Emilio’s Delicatessen was up for sale at 14 College St. Included in that lease was an option to buy the building. The Woods leased the space and exercised the option to buy the structure, and the rest is history. They sold the café about a year after acquiring the 14 College St. property, which they have endowed with solar panels to generate renewable power for the business.
“We needed to simplify things,” Ben Wood said of the decision to close the café and their desire to focus on a single business, which now has a staff of 12 full- and part-time workers.
It has proven to be a successful recipe, as the Woods have many loyal customers, some of whom have been with them for all 25 years — like Hal Schmitter. Schmitter has been frequenting the Otter Creek Bakery several days a week for the past quarter-century. That kind of longevity rates him a special “Hal’s Salad”: mixed vegetables with a Caesar dressing packed into a reusable plastic carton Schmitter faithfully presents at the counter.
“I feel like I am entering ‘Cheers’ where everybody knows my name,” Schmitter said.
Other customers are similar creatures of habit. Bakery employees can see certain people heading toward the door and begin making their orders. A list of sandwiches at the back of the store includes the names of those who regularly consume them.
On a recent morning, 30 recipe calendars remained from an initial run of 100. A second run is in the works. Anyone interested in buying one should stop off at the bakery or check out www.ottercreekbakery.com.
“We won’t be dong this every year,” Sarah Wood said of the calendar, then added, “Maybe every five years. We’re in it for the long haul here.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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