RE/MAX Maple Leaf Realty is pleased to have been able to assist Crazy Russian Girls Bakery in finding their new space at 415 Main Street in Bennington VT. Joe Cardamone worked with Natasha Garder to find the space. I’ve sampled their baked goods, and you cannot go wrong buying anything from Crazy Russian Girls!
From the time I was a young boy, I had a passion for freshly baked bread, much of it cultivated on bread-crazy European streets. So when local gal Natasha Garder announced she was partnering to open Crazy Russian Girl Bakery on Main Street in Bennington, I said a silent prayer that this time, the enterprise would stick.
There has been much public clamoring for a bakery since Krijnen’s closed several years ago. In a culture that relies on the supermarket for affordable and convenient ways to fill its subsistence needs, baking can be a tough sell — even though it’s difficult to find a person who doesn’t like the product.
Garder has been doing it that way for years, as witnessed by the popularity of her roadside stand, and her presence at Walloomsac Farmers Market. Last weekend, when I popped in her storefront to share well wishes, I noticed several things that bode well for her.
First, Garder partnered with experienced professional baker Matt Littrell of Lake George, N.Y., who has extensive commercial experience. Next, she is baking on the premises, something Sorrento’s, at the same location, didn’t try. Garder realizes that there are long hours ahead, so is branding her business as “local” as possible.
Finally, Garder has the right attitude and is going in eyes wide open. The daughter of immigrants, she is well attuned to the overseas tradition of the neighborhood bakery as a daily stop and
community magnet. Garder is also aware, however, that it takes time to build a regular following that can ensure the financial health of a bakery, especially with our small population base.
Yet historically, the activity of baking started small. Bakers first cropped up on the European continent in ancient Greece, where bread, garden vegetables, olive oil, and goat’s cheese were daily staples.
Always knowing a grand idea when they saw one, the Romans seized upon the notion of bread as vital to every meal. They also realized how profitable the profession could be; at the time of Christ, it’s believed that Rome had almost 300 bakers within its walls.
This tradition carried on through the Middle Ages, when the bakery was often a landlord’s realm, or a public place to bring one’s own dough for an artisan to bake. Depending on regions and demographics, customs from all the aforementioned eras have carried forth to the modern bakery. Today, technology continues to play a vital part in the craft’s development.
But so much of baking is an exercise in intimacy. When my family moved from New York to Greece, one of the first things we had to get used to was buying bread daily at the local bakery. Back then, only a few larger food markets carried processed sliced bread. Most of the latter was imported and cost a pretty penny as a result.
The first time my mother sent me out to pick up a loaf, we realized there was a problem. I had eaten more than half of it by the time I made the four-block walk back home. Standing in line waiting to place my order while watching apprentices kneading the fresh dough by hand, and flour dusting the air, was the sweet torture of youth.
Such was demand that the bread always was less than an hour out of the brick ovens, and its heat through the paper bag and aroma wafting up at me was too much to resist. Once I broke off the heel with a distinctive crunch, more followed.
Mom solved this by slipping me a few extra drachmae so I could get my own loaf, and that bad boy never made it home. If only I could inhale one of Natasha’s loaves today with such élan and no repercussions to my waistline.
Nevertheless, Crazy Russian Girl is a welcome downtown sight at a time when small businesses everywhere are struggling with the demands of our wobbly economy. How well Garder does is important; but probably not as vital as the fact that she is giving it a go in the first place.
And maybe one day soon, when I’m walking nearby, I’ll see a boy heading home with two loaves.
Telly Halkias is the owner of Now And Then Books and a freelance writer and editor. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted from The Bennington Banner with permission