Liv, Love, Local is a column highlighting Vermont local businesses, especially cafés and restaurants in the Middlebury area. Through interviews with owners, I aim to highlight the specific successes and challenges that come with small business ownership in Vermont, the hard work owners and employees put into these businesses, and how these spots serve as places of community and connection building.
At 11:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, Haymaker Bun Company owner Caroline Corrente stood at the large counter to the left of the bakery door rolling out apple cinnamon donuts. Corrente is constantly in motion: rolling, shaping and arranging dough on the tray, while also making the time for an interview with The Campus.
The mid-morning lunch rush has started to trickle in, building into a line down the length of the store.
Haymaker Bun Co., opened by Corrente in late 2018, has just emerged from its first summer not heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and has spent recent months welcoming in a steady rotation of customers.
Following a semifinalist nomination for a James Beard Foundation Award for “Outstanding Bakery” in January of 2023, word has spread beyond Vermont about Haymaker’s tucked-away spot by the Otter Creek River. Short of a Michelin Star — a rating which has not made its way to Vermont — the nomination is one of the largest honors a restaurant in the U.S can receive.
Corrente learned of the prestigious nomination via a congratulatory text from a friend. The nomination, which came without warning, is a testament to the consistently high standard of service Haymaker strives to provide.
“Someone must have come in and we had no idea,” Corrente said. “I was just shocked.”
Despite its recent successes, Haymaker has also weathered its share of damages this year, from basement flooding over the summer to property damage incurred during a particularly busy weekend on a Saturday in early October.
“It was supposed to be my day off, but obviously I was in here dealing with it,” Corrente said of the property damage.
The damage to a window of the bakery came during a period when car windows and brake lights were being smashed in the nearby parking lot. “It's been challenging, because my staff feels scared to park their cars and come in in the dark and really early mornings,” Corrente said.
While Corrente and her team have compassion for the mental health, addiction and other factors that have caused the instigator to repeatedly damage property in the community, the vandalism issue has been an unexpected wrinkle in the year with tangible consequences, she said.
“It doesn't feel good to feel nervous walking into your place of business,” Corrente said.
Nonetheless, Haymaker's location in Middlebury on Bakery Lane by the Otter Creek River has been a dream for Corrente and husband and co-owner Matt Corrente ’06 since they first opened. “Middlebury has been incredibly supportive,” she said.
A UVM graduate and Burlington resident for over a decade, Corrente considers Middlebury a middle ground in terms of a location to run a business, noting that the town’s location off of I-89 makes it more challenging to draw in customers but has made Middlebury a special place to raise a family and operate a business.
“I’ve just loved being in this town. And I love having the college here because I think it brings a little more culture and diversity,” Corrente said.
Haymaker sources produce for its food from several local farms, including Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, Vt. and Full Belly Farm in Hinesburg, Vt. Corrente feels lucky to have access to such quality produce and to have the opportunity to establish deep relationships with the farmers from which Haymaker buys produce. “One of my favorite parts about my job is cultivating those partnerships and relationships, because farmers are doing such hard and important work,” Corrente said.
The unique bun flavors that Corrente and her team develop are sometimes directly inspired by available produce. “Sometimes it's like, oh, we have a ton of kale in the fridge,” Corrente said. Other times, the name of the bun comes first. “I remember wanting to do something for Summertime Sadness,” Corrente said, alluding to a seasonal bun with a nod to the song by singer Lana del Ray. Ultimately, she decided on an appropriately blue-tinged blueberry brioche.
Beyond buns, Corrente and her team, including chef James MacPherson, have been working to expand and diversify their seasonally rotating lunch menu. Matt Corrente has also been taking on a series of pasta dinner pop-ups as somewhat of a revival of The Arcadian, the Italian restaurant that the Correntes formerly operated alongside Haymaker in their Bakery Lane space.
Following The Arcadian’s closure in September 2021, Matt pivoted to a non-restaurant job as business manager for the Addison Country Central School District. After settling into the role, Matt took advantage of his free time at night to start up monthly pop-ups with a pasta menu similar to previous Arcadian fare.
The 100–130 seats available for a given pasta dinner pop-up typically sell out in approximately 30 minutes, according to Caroline.
Haymaker has also been expanding its catering services and private events, a specialty of McPherson, who previously owned a catering business. It has also catered several events for college sports teams and academic departments at the college.
Haymaker now rents out its space in the evenings for private events and already has a few bookings for graduation parties.
Haymaker Buns are available outside of the bakery for purchase in stores across Vermont, such as the Acorn Food Hub and Middlebury Co-op, in frozen packs of four buns. Given the space at Haymaker and staff constraints, the rollout of retail frozen buns has been gradual, but Corrente has been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic reception with which stores have met her pitches.
Balancing a number of different moving parts to manage going forward, Corrente’s vision for 2024 is to continue to grow and balance all of Haymaker’s offerings. “I'd love to add to my staff to be able to produce more, continue to grow our catering branch of the business, and then just keep slinging buns six days a week,” Corrente said. “Continuing to hone in on the frozen sales and grow that.”
Corrente’s message to Middlebury students? Keep coming by. “We love having kids come down here, working and spending time here,” Corrente said. Haymaker serves up buns, but its location tucked away, yet right in the heart of town makes it a perfect place to form connections and build community.
Olivia Mueller '24 (she/her) is a News Editor.
Previously an Arts and Culture editor, Olivia is an International Politics and Economics major with a Spanish minor. Outside of the Campus, she is a spin instructor for YouPower, an avid runner and hiker, and a member of the Middlebury Mischords a cappella group.