Never mind the butcher and the candlestick maker; it’s bakers and more bakers in downtown Manchester these days.
In May 2011, Queen City Cupcakes opened on Elm Street. Last fall, Lee’s Cake & Pastry opened on Manchester Street. In May, Baked Café and Deli arrived, and in June, Finesse Pastries.
Food has been a big part of Manchester’s downtown revitalization. 2001 marked the completion of Verizon Wireless Arena. In 2005 Northeast Delta Dental Stadium opened. According to census data published in the New York Times, the area experienced a population explosion between 2000 and 2010, a near 20-percent increase.
And all those people have to eat.
“Fifteen years ago, it was, ‘Where are the people?’” said Ladislau Lala Jr., who operates Lala’s Hungarian Pastry on Elm Street with his parents, Ladislau and Silvia. They’ll celebrate the shop’s 15th anniversary in November.
Prior to InTown Manchester’s revitalization projects — the nonprofit booster group was founded the year before Lala’s opened — the street was barren, Lala said, characterized by boarded up storefronts or short-lived business ventures that never seemed to find footing.
Lala’s and others took advantage of InTown’s programs that subsidized storefront improvements. The Lalas added a dining room and began serving breakfast, then lunch and then dinner, all the while baking desserts.
On the city’s east side, removed from downtown, this is Kay Skilogianis’ 25th year at Kay’s Bakery, a simple corner counter at Lake and Hall streets. According to Skilogianis, long before the deserted Elm Street of the early ’90s, Manchester had about 40 bakeries. People might purchase bread from one place, desserts from another, and cakes elsewhere, she said.
“They began to slowly fall off in the ’70s,” she said. “And in the ’80s, shopping centers came in, and they were one-stop shops.” Medicine, lawn chairs and loaves of bread were suddenly available in a single store. Skilogianis wanted to give customers friendly service. “With a small business it’s easy to provide that, and I hope that is coming back,” she said.
Specialty bakeries — shops dedicated to cupcakes or Italian cookies or French pastries — were never a big thing, Skilogianis said. Now they seem to be.
“It’s just cupcakes … we have a different niche down here, and at this point most of us have our own niche,” said Chelsea Stoddard, owner of Queen City Cupcakes (790 Elm St., 624-4999). Her bakery was part of a national cupcake trend when it opened in May 2011. For several days, its shelves were selling out within hours of opening.
Since June, Manchester residents have been able to get French pastries at Finesse (968 Elm St., 232-6592). “I thought, given the area, French pastries would be perfect,” owner Chelsea Erickson said. The city’s French-Canadian heritage is well-known. “We knew that no one else would have the same type of pastries,” Erickson said.
Just prior to Finesse, Jenny Cheifetz opened Gone Baking (305-6026). Her uniqueness is wheels: She sells finger-desserts, cupcakes, cookies and chocolate-dipped pretzels out of the back of a sweet-toothed Ford van that she parks in the Millyard, in the iParty parking lot on South Willow Street, and elsewhere. Her cupcakes are small one- or two-bite treats. “They can be eaten without filling people up,” Cheifetz said.
Dale Keough is executive pastry chef at Baked (1015 Elm St., 606-1969), which opened in May and offers baked goods plus a lunch menu, a dining room and even a bar. “My background is in classical French cooking, but we do a little bit of everything. I think I’d get bored limiting myself,” she said. As for coexistence and competition, Keough thinks there is a “healthy dose of both” among Manchester bakeries.
Time will tell
Sangcheol Lee, who brought baking skills he learned in South Korea, with him to the U.S. when he moved here around 10 years ago, decided to open his own shop after working for a time at Bread & Chocolate in Concord. Lee’s Cake & Pastry (79 Manchester St., 206-5925) features German and Italian goods like chocolate-and-rum-covered truffle balls, tiramisu and decorative pastry swans.
“It’s hard work, but baking is enjoyable for my dad, and I like it because he likes it,” said Ahra Lee, Sangcheol Lee’s daughter, who helps out. According to Ahra Lee, her father’s time at Bread & Chocolate made for a good reputation at his new place, but business has been a little slow with others opening. “We just need more time — people are having a hard time finding us because we’re not on Elm,” Ahra Lee said.
To increase draw, her father will be stocking even more specialty cakes and perhaps sandwiches, she said.
Gone Baking has visibility problems, too. Within Manchester, Cheifetz says, she is limited to selling on private property outside the no-vending district.
“I am a very optimistic person, but I’ve had no miracles yet,” she said; she’s still “finding her groove.” Chiefetz parks at various places, at various times and in all kinds of weather, and she is considering keeping a journal to track customer trends. “Some days are pretty unsuccessful, but I know that the public wants this,” Cheifetz said.
According to Lala, Manchester has proven itself willing to support new businesses downtown, but a down-turned economy affects eateries: Cancelling dinners out and packing your lunch are two easy ways to save money.
“We have to face that there’s a lot of [bakeries] here, but it could be a good thing that there are more starting up,” Ahra Lee said.
“I go to other places, and I do like them, but this one is our favorite,” said Lillian Kenney, a Manchester resident, at Queen City Cupcakes. She was there with her friend Carol Keusch. “It’s clean, central, and has good, delicious food,” Keusch said.
Stephanie Nistico, also of Manchester, enjoys bakeries because they offer breakfast foods without the “wait around.”
“I love breakfast, especially to go,” she said. Nistico was with a friend, a Vermont native.
At Baked, Robert Scheindel was in from Portland, Maine, on business. “There is good quality of baked items, it’s Grade A muffins and they have a great blend of coffee, and it’s within walking distance [of work],” he said. Scheindel said he visits Manchester about once per month and will usually look for a shop he can sit down in, and work at his computer.
At Queen City Cupcakes, Kenney and Keusch were joined by Barbara Seaman, of California, who visits Manchester each year. The trio’s trip to the bakery was made on the “spur of the moment.”
“They usually are. We walk and eat and seldom get home with [the food],” Kenney said. Keusch said there are so many other bakeries she hasn’t had a chance to try them. Nistico said she doesn’t know about all the different places either, but feels with “all the other restaurants and shops around, Elm Street is definitely the easiest for a quick bite.”
“It’s the same with any business opening up ... people ... see you, and they try you,” Lala said. “And if you’re good they come back. People are willing to try.”
Michelle Moulin has owned Michelle’s Gourmet Pastries and Deli on Union Street for 15 years and doesn’t see other bakeries as competitors: “Everybody’s doing something very different and people can find what they’re looking for,” Moulin said.
At Baked, Keough had a similar sentiment: “People are out there doing certain things I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole, but that variety is good.” Erickson, who recently hired more chefs at Finesse, is optimistic: “It’s a whole transition, and we are right on the cusp of it. The future of Manchester is growing up and looking good,” she said.
How about room for one more?
Domenic Ciolino, owner of Terrasini, which is coming into 977 Elm St. soon, will specialize in Italian pastries. “The style I was going after is a big, sit-down bakery where people can have a cup of coffee and choose from pastries that are all right there in front of them.” For now, find the bakery at www.terrasinibakery.com.
Any bakery can develop clientele, said Skilogianis, as long as the customer service is there. “We need the variety,” she said. “It takes a lot of hard work, really a lot of hours, you have to have a love for it and a love for the people.”