YOUR HOMETOWN — ELKTON: Baking Up A New Tradition
New England Transplant Calls On Culinary Past To Fill Old Country Inn Spot
Posted: January 30, 2013
Owner Philip Retelle of Elkton checks on a batch of scones baking in the oven Tuesday morning at his restaurant, Appalachia Baking Co., on Spotswood Avenue. Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R
Chuck and Debby St. James fix their coffee Tuesday morning at Appalachia Baking Co. on Spotswood Avenue in Elkton. Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R
Barista Heather Barrix makes coffee for customers at the Appalachia Baking Co. Tuesday. Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R
A chef for many years in Boston and Cambridge, Mass., he left the industry when he ditched the Northeast for the Shenandoah Valley 13 years ago.
His wife, Cathy Wenzel, is an Elkton native.
“I couldn’t wait to get here,” said Retelle, 50.
But 1996 — about three years before he moved to Elkton — was the last time Retelle worked in a kitchen. Until last summer, his utensil of choice was a chain saw as he cut down trees for a living.
“I wanted to do something that was a little less dangerous,” Retelle said.
The answer became Appalachia Baking Co., which opened in September at 204 W. Spotswood Ave. It features light fare for lunch and breakfast, including a half-dozen types of homemade bread.
Cheesecake, coffee cake, cookies, cinnamon buns, scones, brownies, teas and coffee from Shenandoah Joe, a Charlottesville roaster, also are available. Lunch specials, such as a steak and cheese subs, rotate weekly.
English pork pies — a popular item in Massachusetts — are on the menu every Tuesday. The soft-crusted, pork-gravy infused pie was actually what motivated Retelle to open a restaurant, but he decided against focusing on just that dish.
“We weren’t sure whether pork pies would be really accepted by the locals,” he said.
Appalachia’s location, though, leaves no doubt as to its potential.
The 32-seat café is the former home of the Country Inn Restaurant, a longtime hangout for residents and once host to a faction of regular customers called The Coffee Group.
Community and church groups also often used Country Inn to meet, citing its atmosphere.
Retelle is hopeful that Appalachia can become that same go-to gathering spot.
“The whole coffee shop idea, there’s no place to go [here] but fast food, diners, or if you go to 7-Eleven,” he said. “We wanted some better coffee than that. … You’ve got a social scene at the local McDonald’s. We wanted to create a place for other people to come. And them, too.”
Offering homemade food is also important to Retelle, who calls baking bread his “passion.”
“Foodwise, I just want ingredients. I want as little pre-prepared, factory-made stuff as possible,” he said. “I wanted to make real food from real ingredients and offer it to people. I pretty much stopped eating at other places. I can’t taste the salt when I eat [something there], but I can feel it later. I’m sick of it.”
Heather Barrix, Retelle’s only paid employee, says residents are still figuring Appalachia out. She hopes a presence on Facebook will lead to building a customer base of young people.
“The bread’s awesome,” said Barrix, 19, who dates Retelle’s stepson.
Retelle envisions expanding the hours — Appalachia closes at 5 p.m. — and offering musical performances at some point, which should help attract people of all ages. The room has “great acoustics,” he said.
But that’s looking months ahead. Retelle is busy enough catching up with his culinary past as a restaurant owner.
“I used to think I worked hard doing tree work, but my God,” he said. “I could at least go home and not have to think about it.”
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org