When you walk into Downtown Bakery and Creamery on Center Street, the scent of warm scones envelops you in a comforting hug and the familiar sound of the bread slicer rings out as locals line up for their morning coffee.
Kathleen Stewart and her family have been running Downtown Bakery since 1987 and after 35 years of hard work, the family has decided to sell.
The bakery went up for sale on Aug. 1.
“We are all very tired. She turned to me a few months ago when we were working up in the office one day and just looked at me and went, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Mom is tired and we all have some other interests that we’d like to explore,” said Maya Eshom, Stewart’s daughter.
“For all of us for close to 40 years it (the bakery) has been the center of everything,” Eshom said.
Stewart ran the bakery with Lindsey Shere and Shere’s daughter Therese until 1997. When the Shere’s left, Eshom and her brother started helping out with the business.
While several local businesses have closed or sold due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Eshom said COVID wasn’t entirely the deciding factor for selling the bakery.
“I’m sure it hastened what would have been an inevitable decision,” Eshom said. “I certainly can’t point my finger at COVID being the deciding factor, but we never closed down and in all honesty, we barely slowed down.”
COVID certainly didn’t make business any easier, though. In the first quarter around March 2020, the bakery slowed down a bit and took a small dip.
They cut back their hours and changed a few menu offerings but for the most part, they stayed busy.
She said the decision to sell was a hard one. Eshom and her brother grew up in Healdsburg, went to school here and spent much of their time at the bakery.
“We pretty much grew up in this building,” she said. “It is going to be a huge change and it is kind of scary, but it’s also kind of great.”
She said before they completely burn out they’d like to be able to make this transition gracefully.
“We’d like to find the right buyers for Healdsburg and for this place. Obviously it wouldn’t stay the same because it is so personal that they’d want to put their own stamp on it, but with any luck they’d want to keep it community based and keep making sticky buns,” Eshom said.
She said she’s had a lot of people freaking out about the possibility of losing the sticky buns, an all-time favorite among customers.
“I’ll never forget the first time I had one of their sticky buns. It was when my now-husband and I were visiting town back when we first were going out, probably 2007 or so. We moved here in 2014 and (no) joke it was the sticky buns that brought us here, I even referenced their sticky buns in my wedding vows,” said Jen Cuzzi. “We will miss them but wish the family all the best.”
“My first purchase was a sticky bun,” said Gina Riner. “If food is love, they’ve showed their love and commitment to Healdsburg a thousand times over.”
Patrons also love the galettes, pretzels, croissants, quiches and a slew of other delectable pastries.
According to Eshom, the sale of the business also includes the recipes.
“We want to do it right,” she said of the sale. “It feels almost like we’re abandoning the town.”
When asked what Eshom will miss the most about running the bakery, she said feeling like she’s part of the community.
“Feeling like you and your work are an integral part of the community, but the whole idea is that we keep it open and we keep it going and hopefully there will be a smooth transition into its next configuration,” she said.
A community hub
To say that Downtown Bakery is a staple in the community may be a bit of an understatement.
Resident Whitney Opperman said her son thinks his grandma lives at the bakery since she spends so much time there.
“Where will my son think his Grandma lives now? My Grandma Gloria (GG) Opperman spends most mornings drinking a coffee from Downtown Bakery on the bench out front. My son is two and he thinks that GG lives in the ‘Plaza at Downtown Bakery’ because we see her there every time we go,” Opperman said.
Katie McDowell said Downtown Bakery was like a second home for her Nana.
“She would go everyday at 3 p.m. for an iced coffee and a peanut butter cookie. She loved everything in that pastry case. She was there so much that we had Downtown Bakery phone number on speed dial because at the time she didn’t have a cell phone and we would call looking for her. Maya also baked my wedding cake,” McDowell said.
Local Judy Wiedemann-Woolman said Downtown Bakery is a special place to her because the screen door to the bakery is made from wood from her late father.
“Every time I go in I think of my Dad. I hope they find someone to buy it so it can stay open,” Wiedemann-Woolman said.
Local Nancy Citro said the wood door must stay. If the wooden screen door is part of the bakery’s history, then so is the wooden bench outside the bakery.
The bench has played host to a group of regular customers who gather at the bench almost every morning to drink coffee and chat.
“The bakery is an amazing business that has anchored our plaza, steeped with custom. The Mill Creek locals come down and meet friends daily in front of the bakery for coffee and banter … So many memories,” Citro said.
Eshom said she hopes people can appreciate the bakery in its next chapter and that customers continue to feel welcomed and loved.
“Thanks for the love and continued support over the years. We hope that the next iteration of the bakery will be another place that they can continue to love and feel welcome and satisfied,” Eshom said.