For April Lawrence and Ben Pauly, opening and operating their Quechee-based doughnut business, Farmer and the Bell, has been a serendipitous endeavor.
Now about a year old, their bakery – which doubles as their shop – attracts a long line of customers waiting for fresh doughnuts before 8 am when they open on the weekends.
“Each weekend it’s just so much fun for us to go in, and waking up super early doesn’t even matter because we just meet smiling faces (on) every single customer,” Lawrence said.
Farmer and the Bell, a name inspired by the couple’s memory of growing up in families that used a dinner bell, was an idea conceived during the pandemic and the result of picking up a new hobby to help pass the time while at home, Lawrence said.
“We’re both makers and creators,” Pauly said. “We’re constantly looking for outlets to express that.”
Pauly, 41, who works as the creative director of landscape and design at the Woodstock Inn, and Lawrence, 43, who has background in apparel design, run Farmer and the Bell as a part-time pursuit, though they hope to expand the menu to include more items in the future, like their new savory cheddar and bacon scone with whipped maple herb butter.
“It’s an evolution,” Lawrence said. “When you’re creative with one thing, you can’t help but continue to kind of poke and pick away and try new things.”
Farmer and the Bell is the result of “marrying food and design,” Lawrence said, and it gives her and Pauly a chance to serve their community in a new and creative way.
“I kind of feel like a mad scientist in the kitchen sometimes just coming up with really fun flavors,” Lawrence, who enjoys experimenting with new doughnut glaze flavors, flavor combinations, and garnishes, added.
The shop’s menu rotates every weekend, with six doughnut flavor offerings, though the Vermont Maple and Sugar & Spice doughnuts are always available. Other flavors include chocolate, blueberry crumb, Girl Scout cookie-inspired Samoa, Pina Colado, and more. Local drip coffee and cold brew, as well as homemade raspberry lemonade, are also available for customers to purchase.
At first, the couple experimented with sourdough doughnuts, but eventually turned to a traditional cruller recipe, a crispy and flavorful egg-based choux pastry.
Using the surplus of eggs from their farm in Woodstock, Lawrence experimented and slowly perfected the recipe over time.
“There (are) like ten different ways to mess it up,” she said, noting that things like proper timing, temperature, moisture content, and mixing technique are all part of the meticulous process to make a good cruller.
While living in a cabin on a lake last summer, Lawrence made some of her first successful cruller batches on a tiny camp stove.
Lawrence debuted her doughnut recipe at a friend’s birthday party, where it received so much praise that it encouraged the couple to think about starting a business to sell them.
“Everyone said it was the best donut they’d ever had,” Pauly said.
In the summer of 2021, Lawrence and Pauly sold their doughnuts at several pop-up events using the kitchen of Woodstock restaurant Angkor Wat.
“Every day we sold out,” Pauly said. “We learned a lot of lessons about how to make donuts on a big scale.”
After their immediate success selling their doughnuts, Lawrence and Pauly began the hunt for a commercial space to move the business. They eventually found the Parker House, which Simon Pearce had bought and renovated a couple of years earlier, and they have been there since early May.
Now, the pair of doughnut entrepreneurs start baking in the early hours of the morning every weekend and serve customers from 8 am to noon on Saturdays and Sundays. They also pack pre-orders which can be placed online for a dozen or more doughnuts.
“Even though it just completely took our breath away with how challenging it was, it was also so rewarding because people were so excited,” Lawrence said. “It was a lesson in learning how to be more efficient.”
“Figuring out things as we go and creating our efficiencies and the community have been spectacular,” she added.
Quechee, which attracts seasonal traffic from tourists, is also home to a vibrant community of locals.
“People are craving uniqueness and a sense of place,” Pauly said. “That energy exists so strongly in Quechee.”
Creating new delicious recipes, using local ingredients, and giving customers a decadent dessert experience to look forward to each week is at the heart of Farmer & The Bell.
Moving forward, Lawrence and Pauly plan to keep Farmer & the Bell open year-round, serving customers on the weekends. For now, the pair are happy with their current location.
“We don’t really have an answer of where (the business is) going to go, and that’s totally fine with us,” Pauly said. “We’re looking to be here through foliage at the very least.”