A couple of weeks ago we went through a rainy spell and I learned something about toddlers and the rain: you can only keep them inside for so long. On Tuesday of that week, that particular threshold was 5:15pm. The walls felt like they were closing in on us and Matteo and I needed a mission.
Joe had a pot of marinara sauce on the stove, with meatballs bubbling merrily within it. On that cold and gloomy day, we decided that meatballs sandwiches would be the perfect dinner. So Matteo and I found our mission: the get to Grahame’s Bakery before closing time to score four of their legendary sub buns.
Grahame’s Bakery has been a fixture of the Kemptville community since the 1930s when it was owned and operated by Bert and Nancy Frisby. Leonard Grahame came to Canada from England in 1929. He landed in Montreal and worked his way to Oxford Mills where he worked in farming and forestry. Leonard started working at the Frisby’s bakery in 1939 and twenty years later, when the Frisbys retired to England, Leonard and his wife Lila bought the bakery and it’s been Grahame’s ever since.
What makes Grahame’s special? Why do people, such as a particular family from Manhattan, make a yearly pilgrimage to Kemptville to lay their hands on the bakery’s freshly baked treats? Part of it is the wood burning oven. “It’s a historical artefact,” says Debbie Wilson, Leonard’s granddaughter who runs the bakery with her brother Rick Grahame. “People come from all over to see it.” And guests are welcome to follow Debbie into the back of the meticulously clean prep area to look at the massive stone oven. It’s been operating since 1885 and has only needed major repairs once, in 2010.
Rick knows that oven inside and out. Not only did he work closely with the heritage stone mason who repaired the oven four years ago, Rick is the one who gets up every morning at 2:30am to make the doughnuts. Next come the breads. Rick lights the oven at 7:30am with cedar wood and at 9:30am, the baking begins. It’s a long day to be sure, but even at the end of the day, Rick is welcoming and happy to chat with me and Matteo.
Local restaurants have embraced the bakery and you’ll find Grahame’s breads and buns at the Brigadoon, O’Heaphy’s, Salamanders, and the Branch. Everybody I talk to has their favourite indulgence – from chocolate-dipped doughnuts to date squares to their world famous butter tarts. My favourite? The cinnamon Danish. They make a beautiful, rich, and satisfying snack that pairs well with a hot cup of coffee.
And you know what? Debbie and Rick will remember your favourites. Once I went in to pick up a loaf of bread for my neighbour and they knew exactly what she liked best.. Whenever we pop in, Debbie asks about family and she genuinely cares about my answer. Community is very important to Grahame’s and nothing demonstrates that better than their actions during the Ice Storm. The wood oven was going full force cooking food that people and local stores brought in from their freezers, and supplying the shelters with hot, wholesome food.
On that rainy Tuesday, Matteo and I made it to the bakery at 5:29pm. Debbie was sweeping the front step as we parked the tricycle. She welcomed us warmly and chatted with us as Rick went to get the buns. On our way out, Debbie slipped a small treat to Matteo, to fuel him for the wet trip home. And when we got there, the meatballs subs were indeed perfection. Thank you, Grahame’s!
115 Clothier St. East, Kemptville, ON K0G 1J0
Tuesday – Friday: 5:30 am – 5:30 pm
Saturday: 5:30 am – 3:00 pm
Sunday & Monday: Closed
Note: Grahame’s accepts cash and cheque only; Payment via Interac and credit card is not available.