Often imitated, but never duplicated… meet Meadow Street’s infamous Store Manager, Todd Herron!
where are you from originally?
I am from Upstate NY. Canajoharie NY.
Cana-where? Can-o-worms? cana-who? Cantcha-hear-me? Cantchahearme, NY.
(Laughing) I’ve never heard of that.
It’s on the thruway. Our claim to fame used to be Beech-Nut baby food… but it’s now defunct, well, it’s no longer in Canajoharie. The company moved to Florida, NY
Is that a native american name?
Canajoharie means boiling pot, and the legend is that the Iroquois Indians used to throw settlers into a whirlpool. The circular gorge is in the Canajoharie Creek, just south of the village, and it’s beautiful, in this big park.
Is any of your family still there?
None that I would admit. No, I’m joking! I have a few cousins, none of my immediate family. I have two sisters and they live outside of Philly.
Did you ever live in Philly?
No, not I. I lived in the city, and Boston.
What brings you to Ithaca?
I don’t know. Elaborate?
I came here to visit friends and I met Ron, my partner, in 1980 and lived here for a year and then we moved to Boston. He got tired of the city and moved back here and I came back with the idea of moving back to Boston, but it never happened. I ended up staying since 1990.
So you moved back for him?
Mmhm, but don’t tell him that.
Did he have a job here?
Did he? He must have, but I don’t remember what it was. It was a blur.
How long have you worked at Ithaca Bakery?
Since the dawn of time, and before the dinosaurs. Since its inception… (laughing) It was June of 1991, so for 23 years and some change.
What inspired you to apply to Ithaca Bakery?
I was the assistant manager at Tops and I hated it.
Tops in Ithaca?
Yeah, I came back and was making bucco bucks on unemployment, and I had to get a job. Tops was too corporate, and this place had just reopened 6 months prior in October or November. I had just watched it and checked it out a couple times, and really liked it. While I was living in Boston one of my last jobs was managing gormet stores so I thought that there was a parallel. I came here and there was an ad in the paper and Gregar and Ramsey interviewed me. They hired me as a supervisor before becoming an assistant manager and then manager.
When you say that it had just opened. You mean that the Brous’ had just purchased it?
Yes, they had just acquired it, remodeled it, and opened 6 months prior to my starting.
How has the bakery evolved over that time?
Oh my. In my words? From my perspective, it’s amazing how it has evolved in a cultural sense.
How has the culture evolved?
Well, as culture changes, you know, it shifted our culture to become more technological, and environmentally minded. It had to, but the core culture of the business has been people. It has always been concerned about people’s welfare, and how we impact the community. The bakery’s environmental concerns grew out of that and then our technology grew from that. So things have changed, but there has always been a core mission or value that has kept me grounded, and kept me interested.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Syracuse originally, and then I went to culinary school in Cobleskill. I got a degree there, and then went to school in Boston(New England School of Culinary Arts), which was a year certification program.
What did you major in in Syracuse?
Oh, Architecture, but I never got a degree in that. Yeah, my life changed. I thought I was going to be a straight architect, and ended up being this, so go figure.
Why did you decide to jump ship and go to culinary school?
Oh, because I’ve always cooked, I mean, I cooked as far back as I can remember. I come from a family with a lot of cooks, and home cooking. My older sister got married and had a farm, and they always had fresh produce, and meats and we were always canning things.
You developed a healthy respect for fresh foods.
Yeah, always. I loved it. I never took it for granted. It was just a part of my life. When I got a job in High School, I cooked at a restaurant in town, and I cooked at another restaurant when I was in college.
So it’s always been there.
Oh yeah. And right before I met Ron, I was a cook at the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon for a season, so after that I really decided that I wanted to pursue cooking. I was a chef in boston while going to school. At one point I got thrust into a managerial position, and that was great. It was a wonderful experience.
Did you manage a restaurant?
Yes, it was always food related. I used to work with Julia Child.
Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I was working at Savenor’s market in Boston and she was a frequent customer. Her home was right around the corner on Kirkland Street. They would always need help with parties, and I would volunteer. She was already in her late 70’s by the time I met her and was working with her a little bit. So that was interesting. I remember spending time, and working in her kitchen and now her kitchen is a part of the Smithsonian.
Is that when you met Cindy Lauper?
No… I used to do a lot of benefits for AIDS awareness. It was the mid-80’s so it was a struggle for any AIDS fundraisers. Cindy Lauper was in the forefront, performing at these metro clubs in town. This company, Rudy’s, that I worked for used to donate food for the events, and I was unloading a van and carrying food. I was carrying these bins of chili shrimp up a set of stairs, and I hear high heels coming down the stairs really quickly, clip clip clip and BAM. She screamed. Finally I realized what happened when people asked if I had seen her… and I had just dumped a whole ton of chili shrimp all over her dress.
Did you get to talk to her after?
No! I was mortified. I didn’t want to see her. I saw her in passing, though I saw a lot of celebrities in Boston, which was fun. it was a really good time.
What do you feel are your strengths as a manager?
Organization and my ability to keep things running, functioning, operating. Troubleshooting. I mean I’ve learned from so many people throughout this business how to juggle, how to manage people, and to understand that the doors are going to open tomorrow and the business doesn’t rest on one pair of shoulders. It’s really important to understand that it’s a collaboration and a team effort and not just a few people who hold the key. There are pivotal people. We used to think that way about Sarah (former Director of Retail Operations), when Sarah was alive. She was the micromanager of all micromanagers and worked 100 hours and oversaw all of the stores. God bless her. When she got ill and stepped back, other people stepped up. And that’s what it’s all about.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Dealing with staff, and their personal issues. The drama. Being a Christian really helped me to learn patience and to learn to not rush to judgement and to not be short-sighted and callous. Of course I get my buttons pushed, but everyone has a story and every one has issues. You never know the whole story. I needed to understand better that people have the mentality of “this is my life and this is my problem, and you need to pay attention to this in my life” but this is times forty. Now, that has changed culturally over the years. I’ve seen that.
People have become more self-centered?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. I don’t really have an answer for what has caused that. I have suspicions which is everything is at our disposal. Everything is immediate. In my lifetime so much has transpired. When I was a kid we only had 3 TV channels. I remember when cassettes came out. But anyway, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, since it’s because of people that I love my job. I love to see people and staff develop. I love to see customers be happy; to see people being satisfied and recognizing that. All the time that I’ve been here, helping people develop and overcome their challenges has been very rewarding because I don’t have kids, so it’s like they’re my kids. I’ve hired people whose parents’ I’ve hired. It’s a little scary, but it’s wonderful. It’s like “I remember when you were born”.
In the 23 years that you’ve been here, what is the most memorable moment?
I think being in the Ithaca Festival parade with Sarah. I was dressed as a bride, and she was the groom. It was an awesome moment.
Should we post a photo?
That would be great! It was hilarious. That was a lot of fun. I mean there were so many moments, but we used to be in the parade. It was so community oriented. Really, working with Sarah was a remarkable component of my job. If this room could talk.
Outside of work what interests you?
Well I garden a lot, though not as much as I used to. I’m also involved in my church a lot. I’m a deacon. It’s really important to me because I was brought up a Christian, and I was alienated from the church all those years and finding this church and being involved in, most recently, the process to find a new pastor, is very remarkable and important: the spirituality of it. It’s a wonderful group of people, and they’re very supportive. I’ve always needed that in my life. That’s about it, besides my home. Oh, and Katie, my dog.
What kind of dog?
She’s a soft coat Irish wheaten terrier. She has the personality of a princess. She’s very sweet.
I’m sure it’s because you treat her like one.
Oh I do! And you know I used to cook a lot and entertain a lot, but I haven’t been doing that as much anymore.
What do you enjoy the most about Ithaca?
A strong sense of belonging. I’ve been here the longest that I’ve been anywhere. I’ve been here 25 years. It’s interesting and I don’t take anything for granted. It’s a testament to be able to say that I have lived someplace for 25 years, and I still like it. And I’ve seen changes both good and bad, but that’s what change is. I just love the sense of community, and the people. It’s a great group of people.