By Natalie Van Brunt
Published on Friday, February 15, 2013
We all have things from the past that haunt us, that gnaw at our brain night after night, taunting and teasing and reminding us of our ineptitude. The disturbing experiences are capable of launching an attack straight at the soul, leaving us with only lingering inferiority complexes. The memories echo in our head, destroy our self-worth and force us to deal with the psychological symptoms of trauma for the rest of our lives.
I understand this pain fully, because I once tried to make croissants.
If you think this reaction is a bit dramatic, you must be like me as I set out on this endeavor. I could make some serious cupcakes, so I had to be able to tackle croissants. They both involve flour, butter and some chemical reactions in an oven. How different could they be?
Except cupcakes do not take 14 hours of physical labor. Cupcakes do not require butter shaping or folding or delicate rolling. Cupcakes do not leave you with poorly leavened dough stuck on every surface of your body as you cry in the corner of your kitchen as a result of your hubris.
I have not been able to face this task again, but Charles Umpleby does it daily.
He is, somewhat unsurprisingly, the owner of Umpleby’s Bakery and Cafe, a charming and friendly restaurant and coffee shop with an outdoor eating patio located just across from the Six South Street Hotel. In 2007, he and his wife Carolyn brought their bakery to Hanover from Vermont as the Dartmouth real estate office worked to develop the area surrounding the College. Their restaurant is the poster child for local business, offering a unique product that can’t be found from a large-scale corporation.
“We want to support the local community as much as we can,” Umpleby said. “We’re in the quality of life business. We’re here to make things better.”
Umpleby said he wanted to create a happy environment for both customers and employees, so he created a generous business model in which tasks could still be accomplished efficiently without employees finding themselves trapped in the kitchen at every hour of the day and night. His staff and their families are just as much of a priority as the cafe itself.
This dedication to a satisfied, happy staff certainly shows. As you walk through the door, you feel much more welcome than you might at, say “That one chain on Main Street that will not be mentioned,” as Umpleby calls it. The employees here smile endlessly, tolerate your ignorance of coffee varieties and don’t write “Matty Leigh” on your order when you clearly enunciated that your name was Natalie.
Instead of a case of pastries that are pulled out of some box in the back room, Umpleby’s makes everything from scratch and on site. When their pastries are even a day old they discount them, so you can be sure that your loaf of bread was not born in some distant factory during the Clinton administration.
“If we can’t make it here, then we don’t sell it,” Umpleby said.
In addition to their drink and dessert menu, they also offer a full lunch menu that makes your favorite things even better. You know that apple and cheese sandwich you’re always hoping they haven’t run out of at King Arthur Flour? Umpleby’s crafts their own version, plus bacon.
Some of their most popular offerings are their Australian meat pies and sausage rolls, which can’t be found anywhere else in town. And judging by Umpleby’s good-humored smile, I can guarantee that they’re not made “Sweeney Todd” style.
Although Umpleby’s is tucked away in town, their location provides the perfect spot to camp out with your books and work. The environment is quiet and spacious, but there’s enough activity for you to not feel like a complete recluse. You can easily sit there through two delicious meals and do your reading while actually feeling comfortable, instead of claustrophobic or distracted like you will at other locations.
Umpleby says that the College is one of the store’s biggest supporters, and that they rely on students and staff to keep their bakery in business. He hopes that those who want to support local businesses will continue to come to their cafe.
“If you want to have that small business out there next year, you have to support it,” Umpleby said. “The few extra steps are worth it.”
I, for one, am an Umpleby’s convert who will be neglecting my expensive meal plan and spending my money there instead. On my way out after this interview, I bought a croissant to eat as I walked to class. I did not have to deal with exhaustive work or a messy kitchen. The only tears shed this time were those of gratitude.
So thank you, Charles Umpleby, for your incredible bakery and for allowing me to have my beloved croissants. And please continue your work in the “quality of life” business, because that croissant has certainly changed mine.