“Would you like some coffee?” was the first thing Chris said to me as I entered her bakery. Maybe she asked this of everyone, or perhaps she saw a chilled, haggard-looking guy in a bike helmet and made a logical conclusion.
Day two of my weekend trip started pleasantly with a short ride from Fenton to Linden, where a nice lady was collecting donations to support a pre-graduation day lock-in for the high school seniors. The next stop was Durand, about fifteen miles away, on what turned out to be mostly dirt roads (mud, ruts, and loose gravel – what’s not to like?), while the morning grew steadily grayer and colder. By the time Durand’s signature railroad depot came into view, my need for coffee and a warm place to drink it would have been evident to Stevie Wonder.
Chris and her husband Barry have owned the Itchi-Bon (“number one”) Bakery for 26 years, purchasing it just before they got married. Of the original five Itchi-Bons, which the original owner sold off separately, theirs was the only one left. I’d say the attention they pay to their customers is part of the reason why they’ve lasted. Several people came in while I was there, and Chris spent time chatting with all of them, without neglecting a certain cyclist visiting for the first time.
The continuity came with tradeoffs. Noticing the U-M sweatshirt Chris wore, naturally I asked her if she went there. “Oh, no,” she said. “I never went to college. I’ve never left Durand.” There was no regret in her voice. It was just the way things worked out.
Trains are what built Durand, and they remain a big deal today. Their big annual event, Railroad Days, was coming up the following weekend. The website that describes the festival says, “Talk at the coffee shops and pubs still center around trains,” and it was certainly true that morning. I met a lady helping organize the first-ever Railroad Days 5K run, and we “talked some shop” for a bit. (I’m still waiting to hear from her how it went.)
The coffee at Itchi-Bon is run-of-the-mill stuff (sorry, Chris) but it was hot, and served in a thick mug like you’d see in the coffee shops of fifty years ago. No fancy scones or croissants either, but a wide variety of doughnuts at 75 cents each, or day-old at 40 cents My guess is this is the way Durand likes it, and it was actually very refreshing. I hope nobody from Starbucks is reading this and discovering that there’s a town in America without one.
As for doughnuts, I don’t normally eat them because these days they are mostly air, and have about as much flavor as the bag. Not these. Chris pointed to one with a deep pink color – a “red velvet” doughnut. “We don’t usually get these,” she said. Well, naturally I had to have it, then. (*) It was both substantial and delicious. So I had another. There were seventy miles left to go, after all.
Then it was time to move on. Chris popped her head outside as I got back on my bike.
“Come back any time,” she said, cheerily. “I’ll be here every day for the rest of my life.”
(*) Scarcity and exclusivity are time-honored marketing techniques. I knew this, but it still worked.