"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." ~ Helen Keller
My first visit to Spruce & Hemlock was on a sunny spring afternoon, where I had planned to sample their homemade cinnamon rolls. I consider myself a qualified candidate for assessing these delicious morsels because I prepare them every year for my husband, Chris, in lieu of a birthday cake.
His birthday also happens to be on Christmas Day, so there is some added pressure to make the most ridiculously good cinnamon rolls I can. Big, fluffy, soft, delicious, and not too sweet is generally what I aim for. Chris continues to request cinnamon rolls year after year, so if that’s not a good recommendation, I don’t know what is. But this story isn’t about how good my cinnamon rolls are, it merely serves as a basis for recommending them. This story is about how Spruce & Hemlock came to be and how it has continued to evolve. Cinnamon rolls are at the forefront of that tale.
Let’s start at the beginning
Faith and Andrew McClelland are the husband and wife team behind Spruce & Hemlock. They have been creating unique gifts in Tupper Lake since 2008, but it wasn’t until November 7, 2015 that their dream of opening a retail store became a reality. The original store was located on Lake Street, but in 2019, they relocated to Main Street in order to have a more community presence. I didn’t have the luxury of experiencing the original store, but if the new location is an indication of anything, it is this; Spruce & Hemlock is always evolving, and therein lies its greatness. Since opening its doors in 2015, Spruce & Hemlock has grown into a much bigger family and community affair. Various goods from other local businesses are sold here, including ADK Jewelry and Leather Artisan, and that is just the beginning. The store is also filled with products that were created by family and friends. For example, there are colorful winter hats/headbands handmade by Mary Jo Wells (Faith's mother), handmade greeting cards by Shelley Brown, and locally made art that adorns every wall. And that's not all, there are innumerable displays for personalized gifts from laser-etched cutting boards to ornaments, and photographs of loved ones. You can't help but feel at home here with all the local love surrounding the shop. You can even find homemade baked goods carefully prepared by Mary Churco, Faith’s first cousin. The connections don't stop there either. The bakery was added to the retail store on August 13, 2021. I wanted to know more about how the idea of adding a bakery came to be, so I sat down with Faith McClelland and Mary Churco in their kitchen to hear the story.
One sweet idea
Faith said, “the idea of starting a bakery has been years in the making. I have always wanted to add a component to the store that would add business during the off-season and nothing draws people in more than food. Mary always brought amazing desserts to family gatherings, which is hardly surprising because she is a graduate of the Paul Smith’s Culinary Arts program.” With those credentials and the smell of the day’s creations, my mouth began to water. But I would have to wait until after the interview to sample the goods. I forced myself to refocus and tried to ignore the cinnamon roll I could see out of the corner of my eye.
I asked the pair about their offerings and Mary shared that she has a couple of staple recipes, but she also likes to change them up every once in a while. Today they had key lime pie cookies, mom’s strawberry trifle, banana cream pie, assorted truffles, chocolate-covered strawberries, baklava, and cinnamon rolls. While offerings may be limited, each item is made with quality ingredients and is well thought out. As the old adage goes, the most important ingredient in any kitchen is love and there is no shortage of that at Spruce & Hemlock.
Every Friday and Saturday, Mary also creates a special breakfast sandwich, a treat many locals take advantage of. Faith said, “We wanted to offer enough options to entice people to come into the store, without becoming a full-service bakery that is open 7 days a week. That would inevitably burn us out and we want to be here for the long haul, so offering a few things to motivate people to come into the store seemed like the best of both worlds.”
It became instantly clear to me that Mary possesses many talents in the kitchen, so I couldn't help but ask if she ever desired to do more than just baking. Turns out, Mary also offers a catering service, which features savory dips, charcuterie, appetizer platters, pies, and other assorted desserts. Some of her appetizers and bar-friendly food can be found at the nearby Raquette River Brewing, where her childhood friend, Caty, is the manager. Mary explained that she has a familial connection to the brewery as well. Mark Jessie, co-owner of Raquette River Brewing, is also Mary’s cousin, so it’s all one big family circle coming together. After I learned this detail, I couldn't help but think how amazing it is to see these two very different businesses collaborating and working together to make each other stronger. But this collaboration wouldn't have happened if Spruce & Hemlock didn't start its own bakery operation.
I asked Mary what her favorite baking projects are and she said, anything that is warm and gooey, which is the quintessential way of describing a yummy cinnamon roll, so it made sense that these would take the center stage. Mary said, “I have been using the same recipe for cinnamon rolls since the first time I made them in this kitchen.” Locals and visitors have been enjoying them ever since. Now it was time to have a taste for myself.
The moment of truth
With my bounty in tow, I headed to the Tupper Lake Municipal Park, where a cedar-lined path hugs the shore of Raquette Pond. It was one of the first sunny, warm days of spring, so I wanted to soak up as much sun as I could. I found a cozy picnic spot and dug into the oversized roll.
I took a bigger bite than I should have and closed my eyes with satisfaction. It ticked every box I usually looked for in a cinnamon roll; big, fluffy, soft, delicious, and not too sweet. I thought to myself, if this place was open on Christmas Day, I would bring home some cinnamon rolls for my husband. But on this day, my husband wasn’t here, so I polished off the whole bun without any remorse. Well, maybe a little, because I walked back to the store and bought a second one to bring home. Christmas came early for my husband!
During your next visit to Tupper Lake, make sure to stop by Spruce & Hemlock and say hi to Faith, Mary, and Mary Jo. Grab a souvenir from your travels or pick up the perfect holiday gift. Don't forget to grab a delicious baked treat, a perfect snack to bring on a hike or paddle with gorgeous Adirondack views.