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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Liv, Love, Local: Vergennes Laundry

Vergennes Laundry uses a wood fire to bake all of its bread and about half of its pastry.
Vergennes Laundry uses a wood fire to bake all of its bread and about half of its pastry.

In the three years since its opening, Nadia Dole’s Vergennes Laundry, a wood-fired bakery and épicerie, has expanded its food menu and retail offerings as well as launched a dinner series, with future plans for community-based events. 

Originally from Canada, Dole first visited Vergennes Laundry on her way to see family in Montreal back when the café was owned by founders Julianne Jones and Didier Murat.

“I had come in and I absolutely loved it,” Dole said.

In 2017, Jones and Murat put the café up for sale. Dole strongly considered buying the café, but wanting to spend time with her young daughter, she hesitated. “I just thought the timing was not right,” she said. 

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Dole made an offer to then-owner Christian Kruse. While her offer was initially declined, Dole received an acceptance call back in May of 2020 and made the move from Putney, Vt. to Vergennes.

At the time, Dole had been operating a pop-up down the street in the town of Vergennes and was planning a café concept where she roasted her own coffee. She had worked with Vermont Artisan in Waterbury, Vt. to narrow in on her preferred roasting presets for a wood-fired coffee bean.

Prior to opening Vergennes Laundry, Dole had operated other cafés and led photography and videography workshops around the world centered on culinary and travel.

Dole’s extensive travel experience informed the menu at Vergennes Laundry. Inspired by her French and Middle Eastern heritage, Dole not only serves French dishes like oeufs cocotte and croissants, but also Turkish eggs and a breakfast panini with harissa mayo. 

Dole described learning how to bake on a wood fire as one of the largest challenges when she opened Vergennes Laundry. 

“I always thought I was going to find a baker,” Dole said. She described the learning curve of baking on a wood fire as a maddening experience. 

“You've spent hours in preparation of something and put it into the woodfire and it would burn or it wouldn’t rise and you’d start again,” she said. With only one other employee in the first six months of operation, and lines down the block due to high demand — Vergennes Laundry was one of the few cafés open at all between Middlebury and Shelburne at the time in the thick of Covid-19 — Dole felt pressure to focus her attention on producing bread and pastries.

To this day, Vergennes Laundry uses a wood fire to bake all of its bread and about half of its pastry. Baking woodfired bread creates a smokier, sweeter taste profile, due to the semolina flour interacting with the bed of the wood fire and creating a coating.

Though the staff at Vergennes Laundry has grown since its early days in the pandemic, there are other challenges, such as being a café in Vermont, where there are few bakers to hire. 

Dole was surprised by how difficult staffing was. Balancing her busy work life and being a mother to her daughter, Poet, has been difficult. “Especially the first two years. I literally worked six days a week for about 18 to 20 hours,” Dole added.

Four years into running Vergennes Laundry, Dole now experiences fewer staffing challenges and can direct more time into building the business’s offerings. Leveraging her experience from leading culinary-focused retreats and her experiences in Morocco, Dole has launched a Wednesday night pre-fixe dinner series. 

“I didn't want to open a restaurant in the evening where people just pop in, I wanted to curate experiences for people where they didn't have to make a decision,” she said. 

Dole added that customers get to see a different side to the café by night. “This whole place is candle lit and the fire’s going. It's like they feel like they're let into this secret dinner, they’re very transported,” Dole described. “We were going to take you on a culinary journey.”

The communal nature of the dinner experience is also important to Dole. At the dinners, parties are invited to sit at shared tables. “Our dinners last about three hours. So many people leave here with new friends,” she said.

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Dole also enjoys introducing unique flavor profiles and foods like Turkish eggs to diners who may have come in expecting a conventional dish like ham and eggs. 

“They'll give it a try and they'll come and find you and say that's the best breakfast I’ve ever had,” she said. “We get such a high.”

While Dole has pivoted from her initial vision of roasting her own coffee, she now purchases coffee roasted on the wood fire, following the preset specification she developed with Vermont Artisan Coffee & Tea.

“I wanted women-run farms, I wanted organic and I wanted wood-fired and [Vermont Artisan is] able to do that for me,” she said. While Dole prefers a darker roast, she also sources light-roast coffee from Duchess Coffee in Brattleboro, Vt. “They do a honey [process] roast, they're really pushing the envelope,” said Dole.

On the food side, Dole embraces local and seasonal ingredients. She cited her popular Christmas tile cookies as an example of this.

“They are by far the best thing that we make and people literally buy a hundred dollar’s worth, like they’ll buy 20 of them and they're beautiful,” Dole said, adding that she chooses to keep them as a holiday special to retain their value as seasonal favorites for customers. 

Dole appreciates the community support she has experienced in Vergennes, which she found different from her time living in Montreal. “You find yourself in a community and people are caring about you and caring about your staff and your wellbeing, you're caring about loved ones,” she explained. “That part's brand new and kind of nice about a small town.”

Dole’s vision for the future at Vergennes Laundry not only includes continued pop-up dinners in the Wednesday night series, but also launching Sunday night pizza nights with live music.

She hopes to host Sunday night events with woodfired pizza, music, microbrews, wines and salad.

Crafting experiences where customers can build community over food brings Dole purpose, as she highlighted the parts of the job that bring her joy.

“The sound of the clinking of glasses, of the laughter, even though you can't hear the details of the conversation,” she said, describing parts of the job that bring her joy. “I can't go to every café now, but I create the experience for other people. So I'm still a witness in earshot of it.”

Olivia Mueller

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.