For the past four decades, The Bakery in New Paltz has served as a haven for artists, writers, poets, politicians, young families, edgy teens, rock climbers, cyclists, local dignitaries, weekenders and wanderers alike. Tucked into a nook off North Front Street next to the Bicycle Rack, the small, New York City-themed bakery has become a New Paltz institution – an iconic meeting spot where people can grab a quick cup of coffee to go or spend hours nibbling on a pastry reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
As much as it’s a warm spot in the winter, or a place to find respite from the summer heat under the outdoor shade, The Bakery is also a place that has remained a sort of Switzerland within the often robust and raucous political climate of New Paltz. “I remember walking in one day and seeing the Democratic Committee meeting at one table and looking at the other end of The Bakery and seeing the Republican Committee meeting at the same time, and I thought, ‘I’ve succeeded. I’ve created a place where everyone feels comfortable,’” said David Santner, who has owned and operated The Bakery for the past 42 years.
Santner recently announced that he was selling his masterpiece to another local resident, Dawn Borrello. “I always thought that I would stop working when I turned 70, and next month it’s my 70th birthday,” said Santner, father of two boys and grandfather to three grandsons. While he began attempting to sell his business through a realtor, eventually it became a word-of-mouth transaction, with Borrello emerging as someone who was not only looking for a place to open a bakery, but is already entrenched in the community.
Community was what Santner had set out to build when he decided to create a bakery on the site of what had been the New Paltz Food Co-Op, of which he had been an active member. “I grew up with these types of bagel shops and bakeries in Brooklyn and the Bronx,” he said. “I felt like New Paltz was in need of a central meeting spot, and bakeries had always served that function in the City.” When he knocked on the doors of old-time Jewish bakeries in New York, he was welcomed with open arms, Santner said. “They were excited to have this young, eager kid wanting to learn about their craft.”
Armed with knowledge and recipes and a fire to build a community hearth in downtown New Paltz, he opened The Bakery and filled it with the yeasty smells of rye bread and bagels, as well as the sweet and sumptuous scents of butter cookies, rugelach and macaroons. “There was a real desire for these types of foods in New Paltz, and people recognized them right away.” Santner said that he greatly benefited from being able to hire experienced bakers from Capitol Bakery in Poughkeepsie and Spiesman’s in Kingston: two legacy bakeries that happened to be closing around the time he was opening.
At the time, North Front Street was anchored by Handmade & More as well as the Foreign Wide and the Bicycle Rack. “It hadn’t yet been developed into what it is now,” recalled Santner. While he owned the business, the building itself – then a small wood-framed building, tucked in and away from the street – was owned by then-Bicycle Rack proprietor Alan Stout. Today it is owned by Mike Kilmer, who took over the Bicycle Rack as well.
While residents loved their freshly brewed coffee, hand-rolled and boiled bagels and bialys and The Bakery’s signature black-and-white cookie, Santner felt that he needed more room. “We’ve always had outdoor seating, but in the winters, we would lose those customers because it was too cold out to sit, and we had no indoor seating. We also wanted an espresso machine and had no room for one. There was not one espresso machine in New Paltz at the time.”
While people loved getting their freshly baked breads and pastries, there was a growing chorus of customers wanting more food. “We just didn’t have room in our kitchen,” he said. “Our kitchen now was the size of the entire building before we expanded.”
With the help of Stout, an addition was built onto The Bakery, expanding it into two floors and creating a larger courtyard area for eating and a children’s play area. At the time, Santner noted that there were no outdoor cafés allowed under the Village zoning ordinance. “We had always had tables outside, but once we built the addition, there was a lot more attention being paid to our site plan and what we were planning on doing.” Thus, Santner had to lobby the Village Planning Board, some of whose members were in stark opposition to outdoor seating, to change the law in order to allow restaurants and bakeries to apply for legal permission to have customers eat outside their establishments.
Asked what he believes were some of the key ingredients to making his business so successful over the past four decades, Santner said, the “style of baking. We hand-roll and boil our bagels. Very few people do that anymore. I also wanted to preserve the baking traditions that I grew up with. There’s been a big artisanal movement in bakeries like Bread Alone, but most of those focus on European-styled baking. I wanted to preserve the way we make rye bread and bialys and rugelach. We have people graduate from the Culinary [Institute of America] and they do not know how to bake this way.”
He added that a huge part of The Bakery’s appeal has been the fact that “we bake special items for the holidays and traditions that people celebrate.” For example, he mentioned, “hamantaschen, babka and mandel bread for Jewish holidays, as well as Irish soda bread, hot cross buns and gingerbread cookies.” As SUNY began to bring in more exchange students, The Bakery went out of its way to bring more cultural variety to its kitchen, including the simit, a popular Turkish street food, and pastel de nata, a Brazilian egg-custard pastry. “Both of those items have become very popular with our customers.”
Another thing that Santner did was to adorn the walls with art exhibits by local artists. “I had a lot of friends who are artists, and with all of that wall space, I thought it would be nice to hang their pieces.” After a while, it became its own self-fulfilling wall-hanging prophecy, whereby people started asking Santner if they could display their art rather than the other way around. “People aren’t coming to The Bakery to buy art, necessarily, but the art on the wall does get a lot of exposure. We’ve had prominent artists want to hang their work at The Bakery because it will get a lot more viewers than it would at the Dorsky Museum or local galleries. They’re not getting 300 people per day looking at their art. We are. So that’s been a great addition.”
As David’s children were growing up, he realized how important it was to have a child-friendly area in The Bakery. “I started learning how important it was to have a place for kids to play and parents to socialize, and so we made sure to put in a play area upstairs and outside.”
In terms of community events, the Night of 100 Pumpkins, which began back in 1990, has become a signature holiday event in New Paltz. Artists of every age take their hand at wielding a knife to carve up all kinds of ingenious faces, creatures and aliens and tropes into our autumnal harvest of pumpkins, gourds and squash, to be put on display and lit up by candles at The Bakery the week leading up to and on Halloween night. “Dawn said that she will continue the Night of 100 Pumpkins,” said Santner.
The founder of this beloved local business said that he is most proud that The Bakery has turned out to be what he had most hoped it would become: “a real critical institution for New Paltz, where people come to meet and to interact with one another. That was the mission.”
Even though Santner is hanging up his pastry chef-hat, he will not go far – at least not yet. “I’m so grateful to our customers for the love they’ve shown me over the years, and I hope they will give that same love to Dawn. I’m going to be here as long as she needs me to for this transition.”
In the meantime, Santner said that he’s excited, personally, to be able to let his curiosity take him where it leads him – whether it’s on long walks, reading book after book, grandfathering or being carried away by a dream he has not yet dreamed. To read his words of farewell, and more about Dawn Borrello, visit his Facebook post at www.facebook.com/ilovethebakery.