The Upper Crust bakery is no more. And I’m annoyed.
Okay, not annoyed, exactly. I’m actually feeling sad, frustrated and abandoned, like the dozens of Colesville, Md.-area residents who lined up outside the bakery Thursday to say goodbye.
It was 18 years ago that I first stepped into the bakery that had just opened next to a Giant near my new home. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was astonished to discover the store was fabulous. Captivated by its rustic ambience, dark wood shelves and welcoming employees, I found myself marveling, “This jewel is in my neighborhood!?” Then I tasted its offerings:
Turkey and cheese croissants so rich that a wistful customer yesterday said they “made your arteries shrivel just looking at them.” The aptly named “Chocolate Sin Cake,” a dessert whose moist irresistibleness made it my sons’ go-to birthday choice for years. Buttery dinner rolls worthy of my family’s every Thanksgiving and Christmas feast. Blueberry muffins so perfect, they’re the favorite breakfast of my pickiest son, 17. For a Midwestern girl who’d grown up thinking of Wonder Bread as a treat, Upper Crust was a revelation, introducing me to golden Challahs, rugulahs so tasty that transplanted New Yorkers bought them by the dozens, and a yeasty Vienna White so sumptuous, my sons inhaled peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches made from it as if they were brownies. The store’s pumpernickels, ryes, sourdoughs and olive-, nut-, raisin- and cheese-laden breads gave me an education on baked goods’—and life’s–possibilities. I wasn’t alone. Customer Rebecca Breeden says even her cats adored the parmesan loaf. Her husband George would drop it on the kitchen counter “and turn around to find one of them dragging it into the other room.” When she told George the store was closing, she thought he was going to cry.
Yesterday, this neighborhood treasure closed its doors. Not so much because the bakery wasn’t doing well, but because its wholesale arm is doing spectacularly, with much lower overhead. And as Nancy Neville, co-owner of Upper Crust with her husband Dave, explained repeatedly to disconsolate customers, our favorite bakery was “a business, not a charity” (though Upper Crust nightly donated leftover goods to the homeless). “Retail is tough,” Neville explained, looking heartsick. “Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve had a holiday where we weren’t thinking about people’s soft dinner rolls and pies? But I love this community….My husband wanted to close three years ago and I fought him.”
Now Neville admits she’s tired, and craves more time for herself and her kids. And though she accepts that expanding the company’s burgeoning wholesale operation while shuttering the storefront makes sense, the past few weeks have been agonizing. She spent them “crying my eyes out—my husband thinks I’m a basket-case,” consoling customers and searching for a nearby store to sell her beloved breads to locals once a week. Yesterday, she found one: Quench! Craft Beer and Wine, a deli around the corner at 13423 New Hampshire Ave., where Neville and new partner Diane Hayes expect to be selling bread on Fridays by February.
It’s comforting knowing that Neville’s amazing breads will still be available nearby. But customers like Stephanie Grant, who waited patiently outside on the sidewalk on Upper Crust’s final day, is regretting the loss of the shop itself. “Everything’s a big grocery now,” the IT manager for Choice Hotels explained. “Nothing has that mom-and-pop feel. I’ll miss the bread sitting out on the shelf, that neighborly kind of spirit.” Grant says she bought several loaves she could freeze to “tide myself over” until it is again available. But losing the bakery represents “another way of removing us from our food source,” she said.” It means going back to a grocery store that may or not really know or care where its bread comes from.” Grant sighed.
“At Upper Crust, they cared.”