Orange Peel Bakery brings the community together, one pizza at a time

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, bring your own toppings to Orange Peel Bakery for community pizza night. — Photo by Tania duPont

Julianne “Juli” Vanderhoop, baker and owner of Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah, as well as Aquinnah selectman, was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard. Ten years ago she returned to the Vineyard after 20 years away, with children in tow, feeling as if she didn’t know anyone. It was a bittersweet return; she felt disconnected from the community that she had once been very involved in.

In an effort to meet new people and help her children experience the community she once knew, the baker began bringing people together over food, but first she needed a place to do it. One of her friends suggested that she build a bakery. This friend had traveled to Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina, and wanted to build an oven she had seen on her travels, and encouraged Juli to execute her vision for the bakery. Juli found the idea very interesting, and started to envision the kind of oven she wanted to build. She fell in love with an oven she saw in Rehoboth, and decided she wanted to build the biggest one she could. Nine years ago Juli imported an oven from France, and assembled it with the help of two masons she hired over the course of nine months.

Once the oven was in place, it was time to figure out how best to put it to work for the community. Inspiration came from another trip abroad, during a unique dinner in Germany Juli once attended. Her experience was so compelling, unlike anything she had ever experienced in the United States, that she felt compelled to bring it back to her own family. The idea for community pizza nights at Orange Peel Bakery was born.

“This family and their love for me and the other guests was something that I needed to bring back to my own family, and have them come to a clear understanding of how not to be afraid of a community and how to share what you know about the positive things that are in everyone’s life. That is why I created this dinner in 2006,” says Juli. “It is a very simple concept, it’s based on sharing. You bring your toppings to the table, put them down, pizzas get conjoined and baked in the oven, you then take half and leave the other half for someone else,” she explains.

“We spend the first five years of our children’s lives teaching them how to share and play nicely with other people. We become adults, and shut all the doors; we hoard up our stuff, refusing to share with one another, in fear of them not appreciating. That is not the way to be. In a community where the hospital is 20 miles away, the best you can do for the elderly people and for the young children is an extra set of eyes and hands to aid them in walks; or when they are sitting down for tea, giving someone company can give them health. When we eat together, it becomes a much better experience than eating alone with our families with the door shut,” said Juli.

She now hosts community pizza nights twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The events are BYOB, and participants are encouraged to bring a topping and their own cups if they’re drinking. You can also catch singer Melanie Chaunce serenading diners at most dinners, and if you’re extra lucky, like this reporter last week, you might even catch Bill Murray.

Julialso caters to hungry Islanders in the winter. Orange Peel is the only place in Aquinnah that is open 365 days. In the off-season Juli bakes breads and cakes every day, leaving them at the bakery in exchange for payment on the honor system. Each morning she continues to wake up with more money on the dishes left outside for payment, a testament to the honesty of her customers and her business.It seems where once Juli knew no one, she’s made a lot of friends, and shared thousands of delicious treats along the way.

Community pizza night at Orange Peel Bakery, 33 State Road, Aquinnah, every Wednesday and Saturday through October from 5 to 8 pm. Head up-Island next Wednesday, July 15, for pizza and treat yourself to art too, as part of Gay Head Gallery’s “Moveable Feast” event from 5 to 7 pm at Gay Head Gallery, 32 State Road, Aquinnah.