Monday, 25 July 2011

Dundas baker still recovering from fire

Susan Preston is baking out of the basement of St. Paul's United Church after a fire destroyed her downtown Dundas bakery almost a year ago.
BAKERY. Susan Preston is baking out of the basement of St. Paul's United Church after a fire destroyed her downtown Dundas bakery almost a year ago. Cathie Coward/The Hamilton Spectator Source: The Hamilton Spectator
Nicole MacIntyre
There’s a heavenly smell coming from St. Paul’s United Church in Dundas.
In the downstairs kitchen, Susan Preston and her crew are busying baking short bread and icing sugar cookies. It’s an unlikely temporary home for The Village Bakery and not where Preston thought she would be a year after a fire destroyed her well-loved Dundas fixture.
“It’s been a rough year,” concedes Preston with a weary smile. “We’ve certainly changed venues.”
It was just after the new year on a busy Saturday morning when lights on the bakery’s Christmas tree shorted out and sparked a blaze that destroyed the King Street West building. The community rallied around Preston and her staff in the fire’s aftermath, organizing fundraisers and vowing to help rebuild the bakery.
“The support has been unbelievable,” says Preston. “For that reason I’ve held on.”
Recovering from the fire, financially and emotionally, has been harder than Preston expected. She’s tried to find a new location, but rental space is at a premium in downtown Dundas and the right spot hasn’t come available. Her old location is still boarded up, but Preston doesn’t want to return because of the bad memory. She’s had offers to move to Ancaster and Burlington, but wants to stay in Dundas.
“I’m very loyal to the people,” she said, noting there is no way she can ever repay the generosity and kindness she’s been shown since the fire.
In the summer, old customers suggested Preston start selling at the Dundas Farmers’ Market. She loved the idea, but explained she wasn’t allowed under regulations to bake out of her own kitchen. She started calling local churches, which eventually lead her to rent St. Paul’s kitchen. When the market shut down for the season, the church agreed to let Preston sell her goods twice a week out of its recreation room.
The agreement has been popular with the congregation, many of whom were old customers of the bakery.
“It sells itself,” says St. Paul’s operations manager Deanna Comeau. “People say when they walk in ‘Oh it smells so good.’”
Even the church ladies have welcomed Preston into their kitchen, which is remarkable, jokes minister Rick Spies.
So far, Preston has counted on word of mouth to publicize her temporary home. She’s open Saturday and Wednesday and Thursday next week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sales are a mere 5 per cent of what the Village Bakery would sell in the days before Christmas.
Most customers exclaim, “Oh we found you,” as they enter. Maureen Steuart has been buying Preston’s sweets almost weekly for a decade. She’s followed the bakery through two locations, the market and now to the church.
Every one of her children’s birthday cakes were made by the bakery and Preston’s iced cookies are a Christmas tradition, said Steuart, who was heartbroken by the fire.
“It was a real loss. It was a meeting place.”
Preston is hopeful she’ll have permanent home soon. She has her eye on the old Dundas post office and is waiting to hear back from the owner.
“It looks very promising.”

December 18, 2010

Many thanks to Nicole MacIntyre and the Hamilton Spectator for the permission to use this article.

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