Dunmore Country Mart and Bakery a labor of love

Photo by Suzanne Stewart “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the Dunmore Country Mart and Bakery may appear to be an ordinary convenience store, but once inside, visitors will see it’s far from ordinary. Cinnamon rolls, loaves of bread, donuts, pies, fried pies and savory meals are made daily by owners Kevin Fraser, Amanda Fraser and Christine Osborne.
Photo by Suzanne Stewart
“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the Dunmore Country Mart and Bakery may appear to be an ordinary convenience store, but once inside, visitors will see it’s far from ordinary. Cinnamon rolls, loaves of bread, donuts, pies, fried pies and savory meals are made daily by owners Kevin Fraser, Amanda Fraser and Christine Osborne.

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

On a corner in Dunmore there is an ordinary looking convenience store called Dunmore Country Mart and Bakery. It has two non-digital gas pumps, soda machines outside and a nice little deck for enjoying an ice cream cone on a warm day.

Step inside and you’ll find there is nothing ordinary about this store.

Yes, it has the staples – cold drinks, chips, beef jerky and even pepperoni rolls. But it also has loaves of bread, cinnamon rolls, donuts and fruit pies made fresh daily.

That doesn’t even begin to cover the savory foods available. From salads, to burgers, and even fried calamari, the bakery has it all, and it’s all created by one family – and not an ordinary family – a family originally from South Africa.

Husband and wife, Kevin and Amanda Fraser, and their daughter, Christine Osborne, opened the bakery in 2012.

But the real story begins in South Africa, where Kevin and Amanda fell in love with food.

The savory king

When Kevin first started cooking, he didn’t experiment with grilled cheese sandwiches or soups. He went bigger.

“My mother used to play bowls,” he said. “She used to play on Sunday mornings. I think I was nine or ten years old, and she and my father went to play bowls, so I decided to make Sunday lunch. I did roast lamb, roast potatoes, green peas and something else. When they came home, they were blown away that I made all this.”

The cooking bug bit Kevin hard, and he always searched for ways to prepare meals for people.

“I’ve always liked cooking,” he said. “When I left school, I joined the Air Force and my father always said, ‘whenever you go anywhere, the first person you get friendly with is the chef.’ So, I was always in the kitchen. I had a lot of friends who had restaurants, and I was always cooking with them. When they needed help, I would go in and help cook.”

Eventually, Kevin branched out on his own and catered on the side while still continuing to help friends. When he met Amanda, another great chef, they started their own bakery.

“We started a bakery in South Africa where it wasn’t quite a bakery, but we had a lot of bakers working for us, just like a home industry,” he said. “We had bakers baking and bringing it into the store. We’d sell it for them and that’s how we got into the cake side of things.”

Their bakery prospered and they catered many parties in and around Cape Town, South Africa.

In 1993, the family moved to America, choosing to live in Maryland, near Washington, D.C.

Kevin worked for a Nissan company for several years and then in 1995 he started a restaurant with a friend.

“There we did a lot of catering for about ten embassies – the British, New Zealand, Australian, a lot of the African embassies, but also, through all the embassies, we got to do a lot of catering functions for the top universities like Georgetown, George Mason, Duke University,” he said. “We catered for the vice president who became president of South Africa. A lot of ministers. A lot of the senators from this country. We did a lot of functions with them.”

They became popular in the area mainly because they were the only chefs serving South African food. The cuisine lends itself to many cultures because South Africa is in itself a melting pot of many countries.

“There was nobody else doing it,” Kevin said. “The fortunate thing with South Africa, it’s a mixing bowl of a lot of countries. India, Portuguese, Malay-sia, a lot of oriental countries. The cuisines are very strong in India. I learned a lot from Indian chefs in South Africa.”

When the family moved to Dunmore, they brought the spices and recipes of South Africa with them and mixed them with the Appalachian staples they serve.

“We still do a lot of Indian foods here,” Kevin said. “Like the peri peri chicken is a Portuguese spice that came from Portugal that they took to South Africa in the 14-1500s and started growing in South Africa. It’s actually become almost an African spice now, although it originates from Portugal.”

The baking queen

Amanda began her love of food in a fashion similar to Kevin, but for her, it was all about the sweets.

“It’s quite funny, my first competition I entered was a church fair, and I was ten years old,” she said. “I won first place above old ladies in baking. I made a chocolate cake.”

The competition was a great learning experience for Amanda. Both her grandmother and mother always encouraged her to be the best she could be and she carries that into everything she bakes.

“That day when I made that chocolate cake for the first time, we had to enter a half a cake, double layer,” she said. “So I baked one single layer and in those days, there weren’t any cake testers, so I used a knitting needle. The cake wasn’t fully cooked yet and so it was doughy. I made this doughy tunnel where I tested the cake.”

Despite the state of the center of the cake, she won first prize.

“When I realized what I did, my mom said to me, ‘you can either learn from your mistake and rebake the cake, which there wasn’t time, or submit it and hope for the best,” Amanda said. “This is what she taught us and that actually came from my grandmother. If you do something – whether it’s a cake or food or whatever – when the thing is done and you put it down for presentation, be assured in your heart that that was your very best. Maybe somebody else could better it, but you couldn’t better it.”

When Kevin and Amanda opened their bakery in South Africa, Amanda wasn’t a big fan of making elaborate cakes.

“The fondant cakes, wedding cakes, the sugar flowers, I always had people doing it for us because I didn’t have the patience for it,” she said. “I said I would never be able to sit that long and do such tedious work.”

However, when the family moved to America, Amanda decided it was time to bite the bullet and learn for herself how to do the tedious work. She took Wilton classes to improve her fondant, gum paste, sugar flowers and buttercream knowledge.

Amanda did so well with picking up decorating skills that at her first competition, the judge almost had her kicked out of the beginner category.

“My very first competition that I entered, we were judged by Ron Ben Israel who is one of the top cake decorators in the world,” she said. “When he got to my cake in the beginner category, he said he wants it disqualified. He said it was cheating, that the person is not a beginner. Thank God my teacher was there and two people had to come and vouch for me that this was really my first cake that I did for competition. I got first place. He had to give it to me because it was a very good cake.”

Kevin also took classes and became an amazing sugar artist, creating flowers which rivaled the real thing.

“Yes, I do make flowers, but it’s self taught,” Amanda said. “Kevin went and took classes in sugar, meeting people who teach all this at conventions. He went for a few classes with some world renowned sugar decorators. When we used to have the bakery in Maryland, we did bridal shows, like three a year.
“He would buy three or four flowers – an orchid, a rose, a carnation and calla lily – from a florist and then while he’s at the show, he’d sit and make the copy of that flower,” she continued. “Once it’s done, he’d put it in the same vase as the real flower and people would smell the sugar flower. He’s very good at that.”

The couple joined ICIS – International Cake Inspiration Society – and began to compete at annual conventions, where they would often take top honors.

“I have the patience to do all the detail work,” Amanda said. “Some of the detail work I’ve done with syringes, that’s how fine the detail is. Kevin cannot do that but he’s excellent with the flowers. We would both enter the county fair. I would tell him how I was going to do my cake and I want orchids on it. He will make me the flowers and then he will tell me what his cake needs and I will do the detail.
“When both cakes are done, he puts his flowers on his cake and I put my flowers on my cake,” she continued. We both entered, and we took first or second. If he took first, I took second. If I take first, he takes second.”

Being one of the top decorators in her field, Amanda has become a slight perfectionist when working on cakes. She prefers working at night when she has the bakery to herself and if the cake isn’t perfect, it goes in the trash.

“There’s been plenty of nights where I ran into a problem and I do not like fixing problems,” she said. “You might not see it, but I know there’s a problem and there’s plenty of nights where I actually am two-thirds done with a cake and there’s a major issues that I cannot fix, I will crumble the whole cake – nobody even gets a bit of it – and it goes straight into the trash.”

Next generation ‘chef’

Some people assume if your parents are great chefs, then you must be, too. For Christine Osborne, that was definitely not the case. Her mother and step-father may be naturals, but for her, it was less a labor of love and more just a labor to learn how to cook.

“They used to joke with me and say until I was eighteen, I didn’t even know how to fry an egg – seriously,” she said. “I could cook for myself, but not for them. Kevin would say I burnt boiling water or something like that. I couldn’t bake. I couldn’t cook. I could eat, but I couldn’t cook – not in a million years.”

As a child, Christine wasn’t really that interested in following in her mother’s footsteps. She was more content with learning to be business savvy.

Despite that, she did learn how to make one thing – trifle.

“We had this tradition on Christmas Eve,” she said. “Our seasons [in South Africa] are opposite and it’s like a hundred degrees on Christmas Day, so we would always do cold meats, salads and puddings, stuff like that for our dinner as opposed to a hot meal. It was my job to help my grandmother make trifle. That was our big dessert. We would stay up to two, three in the morning making this stuff. That was about the only thing I could make. That’s what I stuck with. I didn’t want to know anything about food.”

When Christine was 15, the family moved to America.

“It was exciting,” she said. “It was a hell of a learning experience, but it was a little bit of a shock because we didn’t expect it to be as similar. That, to me, was the biggest shock. The fact that we’re going from a neighborhood to a neighborhood. The only really big difference that stood out was you get to ride on a school bus when you go to school. There, you take public transportation, your mom drops you off or you walk.”

Being from South Africa, Christine was asked unusual and sometimes annoying questions by fellow students and adults at the school.

“People would ask, ‘you’re from Africa – did you see lions and tigers? Did you live in the jungle?” Christine recalled. “I was like, ‘I’m from Cape Town, a city bigger than D.C.’ A lady in the lunch line asked me ‘so did you see Tarzan and all that stuff?’ I said, ‘you know what, we lived two trees down from him.’ I just couldn’t wrap my head around that.”

Afrikaans was Christine’s first language. She and her mother still speak it at the bakery.

“At that stage, there were two official languages in South Africa – English and Afrikaans,” she said. “Now under the new government there’s [ten] official languages.”

While Christine holds on to the life she had in South Africa, the country has changed so much, it doesn’t resemble the place where she grew up.

“The country that we left behind, today, to us, doesn’t exist anymore because the flag’s changed, the official languages have change, the anthem has changed,” she said. “Everything about the country has changed. But, where we come from, who we are and how we were raised, that’s always going to stick with us.”

After settling in America, when her parents opened the bakery, Christine begrudgingly became a baker and tried to learn the ins and outs of cake design.

“Just don’t ask me to make you a flower” she said. “I tried it one time and I said to my mom, ‘you know what, this, no.’ Because if I can’t get it right the first time, it’s out the window. I just kind of gave up on that, but the baking I kind of took to and I stuck with it. It’s in my blood whether I like it or not. It’s there. It takes a little bit for it to surface.”

Making Dunmore home

The Frasers first visited Dunmore in 2007 and immediately fell in love with the area.

“The same weekend we came in, we actually rented an apartment and furnished it within a month,” Kevin said. “It was so we could just get away from D.C. because we loved the area. There’s no nicer area that we’ve ever been to, even in South Africa.”

It didn’t take long for the weekend visits to become longer and longer, until they decided it was time to make Dunmore a permanent home.

“We used to commute on weekends, then the weekends became a three-day weekend, a four-day weekend, a five-day weekend, and eventually we said, ‘business wasn’t doing too well in Maryland, so let’s open up here,’” Kevin said. “This place was already rented out to someone. It came open when he had the big storm. [The renter] left in June or July and we managed to get everything done that we wanted to do by the first of September.”

The bakery has had its ups and downs in the past three years, but Kevin is optimistic that things are on an upswing.

“It’s been a struggle, but it’s definitely on the right track,” he said. “When you are in the food business, you never stop learning because there’s so much to learn from the locals, from anybody who comes in from out of town who suggests something. The cogs start working and things come together.”

On top of the savory and sweet concoctions on the menu, the bakery also makes several varieties of meat pies which they freeze and sell. In the near future, Kevin hopes to start making and selling Boerwors – South African sausage.

They produced and sold the sausage in Maryland and Kevin hopes to add it to the menu at the bakery soon.

“We would make South African sausage,” he said. “It’s not anything like an Italian sausage. It’s great for grilling. We used to make three to four hundred pounds a month. That’s what we used to sell and ship it all over the country. I’m wanting to do it here but I need to find a place that can make it. I’ve spoken to Allegheny Meats and I’ve got the spice combination together. I’ve got the authority from USDA.”

The bakery also offers catering services and has catered several events in the county including the Pocahontas County High School prom, National Radio Astronomy Observatory company picnic and weddings at Snowshoe Mountain Resort.

The bakery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is located at the intersection of 92 South and 28 South in Dunmore.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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