Providing a laid-back study environment, warm and welcoming service and of course, tasty food to enjoy with friends, Danish Pastry House on Boston Avenue has become a staple of the Tufts experience. Yet, after experiencing a kitchen fire in January 2020 and then observing the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations in the following months, DPH has had a difficult year.
Danish Pastry House has two locations: the Medford location, which is situated near Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus, and the Watertown location. The Watertown branch is where most of the shop’s production happens. According to Ulla Winkler, the owner of DPH, Watertown’s location has a wholesale baking facility that sells mostly to cafes and hotels in the Boston area. Winkler said the citywide shutdown at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak created many obstacles for DPH.
“We were closed for eight to nine months. We were closed from January to September. It was super hard because where we produce most of the products is in Watertown and they have not been able to produce. They have had to cut down 90% of the staff,” Winkler said.
Due to the reduction in staff, DPH’s production has slowed. Moreover, Winkler recognized the difficulties that come with running a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic.
“It is so hard to open when everything is so limited … with capacities,” Winkler said.
In response to the uncontrollable challenges that have been thrown at DPH, the Tufts and Medford community have rallied behind Winkler and the local cafe. To start, Joanne Tulimieri took action by volunteering at DPH.
“When they reopened, that’s when I started helping … because you know, it’s really hard to start back up your business when you can’t pay your workers. So, I volunteer for her and I do it two days a week,” Tulimieri said. “It’s just so much fun because the customers are always appreciative of us.”
However, Tulimieri is not the only community member who has worked hard to support the local coffee and pastry shop. Tulimieri reflected on how much she appreciates that Tufts students bring their kind words of support to DPH. Specifically, according to Winkler and Tulimieri, one student raised money to buy DPH an open sign.
“[The student] decorated [the sign] and wrote ‘open’ and drew cakes on it. She gave it to me and that is just so beautiful,” Winkler said.
Another group of Tufts students who have made an impact on DPH include junior Nicholas Gourley and his roommates who began consulting for DPH, set up an Instagram page (@danishpastryhousemedford) and helped the business develop logistical strategies.
“[Winkler] obviously got excited about the fact that Tufts students were trying to help out her small businesses,” Gourley said. “Eventually, as we got to know her and got to know her situation, we started doing work for her pro bono.”
Gourley’s latest project with DPH was assisting Winkler with her application to The Barstool Fund, a fund for small business owners who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The application process includes submitting a video component, of which Gourley took charge. Using the Tufts class Facebook pages, he rallied Tufts students to send in personal videos endorsing DPH and speaking about their own experiences with the business.
Gourley noted that the focus of most of the videos he received centered on students’ positive interactions with Winkler.
“One thing that stood out to me in every single video is that, you have people talk about the food and whatnot, but Ulla was the main focus of every single one … when people meet her, they love her,” Gourley said. “Everybody who sent a video clearly sent one because they had developed some sort of connection with her, whether it was something as small as her giving them a free pastry — which she does all the time with Tufts students — or if it was somebody who traveled abroad and then came back and talked about their experience with her.”
Winkler sent in her application for the Barstool Fund in February. She then sent in the video component of the application, which compiled these student testimonies in a single video, in mid-March.
While the community’s love for Danish Pastry House has been made clear through their efforts to help Winkler and DPH, this gratitude is a two-way street. Winkler reflected on the support the community has shown DPH.
“I just really appreciate the students,” Winkler said. “I don’t expect anything more. It’s just so beautiful as it is … I am so full of gratitude. You could say, it has restored my faith in humanity. It is so beautiful and that has been worth it because it’s not about money for me.”