The giant, dry, triangular bread products most Americans know as scones bear little resemblance to true British scones, asserts Dave Cooper, founder of Dere Street, a Danbury-based maker of English baked goods from scones to shortbreads, tea breads and trifles.
"A true English scone is round, never triangular, and comes in two varieties — plain or with currants. Occasionally, with raisins," he said. He scoffs at pumpkin-flavored scones slathered in frosting and similarly decked-out bastardizations of the traditional teatime snack found stateside. He chalks up the scone differences to lifestyle: While Brits sit down with a cup of tea and a sliced scone topped with jam, butter or clotted cream, Americans rarely take the time to sit, slice and top. They want a coffee-to-go and a snack they can eat on the run.
Though Dere Street (derestreet.com) steps beyond the two-variety Spartan scone mentality — they make 14 kinds of scones and blueberry is their best seller — Cooper asserts that they will never get into the overly sweet product that he sees in many American coffeeshops.
You might not think you've ever tasted a Dere Street scone, but chances are if you've grabbed a pack of the round English delights from Stew Leonard'sor many of the state's Whole Foods Markets, it was a Dere Street scone you enjoyed. At the moment, all of the bakery's customers label the goods themselves so the scones, tea breads, Eccles cakes and Madeira cakes bear the label ofStew's or Whole Foods or wherever you happen to be shopping.
Dere Street has other large clients, Balducci's and Caraluzzi's among them. Their products are even available at JFK and many of the country's large airports. But they value their small, loyal customers too: Grab a cranberry, ginger or chive and cheddar scone at Bethel's Holbrook Farm or Molten Java.
Cooper was not always a baker. Eight years ago, the Englishman took his family on vacation in his homeland. He recalled spending a lot of time regretting that he couldn't get a decent scone or shortbread in his adopted country. That's when the idea for Dere Street hit him. "I wanted to do something differently. It was scary. It still is," he said of making the career transition.
He and his wife, a now-retired flight attendant, started the business out of their kitchen. Stew Leonard's was their first big client. Very quickly, Cooper was done with marketing, teaching and soccer coaching (his former professions), and has been a baker ever since.
Business has been good despite a difficult economy. In the coming months, Dere Street is moving from a 3,000-square-foot industrial kitchen to a 12,000-square-foot space a few miles away.
"We have more work than we can handle. We haven't been twiddling our thumbs waiting for the phone to ring," he said. The economy held them back from moving before this, but not in the way you would expect. "Banks have become cautious about lending money to expand a business," explained Cooper. His monetary angel finally arrived via the Economic Development Fund of Connecticut, which saw fit to invest in the business since it will create at least a few dozen jobs.
Up next, Cooper is planning to open Dere Street's first retail café using the same successful ethos of fresh, quality, natural products that have to be baked, sold and consumed quickly because they are made without preservatives.
"We make unbelievably good, fresh scones. Anything that can sit on a shelf for a week, two weeks, three weeks ... well, you probably shouldn't be eating that," says Cooper.