All winter and spring I drove by the empty storefront at 40 Union St., hoping for good. I suspect half of Brunswick did the same; this spot has history.
Although most recently it spent some years as home to the dreariest secondhand shop in town, it was formerly Tetrault’s Market, revered for its excellent meat and old-time atmosphere. During those quiet months after the secondhand shop closed, there were long curtains draped over the windows, and late at night, lights indicated some transformation was happening inside.
The rumor was that it might be a bakery, and as time went on, word was out that Sandy Holland was the baker. A lot of people in town know Holland from the former Humble Gourmet, which offered catering and sandwiches out of its Pleasant Street location a few blocks away, but I knew of her from my waitressing days in Phippsburg 30 years ago, where she built a fine reputation as the person to go to for a wedding cake. Holland still serves as the chef at Rock Gardens Inn three nights a week.
Her Union Street Bakery and Cake Shop opened in June, and business has been booming ever since. I stopped by for a sandwich recently and there was enough of a crowd in the open, welcoming cafe area, including one customer I recognized from Sebasco Estates, that I opted to take it home with me.
There were five sandwiches on the chalkboard menu hanging over the bakery case. I was sorely tempted by a turkey BLT but went for the chicken curry salad on oatmeal bread, curious as to how it would compare to the one I love at Wild Oats, the other bakery in Brunswick. Holland’s was less spiced and salty than Wild Oats’, which made it feel lighter and healthier. The soft, chewy bread was so good I vowed to go back for a loaf soon. The sandwich ($7.50 before tax) came with a side salad of nicely cooked beets – still a little firm, in a good way – tossed in a vinaigrette with some onion. The side salad changes daily, as do the quiches and salads.
There’s also a changing selection of cookies, bars and pastries to go with the cakes and pies made to order. I decided to forgo them that day, but while I was writing this up decided I had an obligation to go purchase something sweet and eat it immediately. The cream cheese brownie, moist and gooey and frosted with a layer of chocolate ($2.75) was just the ticket, and I ate almost the whole thing on the way home.
When I called Holland to let her know that a photographer would be visiting, I asked her about what brought her to this spot, which really is an ideal location for a bakery. Union is a side street off Pleasant. It’s mostly residential at this end, but the way the building’s steps open up onto the sidewalk makes it feel inviting, like it should be the neighborhood hangout.
It turns out she lived just a few doors down for years and felt exactly the same way. When she and her ex-husband sold that house, she decided to make a go of it with her new partner. She’d been working in financial services for a few years – health insurance is very appealing when you’ve been catering for much of your career – and was ready to get out.
“I had always thought this would be the cutest spot,” Holland said. And with enough money in the bank to renovate the space, modestly but well – the yellow walls and comfortable furniture make you want to sit down with a book and stay awhile – she didn’t have to take out any loans. She and her partner lived in the back room while they were working on the kitchen and cafe.
One of her bosses from her time in finance told her she’d regret walking away from the stable job with benefits. Hasn’t happened. “Not for a single second,” Holland said.
40 Union St., Brunswick | 207-844-1800 | No website yet, but a Facebook page
WHEN: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
PARKING: On-street parking
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: No
OUTDOOR SEATING: Not yet