Youthful ambition fulfilled: Ashley Summers opens a bakery
PITTSFIELD -- While other little girls were busy collecting stickers, dolls and dress-up clothes, Ashley Summers was the one who collected espresso cups and café plates.
Today, if you go into her newly opened Madeleine's Patisserie & Café at 48 North St., you'll likely be served delectable baked goods and coffee with those very dishes the now 26-year-old Summers has been saving since she was a kid.
"I always knew I wanted to do something like this," said the pastry chef, a Lanesborough native and resident.
Her front-of-the-house manager and childhood friend, Nicole Wheeler, 26, of North Adams, vouched for Summers' youthful ambition.
Summers said that growing up, whenever there was a family gathering or special event, her family was known for bringing crowd-pleasing desserts. "I remember thinking, why couldn't this just be my job and why can't I do this all the time. It turns out, you can," she said.
Summers' recipe for success includes a mix of traditional and nontraditional practices.
She says she's been keeping a savings account for a future bakery since she took on her first job at age 14, bussing tables at The Olde Forge in Lanesborough.
She attended Mount Greylock Regional High School but left school to enroll in the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. There she earned an associates degree and an affinity for working with pastries and in particular, cakes.
Summers spent the next five years working everywhere, from Nantucket to New York to Charlottesville, Va. She cut her teeth learning everything from inventory and bookkeeping to creating recipes and sculpting fondant.
She then returned to New England Culinary Institute, earned her bachelor's degree, and took herself and her new credentials to work for Tina Tian of Couture Cakes in Chongqing, China.
A poster of one of the creations she worked on hangs in Summers' shop. It took Summers two weeks to craft the purple sugar blossoms that wind around the side of the multi-tiered beauty.
After her stint in China, Summers returned to the U.S. and worked in New York City at Richard Sanodval Restaurants, B. R. Guest Hospitality and Tavern on the Green.
She also appeared on the Food Network television competition called "Sweet Genius" with Master Pastry Chef Ron Ben-Israel. Summers, who was about six-months pregnant at the time, bested the other three competitors and took home a $10,000 prize from the episode, which aired Nov. 15, 2012.
Meanwhile, Summers brought her award and her newborn daughter Madeleine (named after a petite style of French cake), back to the Berkshires to finally realize her childhood dream of owning a bakery.
While working at For the Love of Pie, a bakery in New Lebanon, N.Y., Summers came across an ad for the former Ahava Amore Café space on North Street next to Shiro Sushi Lounge.
Using her savings and her show winnings, she signed the lease a week later and officially opened Madeleine's Patisserie & Café on Oct. 17 of this year.
The 620-square-foot space, which has an open kitchen design, came with restaurant equipment, a display case, counter space and two seating areas. Summers also plans to apply for a seasonal outdoor seating permit in the spring.
Her best friend and associate Nicole Wheeler, did the interior design.
"It's a rustic, French country kind of feel. We wanted to create an atmosphere to reflect what we do. Our foods are all homemade and organic and the service we do is very personalized and custom," said Wheeler. "We not only want to sell the food but sell the experience."
Wheeler described the shop's offerings as a "rotating menu of sweet and savory."
Summers does a 6 a.m. bake, which includes hand rolled stuffed croissants, scones, muffins, an assortment of cookies and daily special breakfast pastries. The shop's 11 a.m. lunch bake includes homemade chicken pot pies sold by the slice with housemade gravy, fresh mozzarella focaccia pizza, quiche and macaroni and cheese.
Madeleine's also carries challah, brioche, cheesecake, tarts, cupcakes in three sizes, pies, David's Biscotti (made in Pittsfield) and breakfast sandwiches on homemade biscuits or croissants. Gluten-free, sugar-free, and dairy-free options are available daily.
They serve New England Coffee, Lavazza espresso, homemade hot chocolates and house-brewed chai lattes and spiced cider. Other retail items include take-and-bake cookie and pizza dough, handmade gift cards, and cookie baskets and platters. They also sell cookie- and cupcake-making kits and seasonal stocking stuffers.
The bakery also specializes in custom orders for cupcakes, celebration cakes and wedding cakes. They also do baskets of baked goods for meetings and special events.
Breakfast and lunch items are $5 or less. Specialty cakes typically start around $20.
Summers and Wheeler both say they've received great support from fellow North Street proprietors, including some mentoring from Mary McGinnis of Mary's Carrot Cake.
"She's given us a lot of advice in terms of economic development," Summers said.
She said Madeleine's will also be a future host for First Fridays Artswalk artists. The shop has already participated in community events like the city's Third Thursdays and Berkshire Museum's Festival of Trees.
"It feels like everything I've been doing for the past 10 to 12 years was training for this moment," Summers said.
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