Dede Weber imagines a winter day in North Adams, with snow falling outside the building where the Neville family made doughnuts for more than 50 years. But she sees garlands and lights in the windows and local people coming in for coffee, baked French toast and honey wheat rolls swirled with cinnamon and chocolate.
Throughout the pandemic, Weber has become known in the community for her home-baked goods from the Bohemian Nouveaux Bakery. Her chocolate peanut butter cookies, biscotti and breads have become familiar to many local families from mornings at the North Adams Farmers Market and the former Parlor Café, and they have sweeteneed local gatherings at the Bear and Bee Bookshop and beyond.
After two years of growing connections in the community, she is planning to open her own BoHo Café on Eagle Street, tapping into deep local roots and what she calls small-batch reality. On a warm fall morning, she took a break in setting up her new storefront to talk about her plans for the future.
She has become part of a growing tide of new bakeries that have opened or expanded in the pandemic, in and around the Berkshires, from Sweet Sam Bakes in Williamstown to the Shire Cottage Bakery in Adams and Stacie’s Cookie World in Cheshire to the Pixie Boulangerie and the Sweetish Baker in Great Barrington.
Sometimes, she said, in its isolation and shifting ground, Covid gave people time to think, especially people in food and service, healing and teaching fields.
“The pandemic instilled a level of wait a second, we have value,” she said.
Putting down roots
For her, the shifting time of the past two years has brought a new kind of community and stability. She has known people who have changed their lives and created new structures, she said — people who have left jobs with benefits to become self-employed and will work hard not to go back.
And she is one of them. Three years ago she was living in a college town in Maine, working as a substitute teacher. She had begun to explore baking occasionally in church fairs, a blueberry festival where she brought homemade small blueberry pies.
When the pandemic closed the public schools, she moved to the Berkshires with the help of family. She applied for a place in the North Adams Farmers Market thinking the competition would be steep, she said, expecting to return to teaching in the fall, and instead she found her cooking life percolating over the summer and taking off.
Her cookies and baked goods have grown a loyal and enthusiastic following, she said, and their excitement moves her.
“When grandmas are saying my bread reminded them of their grandma’s —“ she grinned, “I’m sold, done, thank you.”
The farmers market led her to a collaboration with Julia Daly, an MCLA alum and former owner of the Parlor Café, which ran until last fall in the space owned by HiLo. Weber began supplying muffins, quiche and baked French toast. And no Daly is joining her as she expands into her own place.
“We’re going to pick up where we left off,” she said.
She plans to continue her presence at the farmers market, she said, and she came to the first indoor market of the winter on November 5 as she launches a kickstarter campaign to open the BoHo Parlor Café in the former home of Neville’s Doughnuts, in a building the Neville family had cared for since 1880.
Weber has been growing local support around her. As she walks through her new space, she nods to the farmers from the farmers market who are working with her to source as many ingredients as she can — Red Shirt Farm and Square Roots Farm and Fullwell Farm for flowers and vegetables and meat and eggs, Senegal Sugar House for maple syrup.
She has found many elements in barter or reclaimed them from people who no longer need them. Daly has offered kitchen equipment, a fridge came to her through a Facebook swap, lamps from Maryanne’s Antiques.
She even has wood and leather chairs from Sprague Electric Co. She found them from
an electric company on River Street that was closing, she said. They had set out some furniture on the sidewalk, and when she stopped to look, she got into conversation with the owner.
He told her his father had been friends with Mr. Neville, and the Neville family had given his father a mug that says “focus on the doughnut, not the hole.”
“My eyes welled up,” she said, “because my grandfather used to say that all the time, and he has a connection to my coming back here. … Since I showed up here, everything’s been saying yes. This is my dream.”
She has wanted her own place since she was 12 years old and playing café with friends — since she was a theater major at Goddard College in Vermont, in the heart of farm to table country, writing a play about a café owner. And she felt an affirmation.
“… This town keeps doing that,” she said, looking at the chairs, a wooden sewing table. “The day these came to me I was overwhelmed, thinking can I do this, and I turned a corner and the fates and ancestors were right here. … All I have to do is show up to work, and you’re telling me I get to live my dream.”
‘This town keeps doing that … All I have to do is show up to work, and you’re telling me I get to live my dream.’ — Dede Weber
More than shelf-stable
The new space will give her room to expand in more than one way, Weber said. When she comes to the farmers market, she can only bring shelf-stable offerings, nothing hot, and she has had limited kitchen space.
At the café she looks forward to cakes and pies, soups and sandwiches, eggs, biscuits and gravy. She is planning vegan and plant-based elements on the menu as well, all comfort food — creamy potato soup, roasted squash bisque, with sweet potato and onion, barbecued shredded mushrooms. She will make her own bread, challah and sourdough.
“I’m tapping into my Jewish roots, that I don’t know much about,” she said.
She walks through the space mapping out the kitchen, tables and bar with seats for 10 to 15 people. She and Daly hope to combine their audiences she said — college students out late, teens she has worked with through the community center, where she made gingerbread for gingerbread houses a year ago, local families coming to the farmers market with Market Match and SNAP.
She wants to make a homespun and rooted place, a place where locals can go, she said, because she has known how it feels to think of going out to breakfast as a rare or impossible expense. Though she has felt warmth here, and open-mindedness and creativity, she has felt a distance here at times between people with resources and people living pay-check to pay-check, day to day. And she senses a willingness to help that someone coming from a place of understanding could shape.
She looks at her corner of Eagle Street and imagines community gardens and pizza parties with the community bread oven behind Mass MoCA. She looks along the walkway between her building and her neighbor and imagines people talking as they wait for brunch at an outdoor table, like good small restaurants in Boston, where she grew up.
And she steps onto the Appalachian Trail and imagines through hikers drinking coffee on her new back patio. She has loved hiking for years, she said, and not long after she moved here she gave some AT through hikers a ride and talked with them about what they would love to see, what would be helpful to them. They can be a resource for the town, she suggests, if the town offers resources for them — a map, a place to charge their cell phones and hang their packs while they rest.
“In the last 20 years I’ve lived in 20 places,” Weber said, looking around her with warmth. “This area at every level has been like ‘this is where you’re rooted.’”