s the Word: Memories of a bootlegging restaurant
It was a cold December night in 1974 as I pulled my 1965 Volkswagen van to a stop in front of Mum&
s Cottage Cafe, then four houses down from the corner of Tolman Creek Road and Siskiyou Boulevard, on the north side of the street. Sasha, sister-in-law to Doonesbury&
s Gary Trudeau, first greeted me, sitting with a group of fellow commune members from Hokola, in the Colestin Valley. We sat at the only vacant space at four tables, and looked over the menu: Lots of curries, woked dishes, Lenny Friedman&
s Pyramid carrot juice, teas, desserts and a delicious sourdough bread that was otherwise unavailable in Ashland. The most expensive entree on the menu was $4.50, but a single brownie cost $5.
Robert Lavreau played the guitar and sang some New Age songs as we all ate away at the fine fare.
Bob also lived in the Colestin Valley on another commune not far from Hokola called Rainbow Star. Mum&
s was a New Age restaurant that drew a counter-culture crowd from as far away as the purple dome in Wonder, where I purchased ginsing, bee pollen and royal jelly for resale at Lithia Grocery. The group was spiritual, mellow and loved everybody who didn&
t eat meat.
Ed Hancock, Keith Simmons, Frank Weeks and Merrill Smith ran Mum&
s, which was previously owned by Mort and Lois Newman. Bobby Plotnick, former owner of Maranatha Nut Butters, came on board to the Mum&
s crew, then went on to delivering sun-ripened dates throughout the Pacific Northwest. Bobby bought a large, stainless-steel blender and began to market vegetable dips, which, unfortunately, didn&
t sell that well. Then providence played its hand as Bobby found the machine perfect for making nut butters, creating a very successful nationwide business with his wife, Chris.
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Clockwise from bottom left: Merrill packing dough — at La Baguette, Merrill backing in his bedroom, Merrill at work, La Tortilla — cart at Oregon Country Fair. Background: Mum&
s in 1975.
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Ed taught Merrill how to bake bread and they are still in business at La Baguette, part of the Hardware Café at the second location of Ashland Hardware, 340 A St., next to Project A. They&
ve been at this location for 17 years, moving there from 258 A St., the present location of Lela&
s Restaurant. Twenty years ago, the entry to Lela&
s was a hallway that led down to the NorthWest Seasonal Workers on the left and Mitchell&
s small-engine repair on the right. When the lawn mowers rolled out, kitchen equipment moved in, making this the first location of La Baguette. Their current location used to house the bakery used by the Ashland Bakery Café, run by Steve Sacks (of Jazmin&
s and the Ashland Racquet Club) and Michael Bingham. After two years of having bakers quit in the middle of the night, Steve and Michael approached the Baguette Boys to take over the operation, which worked out for all parties.
After 2 1/2 years, the Mum&
s Cottage Crew called it quits and it became the China Station or The Kosmon Tree, run by Elizabeth Shuey, depending on your chronology. Later, it became Dave&
s Mexican food, before they moved the whole enchilada down to the bowling alley. The Mum&
s structure was later remodeled to become part of the Phoenix Day Spa complex.
In a parallel development, Anita&
s Bakery opened in the current location of Optical Expressions, just to help you focus on developments. Anita, who hailed from Belgium, had the Baguette deal down. She worked a while at this location, but later moved the operation into her home on High Street, complete with a hidden kitchen placed behind a camouflaged door. David Pinsky, feeling that Anita&
s product was needed in town, lent Brooklyn&
s address to her, as he had a licensed kitchen for his bagels. Merrill, after working for a summer with Ed at Chateaulin serving brunch, went to work for Anita. During this time there was a brouhaha about a treehouse located in front of Anita&
s house. At that time they had only three accounts: Bi-Rite (Market of Choice), Vintage Inn and the Food Co-op. One morning, Anita went out to her front yard and heard an Elderhostel bus driver give a lecture to his passengers about the tree house, the smell of French bread and Anita&
s bootlegged bakery behind the kitchen wall.
Anita freaked and soon thereafter sold her oven and mixer to Merrill, who decided to set up the bakery in his rental. He complained to his landlord about his small view window in his second story rental. The landlord gave him permission to install a larger window and in no time an oven was being winched up to the huge window cut-out, tied off by a rope around the chimney. Unfortunately, the mixer was heavier still and had to be installed in the basement, resulting in a three-story bakery with dough being carried up two stories by hand, 60 pounds per batch.
When John Seligman (who tables at Geppetto&
s and The Black Sheep) was cooking at La Tortilla (inside Lithia Grocery), he made a portable burrito food cart to use at the Oregon Country Fair near Veneta (west of Eugene). Named &
it now serves chalupas, quesadillas, guacamole, rice and beans and has been a regular there for 30 years.
So, we have two direct descendants of Mum&
s Cottage at hand: La Baguette and the La Tortilla food cart. Indirectly we have Maranatha Nut Butters. Add to this the visit by Dr. Weil and we have life-saving, the best vegetarian dining and loaves of plenitude. Anyway you slice it, Mum&
s the word.
Future columns will focus on many
businesses and key individuals that have helped make Ashland unique: Frederica Lawrence and the Morning Glory, as well as key individuals and events will lead the charge from times past to lend perspective to the revival of Ashland. Send your favorite remembrances to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Drop by my blog and help me figure things out: http:essentiallyashland.blogspot.com/