The wait is over! Aspen Mills Bakery & Bread Company in Palm Springs opened its doors Friday after an eight-month closure due to an over fire.
On Monday, for the first time in months, the scent of freshly baked bread filled the eatery as its owner tested out equipment and prepared for this week’s planned reopening.
Having run the popular bakery at Sunrise Way and Ramon Road for about 20 years, Marty Webster thought he’d become desensitized to that aroma. But on this particular day, he could smell it just fine and thought it was delicious.
Believing his senses must have reset during Aspen Mills’ closure, he embraced the lingering aroma and continued his preparations.
“You can actually smell it and you appreciate it,” an ecstatic Webster said as he tested his new oven and stood among shelves filled with baked loaves of honey wheat, sweet dark rye, cranberry spice and jalapeno cheddar bread.
Aspen Mills opened in the mid-1990s and quickly became known for its sandwiches and baked goods, including its more than 30 flavors of bread.
But it abruptly shut down after Palm Springs firefighters responded to the oven fire at about 8 p.m. May 17. Two employees were inside the business at the time but neither was injured, Webster said.
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Fire investigators haven’t said how the blaze began and Webster could only speculate whether it involved a mechanical issue or food inside the oven.
The fire set off the business’s sprinkler system and caused smoke and water damage that, along with the damaged oven, cost about $400,000.
Webster said he didn’t know reopening would be such a lengthy process. He spent three months waiting for inspections and investigations to conclude before repairs could begin.
“I had no idea it was going to take this long. I thought it would take half the time,” he said. “I was feeling impatient, a little bit. But that’s a normal feeling: Getting impatient and wanting to get this done now.”
His loyal customers were equally impatient.
Many, who voiced their frustrations via social media, said they were caught off guard by Aspen Mills’ locked doors and wondered if the beloved eatery would have a future.
Palm Springs resident David Secor, 58, showed up outside the business on Monday in hopes that it had reopened. He said he first ate at Aspen Mills in February and discovered over the summer that it had been closed.
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“We missed it. I remember their bread is delicious,” he said.
The two Aspen Mills branches in Rancho Mirage and one in La Quinta also shut down since most of their stock came from Palm Springs. Webster estimated the closures cost “hundreds of thousands” in lost revenue.
The branch in Clark’s Nutrition on Monterey Avenue had a small oven that made it possible to sell a limited number of products there and at the Rancho Mirage Public Library branch.
The La Quinta branch at Washington Street and Highway 111 remained closed and isn’t expected to open until the Palm Springs spot is ready.
As repairs continue, Webster said he was moved by local residents who offered condolences and encouraged him to press forward.
“That was really a great feeling to have that kind of support,” he said. “I always felt our quality is super important to us and we want to continue with that same quality as before.”
Desert Sun reporter Colin Atagi covers crime, public safety and road and highway safety. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow him at @tdscolinatagi. Support local news, subscribe to The Desert Sun.
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