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The legacy and lore behind Crosby Bakery

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Jacob Crosby Jr., center, stands between Crosby Bakery's new owners, Ryan Morse and Jennifer Stone-Grimaldi, left, and longtime owners Mike and Gale Cummings, in the landmark shop on East Hollis Street.

As so many other Greater Nashuans have been doing for as long as they can remember, I’ve scored more than my share of doughnuts, fruit squares, cupcakes, cookies, little cakes and giant, multi-story cakes and, yes, Saturday afternoon baked beans from downtown landmark Crosby Bakery.

And while there’s no shortage of favorites to choose from, my personal Crosby Bakery favorite is something that’s not on the menu: Family lore and Nashua history, blended just right and baked to perfection.

So how did Crosby Bakery get here? How long ago did it open? Was it always at 51 East Pearl St., or come from somewhere else? Who owns it now?

I’m glad you asked. Because I now know most of those answers, thanks to a walking encyclopedia with remarkable recall known across four generations as “Jake.”

“That’s when we were over on Temple Street. That’s where we started,” Jake ­ Jacob Eugene Crosby Jr. ­ told me the other day, in response to one of my queries.

“We moved to East Hollis, then came here in 1954 … a house was on this spot,” he said, referring to the bakery’s current home at 51 E. Pearl St.

My history lesson ­ I should have been this attentive back in my classroom days ­ highlighted my visit last week to the iconic bakery, where I met the soon-to-be new owners who will become the fourth generation to tend to the family business Jake Crosby and his late father Jacob E. Crosby Sr. founded nearly 72 years ago.

Ryan Morse, 28, and Jennifer Stone-Grimaldi, 39, are no strangers to the bakery, where Morse worked the front counter and made deliveries in his teens and early 20s and Stone-Grimaldi was the chief cake decorator for years before leaving to start a family.

Now the two are back in the business in a much different capacity ­ as co-owners and business partners who may tweak a few things here and there, but vow not to mess with the fundamentals that made the business the success it is today.

The bakery is hosting an open house celebration Saturday. See information box for details.

“I want people to know we’ll use the same recipes, keep the same traditions (the bakery) has always had,” Morse said. “Our goal is to keep those in place, while making a few modern upgrades.”

Morse said it was a couple of years ago he started giving some thought to possbly owning the bakery, when he learned current owners, Mike and Gale Cummings, were considering “taking a step back” from the daily operations.

Since he and Stone-Grimaldi “have always gotten along great,” she says, the two soon approached the Cummingse. Gale, Jake Crosby’s daughter, is Morse’s aunt; he’s the son of her sister, Ann, and the late Dave Morse.

The thought of an “outsider” buying the bakery helped motivate Morse and Stone-Grimaldi.

“I didn’t want it to leave the family,” he said, as Stone-Grimaldi nodded. Though she’s not a blood relative, her many years as part of the Crosby’s team makes her family.

Mike Cummings and Gale Crosby met, appropriately enough, at Crosby Bakery. She was in high school, tending the counter after school and Saturdays, and one winter day Cummings, a 9th grader at the former Spring Street Junior High, which was a stone’s throw from the bakery, stopped by to see if there were any chores that needed doing.

There was ­ the back lot needed shoveling. His pay: two bucks, a doughnut and glass of milk.

Soon Jake Crosby hired Cummings as a dishwasher and general clean-up man, and after awhile he and the boss’s daughter became an item.

Gale remembers those first years working alongside the boy who became her husband.

“He picked it up, just like that,” she said, referring to Cummings’ becoming a fulltime baker. “He loved it … had some great ideas.”

Among those were the decision to begin selling gorton, a huge favorite among Nashua’s many Franco-American residents. It was around the time downtown Nashua icon The Modern closed.

“I fashioned it after the way The Modern made it,” Cummings said. “We sold a lot of it.” The next logical step, of course, was adding pork pies and salmon pies.

“Man, we sold a ton of them,” his wife recalls.

Somewhere around 30-35 years ago, Gale Cummings recalled, she began to notice a rather disturbing trend taking shape on the sidewalks out front of the shop.

“At lunchtime, people were walking right by,” she said. Maybe they’d come in if we sold lunches, she and her husband reasoned. So along came lunch specials ­ and with them many customers who once walked by.

Much of the couple’s business decisions were based on personal experience and, quite often, common sense.

Like breakfast sandwiches, for instance. “We were leaving for vacation in Maine, and stopped for coffee and got a couple of breakfast sandwiches,” Cummings recalled.

“We were eating them and Mike said, ‘hey, why don’t we sell these?'” his wife said.

Jake Crosby Jr. was 21 when he and his father, who died in 1987 at age 84, bought the old Colburn’s Food Shop from James W. Colburn, a one-time state senator known by local historians as the inventor of Russian dressing ­ which he originally called Russian mayonnaise.

The shop was in an older building at 7-11 Temple St., which stood behind the former Indian Head Bank at Temple and Main streets.

Just post World War II, Crosby Sr. took his family and his years of experience in the baking business to Nashua, where Jake Crosby spent his first six months driving a delivery truck full of products through neighborhoods, not unlike the ice cream vendors do now ­ except without the annoying tunes blasting from the truck.

He said his father worked for years at the old Hathaway Baking Company, headquartered in Brighton, Mass., where the younger Crosby was born.

About three years after opening on Temple Street, the Crosbys moved the shop to East Hollis Street, occupying a space between Mayor Mario Vagge’s auto dealership and Towers Motor Parts, where CVS and its parking lot are today.

Business, Crosby recalls, was always brisk ­ and growing.

“We made everything right there,” he said of the products. “Yep, my dad sure knew his stuff.”

IF YOU GO

Crosby Bakery is hosting an open house to introduce its new owners and celebrate its 72 years in business.

WHEN: Saturday, April 6, 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.

WHERE:Crosby Bakery, 51 E. Pearl St., Nashua

MORE INFORMATION:Various events, prizes and giveaways will take place throughout the day