A little over month ago, on a Sunday morning, I opted to take a walk to my neighborhood bakery for a breakfast sandwich. Normally, that's too much effort for a Sunday (no judgments, please) but this place not only made really great breakfast food, it also smelled like the most heavenly confections known to man kind. Like everything in my neighborhood of Hampden, the prices were also unbelievably reasonable. You'd actually pay more for a microwaved-egg-like-substance at Dunkin Donuts than the freshly-cracked egg sandwiches of New System Bakery. The second I turned the corner from Keswick Road to 34th Street, an entire block before the bakery itself, the air smelled of donuts, buttercream icing, and freshly baked bread. When you're trying to stick to your plan of "just an egg sandwich - no no NO donuts!" just being within three blocks of this local bakery is torture. But, in an effort to support a local business and enjoy the fact that I could walk to an actual bakery, going to New System on Sunday morning was something I did at least once a month.
New System Bakery was a neighborhood meeting place as much as a bakery. In business since the 1920's (albeit in a couple different locations), the most recent generation of owners could always be found behind the counter serving customers though, it took me about a year of living in the area to realize that the people taking a cake order or a breakfast order were also the owners of the establishment. I've lived in Hampden since 2006 and along with Cafe Hon, Rocket to Venus, and Holy Frijoles, New System was a place I had come to identify as "typically Hampden." A transplant to the neighborhood myself, I figured it would take several years before I could be "recognized as a local" and it's something I longed for but because Frijoles, Hon, and Rocket are pretty well-patronized by those who don't live in the area I knew that local nod might never happen. However, on this particular Sunday, I happened to get into a brief conversation with someone at New System about the weather, the Mayor, or something like that. I got my sandwich, walked home, and thought nothing more of the common encounter.
On Wednesday of that week, I was scheduled for an early meeting at my office. Instead of stopping at Dunkin Donuts which is actually on my way to work (they even have a drive-through), I decided to stop at New System. If nothing else, it'd be a little ice breaker for the beginning of the meeting to say that the delicious breakfast pastries had come from a local Hampden establishment. As I was getting ready to pay, the woman behind the counter (who had been working the previous Sunday) startled me by saying, "Not to be rude, but who are you?" Never having been mistaken for anyone famous (apparently, I just look like me!) I replied simply, "oh, I'm Kate Nolan - I come in here sometimes on the weekend for breakfast." I guess she was expecting a different answer - because she only replied, "oh, Hi Kate." As I was leaving the bakery, the woman with whom I had been speaking and the owner turned and said, "Bye Kate! Have a good one!" That little closing comment made my day. It felt like the familiar "local-nod" for which I had been longing for four years. Sure enough later, the local bakery goods were discussed, the meeting progressed, and eventually, the day ended.
That Friday night, my boyfriend Shawn and I met up with two of our friends and fellow Hampdenites, TJ and Alicia who delivered the shocking news that after 88 years in business, New System had closed their doors that very week. How could that be?! I had just been there a few days before! TJ had learned of the closing from his father who is actually a native of upstate New York so I held onto the faint hope that somehow, he had be misinformed. Saturday morning, I woke up early, laced up my tennis shoes and took a walk. On the front door of the bakery, my tie-into the local Hampden community was a white sign. "After 88 years in business..."
It's Sunday again. This morning I had Special K for breakast and was less than satisfied. The breakfast I was craving was not to be had because New System is no more - for now. I'm hoping, however unlikely, that the circumstances will change. Maybe I could re-open the bakery! Wasn't my great-grandfather a baker in Govans? I do make a mean hot-milk cake. But I studied engineering and am happily employed as a project manager for a local developer so for now, the baker option doesn't seem likely. No, it's not likely but does that mean it absolutely counldn't happen? New System - let's talk.