Any town, village, or hamlet that wants to consider itself as something
more than a few houses needs some of the hallmarks of an organized entity. A post office will do nicely, and there should be a general store, but probably at the top of the list is a bakery.
People need fresh bread every day. Pause a minute and consider the wide range of baked goodies that are part of nearly everyone’s morning routine: doughnuts, bagels, croissants, muffins, sweet rolls, coffee cakes… the list is long and delicious.
The baker gets up in the very early hours of the morning, while that day’s customers are still sound asleep. Perhaps there are breads that have been rising overnight (bakers call this “proofing”), and are nearly ready to be popped in the oven.
The art of breadmaking is a mysterious, almost magical science, and the town baker is beloved by all. There are people who make their own bread, but even they will occasionally patronize the local bakery. Making a loaf of sandwich bread is not the same as making a jelly doughnut or a glazed Danish, for example.
In short, the bakery and the baker are vital parts of our lives. Along the South Coast we are blessed to have bakeries that reflect the cultural diversity that makes this area so unique.
Meat Pies and More
A good example of this is Sam’s Bakery, located at 256 Flint Street in Fall River. The business had its start nearly 60 years ago when Georgette Yamin and her husband, Salim, rented a bakery that occupied the first floor of a triple-decker on Flint Street.
Georgette, now 89, was born in Lebanon. Salim, born in the US of a Lebanese
mother, was a young boy when he accompanied his mother back to Lebanon. Salim grew up in the same Lebanese town as Georgette and left Lebanon to serve in the US Army, where he was stationed in Germany.
After his discharge, he returned to Lebanon, married Georgette, and the couple then left for Fall River, arriving in March of 1948. It was a tough time in Fall River. Jobs were scarce. “All the work went down south,” said Georgette “Much cheaper.”
The Lebanese bakeries that were in Fall River were closing, so renting the bakery was a leap of faith, but with hard work and a family that pulled together, it paid off.
“I started working in the bakery when I was ten,” said Dora Peterson, who now runs the bakery. It’s grown beyond a family-only business. There are “seventeen or eighteen people we can call on to help,” said Dora, “depending on what the workload is.”
Georgette is still very much involved. Her husband passed away in 1989. “He was the one who built this place,” she said, but she is still actively engaged in the family business. “I go to the bakery every morning,” she said. “The people that work for me, they are like my own family.”
Today’s Sam’s Bakery is the same one that started in 1961, slightly bigger, but still producing their pocket pita bread and meat pies.
The meat pies, which have a near-fanatic following, come in several varieties, including veggie versions with spinach, cabbage, and broccoli. They are made fresh daily. Well, nearly daily. Sam’s Bakery is closed on Mondays, and Thursday is a no-bake day.
“We open at 7 a.m. on Thursday and when we sell out, we close,” said Dora. “We bake Tuesday, Wednesday Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” she said, noting that they open at 5:30 a.m. on “bake days.” Get there early – Sam’s closes at 2 p.m.
Is there a secret to making pita pocket bread? Could someone make it at home? Not likely, said Dora. “The pita bread, you want it to rise, there is no way. You can’t get it hot enough to rise to make the pocket. The oven has to be hot. The plate it is cooking on has to be hot. Heat is the key ingredient, along with the yeast and how it’s handled.”
She forgot to note what has to be the real secret ingredient at Sam’s Bakery: nearly 60 years of practice, expertise, and love for an honorable profession.
Like Colombo pausing at the door for just one more question, we ask: “So who’s Sam?” “My husband named his bakery with his name – he shortened it,” said Georgette.
Exploring the Continent
The Continent Bakery at 198 Pinehurst Avenue in Swansea also has a hallowed history. Suzette Medeiros is the granddaughter of the founder.
“My father and mother built this place,” she said, “It was my grandfather’s bakery. This year is the 70th anniversary – it has been in the family that long.”
The Continent Bakery is more than just a bakery. Their lunch menu extends to soup and sandwiches, with meat pies, spinach rolls, stuffed quahogs, chourico rolls, various pizza permutations, grinders and, for dessert, pies of every description.
The variety of menu items does not come at the expense of quality, however. The Continent Bakery “is a very special place,” said Suzette. “We still make everything the same way our father did. Everything is made fresh and there are basic ingredients. No corn syrup, no high fructose syrup, just old-fashioned goodies, the way it’s supposed to be made.”
Suzette was born to be a baker. “I came to the bakery when I was a week old,” she said. “My grandfather put me up in a pail, taught me how to roll out chourico rolls… I have fond memories of growing up in the bakery.”
The memories continue to be made at the Continent. Neighbors and customers stop by to show off their new baby, while other customers continue a conversation that began with their visit the previous day.
“It’s really kind of a special place,” said Suzette. She recounted a winter snowstorm when all the businesses nearby were closing. Loyal customers came by, volunteering to help.
“We ended up opening the doors and making things,” said Suzette. “We made chourico rolls, doughnuts… for me, it’s really special when I see how many people the bakery helps. It makes a lot of people happy. It’s rewarding that way.”
When the Christmas season rolls around, the bakery can get very busy, and that is when old employees stop by just to see if they can help. Former employees, people with what Suzette called “big careers,” stop by to get a bit of flour on their hands.
Seasonal items are a part of the rotating menu at the Continent. With the Lenten season, hot cross buns are offered, and for St. Joseph’s Day, Continent bakes up several batches of zeppole, a traditional treat for the day, which is much-revered in the Italian community.
At the Continent, the many generations of customers are part of the atmosphere, and are evidence of its success – a success based on hard work, high quality, and personal involvement.
The Continent Bakery is closed on Monday. Open Tuesday-Saturday 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Boulangerie for You and Me
Virtually every culture has a signature bread, it seems. Dark German pumpernickel,
Irish soda bread, the many variations of flatbreads, such as pitas, tortillas, naan, and chapatti, and the torpedo-shaped French baguette.
The French take their bread very seriously. So seriously that in 1993 they passed laws defining a traditional baguette. There are only four ingredients allowed: wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast. No additives, no preservatives. The baguette must be made fresh, on the premises where it is sold. It cannot be frozen and thawed for later consumption.
Taking on the task of bringing French baking and thus French bageuttes to the city of New Bedford is Brandon Roderick. He recently opened his bakery, called, sensibly enough, The Baker, at 562 Pleasant Street, next door to the downtown police station and near the city library.
Walk in the door and you know it is a bakery. The smell of fresh bread, with the baskets of baguettes and trays of croissants, could be coming from a vintage boulangerie somewhere in Paris.
Brandon is a man in love with bread baking. Once, he thought he would be a doctor. That was when he was enrolled pre-med at Tufts University on a full scholarship. He made a mid-career change, well before the “mid” part, and, while working nights at a bakery, realized that bread was his calling.
Now, he uses a dough sheeter to produce the thin dough that will roll into a croissant. “The dough takes 72 hours from start to finish,” said Brandon. “We start out to make them perfect every day. We still do it the old-fashioned way – the way they do it in France.”
The result is a croissant unlike anything you will get this side Marseille: a slight crispiness, with a soft interior, light and absolutely seductive. Brandon offers a variety of croissants. You can get them plain, just a simple croissant made from perfect dough, or you can gild the lily with a filling of chocolate with almonds, various creams, raspberry, ham and cheese or, “probably our favorite now, we have our savory line with croissants filled with spinach feta with a little bit of pepper flakes, with a touch of garlic,” he said.
There’s more to The Baker than the heavenly perfection of the croissants. There are the baguettes, also apparently teleported from a bakery within sight of the Eiffel Tower. How else could there be a baguette so perfect?
“Total freshness,” said Branson. ‘The idea is total freshness.” He has a morning baker who comes in at 3 a.m. to get things rolling for a “total freshness” breakfast menu.
With breakfast well on the way to being sorted out, a lunch menu is in the works, and will probably be available buy the time you read this.
While the dominant theme is “French bakery,” you can get bagels, muffins, and all the usual bakery items, with the key difference being that they are all fresh, made right there, just a few hours earlier.
“Nothing goes into the oven before midnight of that day,” said Broderick.
“We have been well-received,” he said, adding that people seem to appreciate what The Baker has to offer. Experience seems to suggest that one should try to get to The Baker before mid-day, but that will likely change when the lunch menu begins to be available.
Doors open at 7 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and at 8 a.m. on Sunday. Closing time is 3 p.m. “or when we sell out,” he said.