Otter Creek Bakery for Sale, Owners Looking for Right Buyer

By KENSHIN CHO

MICHAEL BORENSTEIN/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS
Otter Creek Bakery is as successful as ever, but its owners are ready to move on.

On the patio of Otter Creek Bakery, a group of students pet an elderly couple’s golden retriever. Inside, a mother with a stroller walks up to the counter, greeting staff like old friends.
For over 32 years, owners Ben and Sarah Wood have been building a beloved neighborhood institution, churning out pastries, sandwiches and cakes for the Middlebury community. Now they are preparing to take a step back, putting the bakery up for sale.

The couple’s decision marks the latest change in a town whose landscape has dramatically shifted over the past year, including the closure of Carol’s, the Lobby and other retail businesses, like Ben Franklin. The bakery appeared, for a moment at least, to be the next victim of a difficult economic environment.

But unlike many of the businesses, Otter Creek is neither struggling nor shutting down. Through the financial crisis in 2008 to the disruptive construction of a rail bridge in downtown Middlebury, Ben and Sarah have weathered multiple storms over the years, unfazed by the problems that seemed to cripple their neighbors.

In fact, this summer brought one of the most profitable seasons in recent memory, with language school students and community members alike flocking to their store even in the sweltering heat.

Wood is optimistic that the shop’s growth will continue in the close-knit community that is Middlebury.

“People do want to shop locally,” she said. “They do want to know who’s behind the counter.”

At the same time, she recognized the need to be careful not to invite unsustainable competition, refusing to crowd the limited market with offerings similar to those of other stores in town

“We don’t make bagels and doughnuts, it’s too small of a population,” Wood explained, referring to Middlebury Bagel and Deli. She attributes part of her success to the niche she and her husband were able to build. It’s led them to focus their attention on a few items they know how to make well, like their famed chocolate cake and their unique sandwiches.

The Woods’ love for food has deep roots. For years, they spent summers training at a French bistro in Nantucket, learning the basics of cooking and baking. In the winters, they travelled to various cities to find off-season work. One of those places was Vermont, where they also fell in love with the land.

By the time they left the Nantucket bistro in 1986, Ben had more than a decade of experience with French cooking, and Sarah in baking. Between the two of them, they had also accumulated a restaurant’s worth of industrial kitchen supplies, from an oven to sets of copper pots, pans and knives. When they saw that the café on Frog Hollow Alley was up for rent in Middlebury, they jumped at the opportunity. They’ve stayed ever since.

For years, Sarah would come into the store before sunrise, and work until 8 a.m. “Baker’s hours,” Ben joked. He would take over to prepare for the lunch rush, building off his early menus from the bistro. 

“I do the sweet, and he does the savory,” Sarah said.

Their dynamic has helped them succeed, appealing to a wide range of customers without stepping on each other’s toes. 

They hope to find a buyer with similar skills and strong determination, able to handle the numerous dimensions of the business. 

Until they do, they have no intention of shuttering its doors.

“We’re not in a hurry, so we want to make sure it’s the right match,” she said. “Or we’re not doing it. I’ll wait five years if I have to.”

The new owners will inherit a daunting responsibility. To the Middlebury community, Otter Creek is much more than just a pastry shop. Its food is often present for life’s most important milestones, a staple at weddings and birthday parties.

The bakery is also an important link between the town and the college. Located on 14 College Street, it is one of the few places where the two often-divided communities interact. For the business, that has also meant a diverse set of customers and a steady stream of new faces.

“With the college, there’s a lot of diversity that you don’t have in other towns — people with different ideas, from all walks of life,” Sarah said.

Ben and Sarah Wood even hoped that the college would buy their store. They reached out to the administration, proposing to move the admissions office to the bakery.

“The admissions office up there is kinda sterile,” she said. “Visitors could just hang out here, and you can have a cappuccino, croissant, see the town. It’s the threshold to Middlebury.”

But with little interest from the school, they are still searching. In the meantime, they continue to work at the store as they did for decades, with the same passion and quality. Though, at the end of the day, they remain committed to selling.

“The bakery’s sort of like our first child,” Sarah said. “It’s ready to get booted out of the nest and grow up.”

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About the Writer
KENSHIN CHO, Local Editor

Kenshin Cho ’20 is a local editor.
He previously served as staff writer.
Cho’s academic interests include political science, religion, and economics.
During...

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Otter Creek Bakery for Sale, Owners Looking for Right Buyer