Friday, March 20, 2009

Bernard's Bakery Ogunquit Maine

So what do surfer dudes and fine pastry have in common? Read on.

Surfing in Ogunquit.

As many of you know I spent every summer of my life at my family's second home on the southern coast of Maine. When I was a teenager I went looking for a job and found one at the village bakery. Bernard's Bakery on Shore Road was both commercial and retail. Every night thousands of the snowflake rolls we made were consumed in the local restaurants by vacationing diners. The establishment also provided cakes, doughnuts, muffins and fine pastries to travellers and visitors in the front shop.

What was interesting is that the place was almost entirely staffed by boys. It was particularly popular with surfers who flocked to Ogunquit every summer then migrated south with the birds. It was the only job in town where, although you started early, you could be guaranteed to be on the beach by noon every day. At Bernard's you could collect a weekly pay, get in six hours of solid surfing and, if you worked there, even get a discount at the boarding house above the bakery. It was more than a sweet deal.

The sun, the sand, the waves of Ogunquit.

Boys being boys, the kitchen was a very competitive environment. If you were tending the oven and pulled a sheet of rolls anything beyond that perfect shade of golden brown you'd be asked: "How many more of those are you gonna wreck?" If you mixed and cut a batch of biscuits in forty minutes there would always be: "Wow that took so long. I do that in twenty."

These guys were diehard surfers moonlighting by making pastry. When a revival of the film THE ENDLESS SUMMER played at the local movie house they sat through all six performances. Their enthusiasm was so infectious I even joined them for one. On the last night the manager let them in for free, no easy invite from a Yankee businessman.

The place was run by Bruce Bernard and his father, Alvah. Everyone had a specialty. I was the king of eccles cakes. Alvah (as in Thomas Alvah Edison) was an impressive whistler. He would arrive in the morning whistling a pop song, move on to a few burlesque numbers and even regale us with opera, all with an amazing musical alacrity. His gift was both envied and emulated by the guys.

The surfer's life.

We were also allowed to eat all we wanted while on the job. To say we were human vacuum cleaners would not be far off the mark. So many jelly doughnuts were never consumed by people who miraculously never gained an ounce of weight. I have no doubt that the whistling strategy was deployed to keep them from going broke. Try whistling with your mouth full!

Afternoons and early evenings were spent longboarding in icy Atlantic waters, followed by nights of chasing girls, swilling cheap beer and tokin joints. Yet, every morning at 4:30 AM they would always show up to spend their days fussing over how to make their cupcakes shine better than yours. "I think we need a little Frosting 101 over here, man. That cake looks, like ... so imperfect."

Ogunquit Beach in full force.

The whole point of this is that a bunch of frazzle-haired, naturally bronzed, people who you would never expect to care were the best friggin work team I ever had in all my travels, expense accounts or big, fancy office jobs. A good day was quality blueberries and a new bar of wax. The screen door closed behind you, the smell of fresh bread baking wafted down the driveway as you left for the sand and sun every day. Like others would park a bike against a wall they lined up their boards. Passionate foodies all. Amazing, crazy foodies who taught me a lot.

Sadly, Bernard's Bakery closed the doors for good a few years back. You just can't get an eccles cake anymore. I have been unable to either locate or contact any members of the Bernard family.

"Dude cut that Napoleon with a serrated knife. Saw it back and forth. Don't chop it. And when it is all cut then put the raspberries on."


  1. It's such a devine place!

  2. Old but Nostalgic narration...I too worked at Bernard's Bakery. Barbara always fed me breakfast in the morning. Good Times!

  3. I enjoyed the Neopolitans. I live year round in Wells. My father Herman Lohr used to make 1200 blintzes a day for Jack and Marion's in Brookline, MA so I know the hard work and effort that goes into a bakery.