The existence of the Village Baker proves three things:
- Urban artisan establishments do not have exclusive domain over super-tasty baked things.
- Good things sometimes happen to good people
- West Michigan is a really, really small place
1. Small Town Baker Kicks Ass
The first thing you encounter at Village Baker is a rack of completely legit baked goods in mind boggling variety. I do not know when they start baking to have this stuff ready to go each morning, or what magic they employ to get this kind of crust on a baguette.
The storefront is narrow and long – a handful of booths line the windows along one long side, and a counter, pastry cases, and a gaggle of young employees dominate the back wall. It’s light and airy, with an understated small town charm. The glass bottles of milk from a local dairy look at right at home.
Over the course of a handful of weekends out at my mom’s place in Spring Lake, we had challah (for French toast, OMG), cinnamon rolls, baguettes, poppy seed hot dog buns, French pastries, and local blueberry muffins. I think I ate more bread during July than in any previous month of my life, and I loved every minute of it. The baguettes here are crusty with a pillowy white interior and a mild sourdough bite. The hot dog buns are brilliantly squishy, what every grocery store hot dog bun aspires to be. And the pastries, created by a professor at a nearby cooking school who was wishing for a commercial kitchen, are precise and beautiful.
2. Good People
Oran Rankin and Sara Rathbun run Village Baker. They are really really nice people. When they opened the bakery, they literally scraped it together, doing a lot of the work on the place themselves, and bringing in friends (there’s a yoga studio next door, and plans for a farmers market out back) to help.
And, just as you’d like to see with something run with this much heart, this place is off-the-hook successful. I’ve never been in there where there hasn’t been a line full of locals back from church, or people passing through on the way to the beach. As word spreads, I can imagine the crowds will continue to gather, making Village Baker a sort of informal town square.
3. West Michigan Is Very Small
Back in the early 90s, fresh back in Grand Rapids from my first years in College, my dad and I used to spend the occasional lazy afternoon drinking coffee and playing chess at Socrates. It was a homey Eastown coffeeshop, with a big bright front window, some memorably named sandwiches and good coffee before most of us knew what that was. Once or twice we made the trek from there up to Ed’s Breads on Leonard to bring back a loaf of homemade cinnamon bread for French Toast.
Socrates: Sara Rathbun’s place. Ed’s Breads: that’d be Oran’s. They weren’t a couple then, but have since met and married, and showed up a few blocks away from my mom’s house.