ESSEX JUNCTION -- Hard work has allowed multiple generations of pastry lovers to frequent a local eatery for morning treats, coffee, and lunchtime sandwiches.
On Wednesday, the Quality Bake Shop (QBS) in the Essex Junction Shopping Center celebrated being in business for a whopping 65 years. After originally opening on Park Street July 8, 1965, it’s been serving customers at its current Pearl Street location for the last 63 years.
The shop commemorated on Wednesday by inviting people to stop by and grab a treat or by sharing their favorite memories on social media. The community took QBS up on its invitation -- easily buying up all of the doughnuts and cinnamon rolls by closing time.
“It was a really great day,” said Elisabeth Simms-Hughes, granddaughter of the original owner, Raymond LeBlanc. “We actually sold out of doughnuts pretty early this morning. We saw a lot of regulars, and I saw a couple new faces -- which was great. Our Facebook page has been kind of blowing up; people have been sending messages and sharing comments that they remember going there or about their first time there. We're so grateful for the community that supports us; we can't emphasize that enough. With everything that's been going on over the last 65 years and everything that we've survived -- without our community, we would not have been able to do so.”
Simms-Hughes has been an employee in an official capacity since she was 15, but she says she’s been in the shop since before she was born -- her mother, Michelle, working while being pregnant with her. That tradition has continued as the family still spends countless hours in the store.
“I was in my mom's belly when she was frying doughnuts,” said Simms-Hughes. “That bakery, growing up, was everything to us. My parents worked holidays. When I got old enough, I worked holidays. I had a daughter in 2018, and she was on the workbench in her car seat when I was working holidays. It's really a staple of our family; it's who we are.”
Simms-Hughes’ father, Doug Simms, took over ownership of Quality Bake Shop around 2000. He has helped maintain consistency with recipes -- and work ethic. He said employees show up to start making food at 2 to 3 a.m. during the weekdays; Saturday morning requires a start time of 1:30 a.m., and that gets pushed up to 1 a.m. on Sundays.
“I think that we’re basically one of the last mom and pop-type bakeries,” said Simms. “We make everything from scratch. We don’t use any preservatives, and everything’s made by hand, which is huge -- [customers] tell their friends about it.”
Simms went on to say that he certainly sees the rewards of his staff’s efforts and care that’s put into the product they provide -- one of those being the ability to stay open for so many years.
“It’s seven days a week,” he said, “and just like any business, if you’re going to make it in today’s world, it’s a lot of hard work. But it does pay off; it’s satisfying to be a part of something that’s been around this long -- because you don’t see that anymore.”
That unwavering commitment has led to a loyal customer base which grows itself through recommendations to friends and family.
“We're so thankful that people are making the drive to come to Essex, and our locals that are in Essex, who keep coming and supporting us,” said Simms-Hughes. “It's great. We develop a relationship with these people. I'll meet people who will say, ‘Your mom or your grandfather made my wedding cake,’ and I'm now making their kid’s wedding cake. It's full circle for sure.”
Part of that loyalty stems from customers knowing they can go in and eat some items that taste exactly the way they did all those decades ago.
“We've really been consistent,” said Simms-Hughes regarding the Quality Bake Shop’s menu and recipes. “We try to keep things the way that my grandfather originally did them, because that’s what makes us who we are. They’re all his original recipes: our meat pies, our baked beans that we sell on Fridays, the plain doughnuts. And I think that it’s that consistency that keeps us being successful.”
Even with all of its success since the 60s, the owners of QBS have decided not to try and grow its operations and open up other locations -- although they do joke about starting one in Florida with how many snowbird customers request that they do so.
“We don't want to lose who we are with trying to expand,” said Simms-Hughes. “I feel like that's kind of what makes us unique. We only have one storefront; we only have one location. We've had most of the same employees for at least five-plus years, so you go in and know who you're going to get behind the counter.”