Wood Fired Bread Bakery Expansion

I grew up in a southern New Jersey suburb in the 1960’s and 70’s. My mother’s side of the family was Italian, so we ate well, and I learned to appreciate good food and cooking.  My grandmother was the best cook, and that has had a  large impact on my life.

I liked school, and applied myself to the books -- and also to sports and the arts; I was strong, athletic, and creative -- I’m grateful that these attributes continue to sustain me, and are essential to my work as a bread baker.

I went to college late -- in my mid-20’s. I paid my way with savings, a partial athletic scholarship (golf), and student loans. I graduated with a BFA in English, then went straight to culinary school. In 1991, I moved to the west coast where I worked for 11 years in a variety of situations --  fine dining in Napa Valley, catering in Portland, Oregon, and as a chef on a private yacht in Seattle. I returned to New Jersey (where my family remains) 15 years ago. My food career took a detour, but in my spare time I taught myself the craft of baking good bread.  Not long after, I learned about  wood-fired brick ovens  -- and that changed everything, and set me on a mission to become a true craft baker-- creating naturally leavened bread, using a wood-fired oven and locally grown and milled flour.

To acquire the skills, I took a job on a dairy farm baking bread in a commercial scale wood-fired oven. I learned that there was a great demand for the bread I was baking; I also learned the business model; I especially liked that the startup and maintenance expenses were small. I researched brick oven builders and wrote a plan for my own bread business.
I had all that in hand when, in 2013,  I joined the staff of a non-profit that had a food and education mission.  I came with the bakery idea, the skills, and the business plan. The non-profit acquired the oven and the requisite equipment and we created a small mobile bakery as a social enterprise (and a revenue stream) for the organization. I baked loaves of naturally leavened bread that we sold at a farmers market. Business was brisk, and we soon established a loyal customer base. Our product sold out consistently, and by the end of the first season the baking operation was at capacity.

The non profit organization quit operations in 2014. With the oven and equipment on loan to me, I continued baking.  Last year I registered a new business entity, Nearby Baking, LLC, to make the wood fired baking enterprise my own, and I now have an opportunity to purchase the oven and equipment, and expand operations

Baking bread in this fashion is very rewarding;  the process is absorbing, the details matter, and the final product is stunning. The work is labor intensive, and it takes skill, continual learning  and practice to do well. All of the bread is made from heritage grains and flour that is grown in the region, and milled to order at a 18th century stone mill  40 miles from the bakery.   As a component in the matrix of local farmers, millers, and bakers, I’m proud of the product, and of my commitment to the ongoing revival of the local grain economy in the Northeast states -- a movement that is happening across the country.
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Donna Wallstin 
Haddon Heights, NJ