Baba-a-Louis begins a new chapter in Rutland
Photo by Steve Peters
Jerry Sojourner, left, owner of Baba-a-Louis, sold his long-time business to owner and chef of Roots the Restaurant, Donald Billings.
Editor's note: This story first appeared in the Rutland Reader.
By Steve Peters
When a business is successful for more than 30 years, it might seem unwise to bring about change. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? While that mentality might work for some, that's not the case with the past and future owners of Baba-a-Louis Bakery.
Come next week, one of Rutland's go-to sources for fresh bread, English muffins, and other baked goods, will undergo a relocation, renaming and new ownership. The business will simply be called The Bakery and be situated between Small Dog Electronics and Fruition Fineries on West Street in Rutland — adding another destination to an, until recently, forgotten section of downtown.
After several months of discussion and planning, Jerry Sojourner, current owner of Baba-a-Louis, decided to sell his long-time business to owner and chef of Roots the Restaurant, Donald Billings. Based on Billings' success with Roots and high level of energy, Sojourner is confident he can take Baba-a-Louis into a new generation — one with a computer system, UPC bar-coded bags and a bright, attractive new space that includes a café.
“He's bringing it out of the '70s,” said Sojourner, who will remain involved for the short term as The Bakery transitions into its new incarnation.
Having done business with Baba-a-Louis since starting Roots, Billings started asking himself questions like why the English muffins couldn't be topped with eggs and made into sandwiches, or why the pastries couldn't be showcased in a more visible, centrally located space downtown. And so The Bakery was envisioned.
If it sounds like Rutland's beloved, long-time bakery will fade from existence, fear not, because much will remain the same. Customers will still find the baked goods they have come to know and love at Baba-a-Louis being made by Sojourner's talented bakers and with the original recipes. But expect a few new items to come out of The Bakery as well — such as bagels.
Even the equipment, which was transported in a one-day move this past weekend, will not change. And there will be no gap in service for The Bakery to continue fulfilling Baba-a-Louis' wholesale customer orders.
The final days of the five-week construction on the new, 2,500-square-foot home of The Bakery are nearing completion and Billings is excited to get the doors open. He collaborated with the same creative designer of Roots, Malgosia Urbanowitz, and he thinks the aesthetic alone will draw in the community.
At the café customers will find a selection of espresso and coffee options from Speeder & Earl's Coffee Roasters in Burlington. The coffee will be self pump — helping to reduce the long wait times that plague many a café. There will also be a number of loose tea options from the Vermont Tea Company in Middlebury, juices, smoothies, hot chocolate and bottled soft drinks.
Rustic wheat, onion sour rye and oatmeal are just a few of the fresh breads to be offered, along with rolls, bagels, English muffins and pastries such as cupcakes, cookies, éclairs and whoopee pies.
Breakfast sandwiches will be offered on bagels and English muffins, while the breads will be used to construct one of 10 signature sandwiches. The offerings are typical of Roots' creativity: the house sandwich features house-cured salmon, pickled shallots, capers and crème fraiche; a butternut squash puree sandwich brings together pickled onions, greens and goat cheese on poppy seed bread.
“The goal is to showcase a phenomenal product that has been around for 31 years, to make it more accessible to people in the community who might not know it is here and to show people what you can do with it,” Billings said.
In the past, Baba-a-Louis was a strictly grab-and-go operation. But now customers are invited to linger and enjoy their food and beverages at one of the café's tables — which will be equipped with plenty of outlets for charging laptops, tablets and phones.
Behind the scenes there is another unique operation. The Bakery will participate in Casella Waste Systems and Foley Distributing's Power of Three program — a closed-loop recycling program where recycling is collected, picked up and then made into new products that will then be used back at the bakery. It will also take part in Green Mountain Power's pilot ice energy system with the use of two Ice Bears, which will help shift air-conditioning demands from the daytime to nighttime.
“It's going to be a very unique space and everyone's been great through this whole process,” Billings said of the round-the-clock efforts of several businesses, including Paul Gallo and Magic Brush Painting, Naylor and Breen Builders, Mike Gauthier and Greenscreen Graphics, Bill Lousen Pluming & Heating and Mark Foley, Jr. “It's a team effort and everything is coming together so well.”
The Bakery, located at 122 West St., is set to open sometime this week.
“The goal is to showcase a phenomenal product that has been around for 31 years.”
Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.