Along Route 4 in Canaan, there are a couple of options to grab a bite to eat: the gas station, a pizza place, a Chinese restaurant. But there wasn't a coffee shop. That is, until earlier this year when two cafes opened not far from one another. As part of the summer series, Exploring Route 4, NHPR's Daniela Allee gives us a peek into what it's like when a town of 4,000 has a bit of a coffee shop boom.
It’s 6:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, doughnuts are fresh out of the frier, and a lot of the 603 Bakery and Cafe regulars have gotten their cup of coffee or breakfast sandwich.
Madison Nichols takes his seat at his regular spot at the counter with his cup of coffee, doughnut and blueberry muffin.
Nichols lives closer to a Dunkin' in Enfield, but since 603 opened he’s now coming here six days a week.
“There really wasn’t a place to hang out and now you got a place where you can sit down and relax,” Nichols said. “They don’t rush you in, out. Town of Canaan never really had anything out there like that.”
In fact, when the town did a community survey as a part of its master plan a few years ago, one of the top things people wanted was a coffee shop.
When Grace Moore opened the bakery in February at 18 years old, she fulfilled a childhood dream, one that she’s planned out on a bulletin board, filled with notes, sketches, lists she’s kept since she was 8.
But, there was one thing she didn’t anticipate:
“Within a month or so of us opening we had another cute bakery down the road that opened,” Grace said.
That shop is the Red Wagon Bakery, owned by Nellie Smith. As a kid, she too dreamed of running a bakery one day.
Growing up, she’d sell cookies for 25 cents a piece out of her flywheel red wagon to students at the boarding school where her parents worked in Massachusetts. She spent her summers in Canaan, while her parents taught at Cardigan Mountain School, and fell in love with the area.
The day she signed her lease—and as her mom put it, signed her life savings away—was when she found out about the 603.
“I had this whole idea that I was going to be the only bakery in town,” Nellie said, “and anybody talking about a bakery was going to be me, not which one?”
Both Grace and Nellie get asked constantly: Is a town of 4,000 big enough to support two bakeries?
How do you deal with another bakery in town?
That’s something Mike Samson, the town administrator, wondered, too.
“The other issue is competition, and while we love free market economies it’s more of a question that they don’t cut each other's throats inadvertently, ” Samson said.
So far, from the number of cars Samson counts at both spots from his offices across the street, things are going well.
“If they were identical, I would have been concerned,” he said.
Because if you ask folks in town, and the owners themselves, these are two totally different places.
A lot of 603’s customers are the guys working at the Department of Transportation, or logging and town employees. So while there are baked goods like brownies, muffins and freshly made doughnuts: lunches are hearty and quick to make. There are meatloaf sandwiches, cubanos, burgers and chicken salad sandwiches.
“It's just the blue collar workers, it’s the local guys that are coming in,” Grace said. “As much as they might like the cupcake, they need more than that. I think people want to stop and get their whole lunch satisfied. People tell me all the time, ‘If you had gas I would never go anywhere else!’”
Keeping business local was center stage at the 603 Bakery & Cafe, where its vision or motto is celebrated as, "Keepin' it Canaan."
Ami Gammell, Grace’s mom, likes to call the 603 “rustic Canaan.” There’s a roll of paper towels on each table and a hot sauce station.
Down the street at the Red Wagon, there’s some lighter fare: frittatas, pies, mixed berry crumbles, salads, and on each table, there are fresh flowers.
The Red Wagon added dinner on Friday nights recently. Nellie says, adding that was inspired by her customers.
“People had asked. Have you ever thought about staying open later? Thought about doing nighttime hours?” Nellie says.
Last Friday, Nellie and her mom, prepared fish tacos, empanadas, a farfalle and rosa sauce pasta, and a crowd favorite: nachos.
Amanda Roman stopped in with her family to grab a bite to eat. She moved to Canaan two years ago.
Roman’s excited there’s a healthier place to eat. But, back when the two bakeries opened, she was nervous the town wouldn’t be able to support the new businesses.
Roman says she tries to support both of them.
“We usually go to the 603 on Saturday for the waffles, and we come here to the Red Wagon on Sundays for the cinnamon rolls, which are amazing,” she said.
Her 7-year-old daughter Penelope chimes in:
“I got the cardamom bun, and I like it, I like the cardamom bun a lot.”
For Penelope, having the Red Wagon and 603 Bakery & Cafe in town means less time spent in the car driving to Hanover or Lebanon for dinner.
“Usually all the restaurants are like far way, like 30 minutes away from us, so that’s why I like having these spots near us,” Penelope said.
But while the two have different menus and different styles, both cafes are a family affair.
Grace’s parents, Todd and Ami Gammell and younger sister, Sophia, get up around 4 a.m. most days, if not earlier. Ami makes the breakfast sandwiches and prepares the lunch menu.
Todd’s in charge of making the doughnuts. They’re old-fashioned, and the recipe is too: it’s been in the family for five generations.
He says he tries to find the best looking doughnuts each morning, and last Tuesday, he wasn’t too disappointed with how the first batch turned out.
“They’re real uniform this morning,” he says. “It’s got the perfect top.”
“It’s the texture, it’s the crunch. It’s the buttermilk.”
By 10 a.m most days, they’ve almost sold out of the nearly 80 doughnuts and 24 jelly sticks.
At the Red Wagon Bakery, Nellie’s mom, Laura, is in charge of the grill, while Nellie does a lot of the baking.
“I’ve been learning,” Laura said. “When I find someone who’s worked a grill I ask them for hints.”
And it was with Laura’s encouragement and planning that Nellie moved on making her dream into a reality.
Laura took part in Canaan’s economic development roundtables, and kept hearing again and again from her neighbors that folks in town wanted a coffee shop.
“It all just came together,” Laura said.
She just had to convince Nellie to move from Brooklyn back to New Hampshire.
“I was like, no, I can’t do that. I don’t have any business experience,” Nellie said.
But now, business is growing and word about Nellie’s bakery, and the 603 Bakery & Cafe, is spreading around—and beyond—the Upper Valley.
Both are seeing more and more people coming down Route 4 from Lebanon, Hanover, and other nearby towns.
And people are finding reasons to keep coming back to Canaan.