WORDS BY MARGARET LEROUX / PHOTOGRAPHS BY KATIE NOBLE
Cindy and Glenn Mitchell know what it’s like to run a small bakery and they’ve experienced the rigors of owning a corporate baking company. When bigger was no longer better, they sold the company and became reverse pioneers, moving east to rural Massachusetts from the sophisticated environs of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Mitchells grew their first bakery into a multimillion-dollar operation supplying the likes of Costco, Trader Joe’s and other supermarkets in 27 states. They and their bread, which consistently won “best of” awards, were featured on magazine covers, in newspapers and on TV.
So, when the couple turned their sights eastward, you might think they’d have settled in New York or Boston. Instead, the baking maestros established their latest endeavor, Rose 32 Bread, in Gilbertville, a tiny village in the middle of the commonwealth, many miles from any major population center.
Rose 32 is partially named for the highway that runs in front of the unassuming building, a former gas station. Rose, said the couple, is another old-fashioned name like Grace, their first bakery. It’s also the name of their daughter.
The Mitchells had followed their children when Henry and Gracie moved to Massachusetts to continue their education. At first they enjoyed a respite from baking, but the couple knew they would eventually get back into the business. “It’s all we’ve ever done,” said Cindy, who trained as a pastry chef in San Francisco.
Glenn graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 1983 and since then has baked in “probably 100 kitchens—everything from a donut shop to a three-star restaurant in France,” he said. He was on the US baking team that won the Coup du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris—known as the World Cup of baking—beating out the French in 1996.
They met as fellow hotel chefs 25 years ago. Glenn recruited Cindy to work with him to open their first tiny bakery in the Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland. “I was his first and for a long time only employee,” Cindy said. Working together they fell in love, married and named their daughter after the bakery.
In rural Massachusetts, Cindy, a transplanted West Coast native, and Glenn immediately felt a connection with their new neighbors. “We both love the beauty of the farmland that surrounds us,” he said. “We were yearning for a lifestyle that included working in the community where we live. This is where we want to be.”
After renovating a lovely old farmhouse in the center of Hardwick, Cindy began baking and selling pastry for the local farmers’ market. Meanwhile, Glenn scoured the area for a suitable bakery site. When he found an abandoned gas station on Route 32, Cindy was at first horrified. But the location had both visibility and traffic. After a complete environmental study gave the OK, they gutted the interior to make room for a familiar and important piece of their baking success: a 20-ton brick oven with a three-inch-thick baking stone.
The oven was made in Barcelona by the Llopis company; it was built inside the bakery by two Llopis employees who came to Gilbertville for the installation. The oven uses a cord and a half of wood every month to maintain the 500-plus-degree temperatures. When Rose 32 closed for the month of January, it took two weeks for the oven to completely cool down.
Glenn bakes between 250 and 300 loaves of bread daily in the oven; that includes seven to 10 different varieties. He and Cindy are committed to small batch baking and disdain the term artisan. “It has become so over-used,” said Cindy. “We prefer the word passion—we’re passionate about baking. Glenn couldn’t do what he does without passion—he’s always trying ways to do it better.”
That means getting up at 3am to be at the bakery in time to prep the first round of baking at 5:30. Glenn tries to get home for a nap mid-day and he’s back to help Cindy close up in the afternoon. She’s the public face of the operation, keeping tabs on what needs replenishing while welcoming a steady stream of customers.
Inside, Rose 32 shows off the building’s good bones and the bakery’s good breeding. It’s light-filled with high ceilings, blond wood counters and a metal-trimmed pastry case filled with flaky croissants, delicate tarts and gorgeous cakes. Behind the counter are racks of baguettes and hefty oval loaves of rustic breads.
Cindy seems to have an unerring sense of who is new to the bakery and cheerfully guides them to a menu posted atop a stylish metal and wood cylinder. It lists bread offerings, which change daily, and a handful of sandwiches, salads and soups, all made on the premises. Glenn’s bread is the star of the show: It highlights sandwiches; as toast it accompanies scrambled eggs; crumbs from the sourdough loaf thicken the Tuscan tomato soup.
Even though friends and neighbors were skeptical that the bakery could make it in such a small town, soon after Rose 32 opened in July 2010 curious locals started streaming in. It didn’t take long before word spread far beyond Gilbertville. Customers told their friends, who told more friends and now, if you come on a weekend, you will likely stand in a long line.
But it’s so worth the wait, say the bakery’s growing contingent of fans. They appreciate the crackling crust of the chewy levain loaves made in the traditional European manner with naturally leavened whole-wheat bread. The local loaf of whole-wheat and spelt is made from flour grown and milled at Four Star Farms in Northfield and the rosemary potato bread is baked with fresh herbs and local spuds in season.
Whenever possible the Mitchells use other local ingredients such as organic cornmeal from Misty Brook Farm in Barre—it’s in the crust for pumpkin pie—or apples from an orchard in nearby Belchertown. Eggs and milk come from farms less than two hours away.
The bakery’s breakfast and lunch offerings continue the emphasis on fresh and local ingredients—a cheese salad built around selections from Robinson’s Dairy in Hardwick, for example. The coffee comes from Barrington, where it is roasted weekly, and the tea is from West Hartford. “We want everything to be a little more special than you’d get in an average café,” said Cindy, “but we’re cooking on a four-burner stove, so the menu is limited.”
The Mitchells are adamant about maintaining the bakery’s neighborly atmosphere. Two big communal tables—hefty wooden structures made in Vermont—encourage diners to be sociable and a spacious patio encourages lingering in pleasant weather. There are regulars who come for breakfast, stop in again for coffee and return to buy bread on the way home from work.
“We like the size we are now; we know 75% of our customers,” said Cindy, though she concedes the question most out of town customers ask is, “Will you open a bakery in our town?”
Margaret LeRoux, a regular contributor to Edible Boston, writes and scouts out local food in central Massachusetts. You can reach her at email@example.com