NORTH YARMOUTH — In a tiny house at the corner of routes 9 and 115, Krista Desjarlais creates colorful cuisines that continue to garner national attention.
The owner of Purple House bakery – known in part for its Montreal-style bagels and ornate pizzas made by a wood-fired oven – is a semi-finalist for the 2019 James Beard Foundation award.
In the running for being the best chef in the Northeast, the New Gloucester woman has been a semi-finalist six times: from 2010-2013 during her time at Bresca in Portland, and 2018-2019 with the Purple House, which she opened in December 2016. She was a finalist in 2011. Winners will be announced next week.
The Beard foundation “promotes good food for good,” and for more than three decades has “highlighted the centrality of food culture in our daily lives,” according to jamesbeard.org.
Desjarlais’ accolades also include the Purple House being named one of America’s 50 top new restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine.
The parking lot at the 378 Walnut Hill Road venue was packed shortly before noon one day earlier this month as hungry patrons crowded into the 544-square-foot building, which seats eight people. Outdoor seating for about 40 is available in warmer months.
The bagel sandwich is one the restaurant’s most popular items, but the pastries are picking up momentum, Desjarlais said. A full menu is available at thepurplehousebakery.com.
The Purple House is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. It hosts dinners every few months, putting the word out on the business’ Instagram page.
“(T)hey sell out in like, one second,” Desjarlais said.
The former cottage housed a video store run by the late Linda Polkey before it was purchased in August 2015 by Desjarlais, whose renovations included new purple paint, installing the wood-fired oven, and outdoor aesthetic improvements.
“You would think sometimes that it would be great to be bigger, but I don’t want to be bigger,” Desjarlais said. “I did big places for a bunch of years … this was a chance to not do that.”
Desjarlais had been a pastry chef in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Manhattan, and a regular chef in Las Vegas. She operated Bresca, a primarily French and Italian restaurant on Middle Street in Portland, from 2006-2013.
She closed Bresca in order to spend more time with her family and operate Bresca & the Honey Bee, a wood-fire grill operation at Outlet Beach in New Gloucester that offers its own ice cream and runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Desjarlais runs that operation each summer, and the Purple House the remaining months of the year.
Getting the word out about the Purple House hasn’t been a concern for Desjarlais, who has found word of mouth and nods like the one she received from the James Beard Foundation have maintained her presence in the public eye.
Those are “just super nice, and you hope that it’ll last longer than just the moment,” she said. “Then you gain new customers that will come back over the year.”
“People now, when they come to town, we’ll be on a list of places they want to come and see, so it’s a huge bump,” the chef added.
The Purple House may look like a bakery, “but it’s got the heart of a fine-dining restaurant,” she said. “Just smooshed into a little tiny space.”
Not winning actually has its benefit, since it means Desjarlais can continue to be nominated in subsequent years, keeping her name out there.
“If you win, that’s it,” she noted. “You’re off that radar.”
The Purple House’s popularity surprised her.
“I thought it was just going to be making some bagels … it wasn’t in my head that it would turn into what it’s been,” she remarked.
She credited that success to her loyal clientele. About 75 percent of her customers are local regulars, and the rest are newcomers, Desjarlais said.
Ironically, she and her staff have been too busy to install a sign.
“We have a sign in the barn, but we haven’t put it up yet,” she said with a smile. “It doesn’t say ‘The Purple House,’ it just says ‘wood-fired bakery.’ We haven’t had the time to put it up.”
Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @learics.
Krista Desjarlais of New Gloucester, owner of the Purple House bakery in North Yarmouth, scoops up a slice of one of her gourmet, oven-fired pizzas. The chef has been a semifinalist for the national James Beard Foundation award six times.
The 544-square-foot Purple House is located near the intersection of Routes 9 and 115 in North Yarmouth.