St. Helena, a small community of 6,000 souls, is a one-main-street, two-block town, proud of its past, and insecure about its future.
While local townships boosted their public room occupancy and encouraged tourism, St. Helena, for a long time, went against the grain, even fought it. Town fathers reveled in the past and just haven’t wanted to do much about the present, or the future.
Town ordinances prevent the arrival of chain restaurants, or large department stores, and Main Street businesses must be owned by locals.
The upside of this finger-in-the-dike mentality has meant that small local businesses thrive, often delivering food, products, or services, which are better than what you’ll find in many large urban American cities.
Take The Model Bakery for example. It’s an original, modest, locally owned bakery, producing breads that rival the best artisanal breads made in America.
The bakery has been part of the St. Helena scene for more than 80 years. Bakers today still use the original brick ovens built by Italian masons in the early 1920s.
This year, The Model Bakery celebrated its 25th anniversary of ownership by the Mitchell family.
Like everything in St. Helena, The Model Bakery has an old-time feel. All the breads, pastries and cakes are baked by a team of dedicated, trained bakers who are supervised by the owners, a dynamic mother and daughter duo.
Karen Mitchell, is the mom, and her daughter is Sarah and together they oversee the production of wonderful, rustic loaves, and fancy pastries, too. I love their sourdough breads, including a Pain au Levain, which gives Acme’s superb Pain au Levain, a run for its money. I love their batards, too, as well as their morning pastries, sticky buns included.
Karen says that the most requested baked items are iced cookies, made for special holidays and occasions.
“We make 50,000 of these cookies by hand each year,” she says. “ This means that over 25 years, we’ve made more than 1.25 million of these cookies – and every single one of them was made on premises, by hand, and by a local!”
They serve Peet’s coffee at Model Bakery, and serve a pizza-of-the-day and delicious garden salads for lunch.
There’s now a second location of The Model Bakery – adjacent to the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa – but a visit to the valley is not complete without at least one visit, or one breakfast, to The Model Bakery in St. Helena.
Model Bakery, 1357 Main St., St. Helena, CA, 94574. Tel. 707-963-8192, or learn more at www.themodelbakery.com.
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In many respects, this series could be called Napaman’s Top 100 Napa Valley Attractions. These are the places I send family and friends, and which I personally endorse as being the Best of the Best of Napa Valley.