Danny Tobias, a lifelong Hamiltonian, grew up in the shadows of Nottingham High School, which grew up in the shadows of Eet Gud Bakery. Tobias, a music teacher and area trumpet player, spent many a day after school there when Nottingham was still a junior high school in the 1970s.
Like most Eet Gud die-hards, Tobias got nervous upon hearing third-generation owner Donna Gorish sold the 90-year-old business to Tracey Destribats. But when he walked in on the morning of Jan. 17, two days into the new regime, Tobias was smiling like a kid; well, like a kid in a bakery shop.
It was like revisiting his childhood home, with every stick of furniture still in its proper place, and the breadbox still loaded with his favorite sweets.
“I’d come here every day when I was in junior high, and I’ve been coming ever since,” Tobias said. “I’m stopping in today, and I’m so glad they still have the danishes and the bear claws and all the things they always had. I was nervous, I thought it would be a different kind of bakery, like you see in Trenton, where they’re all kind of the same. But they’ve remained faithful to the old ways.”
Shockingly, Tobias did not immediately mention the cream donuts until prompted about them.
“Yes!” he exclaimed. “The cream donuts are the best… the best!”
Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find someone to disagree with that statement. And now, Destribats has gained access to the top-secret recipe.
“I own the recipe,” she said with a grin. “All I can tell you is we’re adding even more cream.”
She also owns everything else, as the Trenton Catholic Academy’s director of advancement and development officially re-opened the Hamilton Avenue pastry oasis on Jan. 16.
And an entire township breathed a collective sigh of relief.
There will be no change. What has made everyone happy for the past nine decades, will continue to do so.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about this landmark, preserving it, keeping it going, making it better and allowing people to come back here,” Destribats said. “They’ve been there for 90 years, obviously they’ve been doing something right and I’m not going to change that. It’s definitely important to Hamilton Township. It’s not going to be a Wawa or a development. It’s gonna stay a bakery.”
Destribats likened Eet Gud to someone’s high school, as far as people always feeling comfortable it would be there forever. It’s a good analogy, especially considering she made the purchase to aid her alma mater.
Destribats graduated from TCA when it was still known as McCorristin, and has been a huge supporter of the school in ways that go well beyond her job. She and office mate Mike Knowles, a lifelong Hamilton resident, would joke about buying the bakery in order to aid TCA financially.
The more they looked into it, the more serious they became. After talking with Gorish, who is granddaughter of Eet Gud founder Joe Schaeffener, they decided to make it happen with the idea to donate a portion of the bakery proceeds to contribute to TCA scholarships.
One of Gorish’s requests (but not a demand) is that the staff be allowed to stay, and Destribats was more than happy to oblige.
“Everybody is staying,” she said. “The bakers, the people behind the counter, the guys who blow the leaves. You name it, they’re staying.”
There’s something to be said for such continuity, which is how the bakery survived after being founded by Schaeffener in 1929. He changed the name from Sure Good to Eet Gud, sparking a controversy that still rages. Most everyone wonders about the spelling, and the common belief is that it’s German for “Eat Good.”
“Nope,” Destribats said. “He just wanted a unique kind of spelling so people would remember it.”
Gorish has overseen the operation since the late 1980s and, according to the new owner she was pretty much doing everything “from shopping for the food, managing the staff while she was holding a plunger in one hand to do a repair. It was mind boggling. She was pretty much a one-man show.”
It was getting to be too much for the new grandmother-to-be, who has worked there since age 14 and finally decided to sell.
The only really difference now, will be more people focusing on making the product better at what is officially named Eet Gud of Hamilton LLC. Destribats, the CEO, brought in long-time pal Jackie Bucci to handle day-to-day operations. Bucci is currently working closely with Gorish, who has volunteered to stay on and help with the transition. Knowles, TCA’s director of community relations, will be overseeing things and handling the vendors; while Destribats “will be doing whatever is left.”
“Donna is really kind of mentoring, just sharing her expertise, so that’s really good,” Destribats said. “I know she was really happy with everything. They had other people interested before us and it didn’t work out. From beginning I think she was very comfortable with Mike and I talking to her. We told her ‘This is the plan. We want to build on what you already started, I want to keep the name, I want old pictures of your family, pictures of the bakery from the 20s and 30s and want to really highlight everything you’ve done.’”
Which will also highlight everything Destribats hopes to do, as the only alterations will be improvements. She has made cosmetics changes to give the one-room structure some spice, such as performing some floor and ceiling repairs, replacing the ancient wallpaper with paneling, putting in new bathroom fixtures and upgrading the lighting. Several tables are set up for folks to enjoy baked goods and coffee on-site; WiFi is being installed and the bakery will now have a major social media presence.
As far as food—the true stars of the show—the deli is going to increase its lunch meats and cheeses and will be a legitimate lunch-time stop for sandwiches and salads, while the cake business will be expanded.
Basically, it is still the same, but better.
“Before we closed on it, I was following all the comments (on Facebook) by people, and they were writing stuff like, ‘Somebody better tell those owners they better not change anything,’ before they even knew who bought it,” Destribats said. “It’s all anybody wants to know. They’re all saying, ‘Don’t change anything.’ And we’re not.”
There is a reason for that. Destribats knows exactly what a neighborhood business means to a community. Her late father, attorney Jay Destribats, was chairman of the board of Yardville National Bank for 17 years and made it the largest community bank in Mercer County. He loved Hamilton and put his heart and soul into making it a strong township which catered to its residents.
His daughter is much the same. Although growing up in Trenton, the Rider graduate now calls Hamilton home and has known about Eet Gud since her youth.
“I started out going to the Trenton bakeries like Barbero’s,” she said. “When they all closed, that’s when I started going to Eet Gud. I always knew about it. You’d drive by and see that neon sign with the words spelled wrong. It’s an institution.”
An institution she has no intention of seeing die.
“Donna said someone was interested in it and wanted to change the whole thing around, make a restaurant or something,” Destribats said. “It wouldn’t have been Eet Gud anymore. My thought was, ‘How could somebody let that happen?’ I started thinking about it, and there aren’t that many bakeries around anymore and they have such a great reputation. Donna has been pretty much keeping it going just with the basics.
“No matter if it’s a community bank or a local bakery or a local business, you need to keep that hometown feel. It’s like Chiarello’s (Deli, a mile down the road). It’s a place where people go. They feel comfortable there. They don’t just pick up sandwiches. The talk, they converse. It’s just like that here. People have been coming here for 40 years. I’ve seen it in the first couple of days. People come in, they know each other, they want to talk and catch up – ‘How’s your wife doing, is she feeling better?’ It’s not just a place to get donuts.”
One 40-year veteran is Joan Alito, who grew up next to Switlik Park with four soccer-playing siblings that starred at Hamilton West in the 1970s. At first, they drove from Yardville to Eet Gud despite bakeries in their own backyard. These days, they all live in other towns, but that does not change their party planning.
“Our family has gotten our birthday cakes from there every year,” Alito said. “And we still do. I’m glad to hear everything is staying the same.”