On a recent Saturday morning in Bristol, every bright-yellow chair in Minifactory was occupied as the brunch crowd queued up to order their weekend treats. Minifactory opened in the spring of 2022 as a market and café that also serves as a home for the jam manufacturing of owner V Smiley’s jam company, V Smiley Preserves. Two years in, Minifactory has become an acclaimed destination, recently featured in the New York Times’ 36 Hours series on Burlington, Vt.
Balancing community needs and a passion for vegetable cookery and jam has been a key part of the journey for Minifactory. Bristol is a small town that receives less foot traffic than larger cities like Burlington, making the recent feature in 36 Hours all the more meaningful.
“[The 36 Hours feature is] such a collective thing that's really about the town of Bristol, and what's happening there on the business, community wide level,” Smiley said. “Between that and V Smiley Preserves being in the New York Times this year, those two things together... I definitely am feeling very, very appreciative.”
Customers who have been visiting the shop since doors opened have shared that they feel like part of the business’s collective success. “I thought [that] was really sweet and was my hope in the early days of getting Minifactory going,” Smiley said.
This past year has been one of changes both big and small for Minifactory and V Smiley Preserves, including a reconfiguration of V Smiley Preserves’ wholesale program and adjustments to the full span of Minifactory’s offerings, from its regular dishes to special pop-ups with visiting chefs.
Smiley said she has been on a mission this year to tweak and update the menu with the seasons. “My strength is around vegetable cookery and working with produce,” she said. “My happy thing is just getting to work with vegetables and fruit and thinking about flavor construction.”
In crafting a menu, the Minifactory team aims to balance a mix of healthy and comforting options, while also showcasing the use of preserves in some dishes.
“It’s trying to demonstrate the usability of preserves and everyday cooking, trying to weave all those things together, and make as many folks happy as possible,” Smiley said.
By slowly eliminating lower-selling items, establishing signature twists on familiar breakfast staples like a biscuit sandwich with a hint of jam and incorporating more produce-driven dishes, Minifactory is striving to improve on all aspects.
One of Smiley’s goals for 2024 is to streamline the current queuing system to better separate quick take-out orders from orders for sit-down customers. During typical rush times in the shop, the long line can be daunting, Smiley said.
“Most people are on the same clock,” Smiley said. “We're not going to change when people get hungry or when they want their coffee. We have to really focus on moving folks through the line, getting them the thing that they came for.”
On the days Smiley does not spend cooking at the café, she works on the marketing for and managing of both Minifactory and V Smiley Preserves. Working seven days a week to manage two businesses and a 20-person staff has made the total volume of V Smiley Preserves’ current wholesale jam accounts unsustainable, she said. As a result, V Smiley Preserves is scaling back their wholesale production, while still maintaining accounts in a couple of key cities to support e-commerce.
“We’ll be at the Burlington Farmers Market, still at Minifactory and online; that stays the same. It's just that behind the scenes, we need to make way less jam,” Smiley explained.
In order to maintain relationships with local producers and farms as the volume of fruit needed for preserves has decreased, Smiley has shifted to selling more wholesale produce such as seasonal berries and tomatoes at Minifactory for retail that would have previously been used in the jam production.
V Smiley Preserves’ variety of unique, seasonally-inspired flavors will remain intact, however,
“We’re about to make plum hyssop lemon verbena. That's what I'm probably most excited about,” Smiley said.
Sweetened with honey and showcasing the herbs and aromatics of the garden, the verbena jam also pairs well with cheese, Smiley said. During apple season, Smiley plans to use local crab apples from Stein Orchard in Monkton, Vt., and Windfall Orchard in Cornwall, Vt. V Smiley Preserve is making its own apple preserve this season.
Minifactory will also continue to host its pop-up dinner series featuring a variety of cuisines. Local Nepalese cook Ananda Tamang just wrapped up a six-month food pop-up in the Minifactory space. La Chapina also currently offers Guatemalan cuisine every other week for pre-order at Minifactory until the end of the year.
Prioritizing a community focus while staying true to V Smiley Preserves and Minifactory’s original missions of putting quality produce first has been critical.
She believes successful business is driven by individual passion and perseverance, channeled by some need in the market.
Marketing and newsletters between Smiley’s two businesses take on different tones. V Smiley Preserves was founded in 2015 as a self-named venture, and Smiley lets her communications for the jam brand take on a more personal tone directly from her.
“The jam company is mine. My voice, one hundred percent,” she said.
Minifactory communications, on the other hand, are less personal and reflect its role as a community space.
In the year ahead, Smiley is looking forward to celebrating successes like the recent New York Times features of Minifactory in the 36 Hours series and another feature for V Smiley Preserves and allowing both brands to continue evolving.
“Those things happen with luck but also through a body of work,” Smiley said.
Continuing that hard work alongside her team and finding a more sustainable balance for both brands will be key to preserving the Minifactory magic.
Minifactory is located at 16 Main Street in Bristol and is open Monday and Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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.