“I always wanted a place where people felt comfortable, [there’s no rush], and can just relax”, stated Ben Filippo, co-owner, with his partner Ali, of East Durham Bake Shop. This was in response to my question about the deeper vision for opening this comfy, old-town bakery in the heart of Old East Durham.
Previously the Executive Director of Preservation Durham, Ben strongly believes in the value of maintaining historical infrastructure, especially in such a rich cultural area as Durham. An interesting fact from his previous position at Preservation Durham is that many of the historic buildings appear to be older than they are in actuality because of the rise and fall in various industries in the area over the last centuries. Ali and Ben’s ultimate goal is to create a space where neighbors can come and talk (while enjoying some delicious pie, of course). They want to have a place for the community to connect, or even reconnect, with what sometimes seems to be disconnected by the confusing, ever-changing urban environment. For instance, Ben mentioned a time when two neighbors who have lived on the same street for years never met until connecting in the bakeshop.
“[What’s special] is that it’s the community that comes together to help make this space”, Ben states. One way that Ali and Ben implement this is through their “Just Because” board. This community-driven board allows customers to ‘pay it forward’ with a pre-purchased item and a note that can be as specific to an individual as need be or “for anyone having a bad day”. It’s gestures like these that Ben and Ali share through their shop to show the importance of connecting the individuals of the community.
Another way that Ben and Ali express their desire to share with the community is by taking a lot of community feedback. With everything already being made by hand everyday, Ali took the time to learn to make croissant buns after receiving a lot of similar suggestions from customers. Interactions and developments such as these are the things that hold the foundation of business in an area like Durham. What I discovered is that as much as East Durham Bake Shop’s expertise in the baking world contributes to its business, it’s the development of the the community in and around the shop that truly holds it together.
Serving up their new, delicious fig and pear pie made with locally-sourced fruit, warm coffees, and breakfast croissants, it’s the interactions between the Bake Shop and its customers that make this amazing food taste even better. When asked about any life wisdom that Ben had to offer, going along with his passion for the bakery, he said, “Take the time to…have moments with customers and learn from each other. It’s nice to know you have a space to make new friends and for [other people around you] to become friends.” He said it best when he simply said, “I love people”.
It's a beautiful place filled with beautiful people. Go support them and tell them I sent you ;)
Photos by @micheezee