Chef-owner of Hender’s Bake Shop and Café, which opened in July in Waterbury.
VL: Did you know you wanted to cook professionally from early on?
JW: In Cape Cod, where I grew up, my family owned a bed-and-breakfast and then a coffee shop, where I’d eat muffins every morning waiting for the school bus. After that, my parents catered and ran a restaurant at a golf course. I knew I wanted to go to culinary school, even though my parents tried to talk me out of it. They said, “You’ve seen our lives, how hard we work.” We basically lived at the restaurant; there was no food at home.
VL: How did you end up in Vermont?
JW: I was working in San Diego as an assistant pastry chef in a very busy place that did two concerts every night, serving a full high-end dinner each show. We’d do one dinner and then have 30 minutes to prep for the next one. It was like “Groundhog Day” every day. My sister and brother-in-law were opening a hostel in Warren and asked if I wanted to be their chef. I said yes immediately. It turned out they didn’t need a full-time chef, but I was so glad to be back near my family, and I just fell in love with Vermont: the local food movement, the healthy lifestyle.
VL: Your bake shop has a case full of sweet pastries as well as sandwiches, salads, granola and even house-baked dog treats inspired by your dog Henderson, after whom the shop is named. Any family connections to any of those recipes?
JW: Food has always been a family affair for us, cooking meals together, calling each other about new recipes.
I couldn’t have opened this place without the help of my family. My roasted turkey Thanksgiving sandwich is
in honor of one my mom always had on her golf course restaurant menu, made with from-scratch stuffing and my grandma’s recipe for cranberry sauce with apples and lemon zest. My mom’s blueberry muffin and crumb cake recipes are also really popular. My raspberry-chocolate-chip coffee cake is based on one of [my great-grandma’s] recipes. And my sister came up with the idea for my chocolate-mocha snack cakes.
VL: You make the pottery you serve on in your bake shop. How long have you been doing that?
JW: About three years ago, when I was working in Burlington, I had three days off a week and was baking too much at home. I love baking, but I was eating too much of it. A friend introduced me to a pottery studio, and I just got hooked. I love the creativity, that it’s hands on, the feel and the touch of it. It’s very similar to baking in some ways. I just got it. So many customers kept asking about the pottery, I’m selling some now.
VL: Anything you’ve learned since you’ve opened your own place?
JW: Yes, that how you name and label things is really important. I make these really awesome vegan peanut butter bars. They weren’t selling at all. I replaced the big “vegan” on the label with a tiny sticker and now they’re doing great.