If you bake it, and it’s awesome, they will come.
That’s the business strategy of Phoenixville’s newly opened and much anticipated artisan bakery, Soltane Breads and Spreads at 138 Bridge St.
With a focus on providing high quality products to customers, the shop is ready to offer their full array of handcrafted, wood-fired breads, as well as scones, cookies and croissants, to Phoenixville’s carb-hungry community.
But Soltane Breads and Spreads also serves the needs of another unique community. The shop is an extension of Camphill Soltane, a non-profit organization based in nearby Glenmoore that provides individuals with special needs the opportunities to uncover their talents and grow their abilities.
The shop is managed by Mark Doberenz and Ryan Hagan who met in Portland, Ore., more than 10 years ago as teacher and student.
Doberenz is co-resident at Camphill Soltane as well as a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and honed his wood-fire baking skills while working at another Camphill Soltane location in upstate New York. Doberenz was interested combining his love of baking with Camphill Soltane students and residents to give them the opportunity to work in an entrepreneurial business environment.
Hagan hails from Portland, Ore., and has worked in Portland restaurants for the past eight years as a cook. When Camphill Soltane identified a need for an external manager to help launch the shop, Doberenz immediately thought of Hagan for the position. Three months later, Hagan moved from Portland to Phoenixville to work with Doberenz to get the shop ready.
“I always wanted to break into baking but the hours have always intimidated me,” said Hagan. “This was one of those things that was meant to be.”
Soltane Breads and Spreads specializes in artisan breads made with organically-grown grains baked in a traditional wood-fire oven. And there’s is a reason it’s called “artisan” bread—creating and baking it really is an art.
Volunteers from Camphill Soltane are in the shop with Hagan and Doberenz three of out four baking days per week helping to prepare the ingredients that go into creating the bread. One of Doberenz' and Hagan’s favorites, Roggenvolkonbrot Loaf, contains sunflower seeds, soaked rye berries, rye flour and cracked rye, which must be milled by hand.
According to Hagan, wood-fire baking is the most efficient environment in which to back bread. It is, however, labor intensive. Before a day of baking, Hagan sets the fire in the evening, waits for the wood to burn down to coals and then closes the oven door for the rest of the evening so the heat can be absorbed into the oven walls. This can take hours, and the oven must reach a maximum temperature topping 800 degrees before he can close the door.
In the morning, Doberenz arrives at the shop and mixes up the bread and prepares it for baking, but before he can begin, he must sweep out the coals and clean the oven. The bread is then place directly on the stone hearth and baked. The walls of the oven have absorbed so much heat that the bread can be fully cooked, without exposure to a live fire or electricity. It’s this heat that creates the hearty crust of the bread.
Hagan said that the process is extremely time consuming, but they enjoy it.
“Mark and I are working six days per week, dreaming of baking,” he said.
Hagan is also bringing a taste of Portland to Phoenixville by offering coffee from Stumptown Roasters. Originally based in Portland, Stumptown now operates out of Brooklyn, N.Y., and like all coffee drinkers, Hagan is passionate about his favorite roaster.
“I have known them for years and it already felt like home when I came down here [to Phoenixville] and Mark had already stocked the shop with Stumptown coffee,” said Hagan.
When Hagan initially told his friends and family that he was moving to the east coast, they told him to “toughen up.” However, his experience in Phoenixville has been completely opposite of what he was expecting, especially when it comes to working with other local businesses.
“I feel like I have been welcomed with open arms to the Phoenixville scene,” said Hagan, adding that local businesses have been helpful by exchanging business tips and input.
Currently the shop is only open Thursday through Saturday, but that hasn’t affected their business. Soltane Breads and Spreads opened quietly on Thurs., June 30. The following day, they survived their inaugural First Friday experience. “We completely sold out on First Friday,” said Hagan. “We were open until 10:30 at night and it was crazy and just great.”
Hagan said borough restaurants have also started contacted him about supplying bread to their customers.
“Right now we are just finding our rhythm. We want to offer the best quality bread and the best quality products that we can,” he said.
All profits earned go back into the business to cover operational costs, and to Camphill Soltane. And while he agrees that profits certainly are important, Hagan is focused on the experiences that the customers and Camphill Soltane volunteers will gain from visiting the shop.
“We place the greatest importance on creating an awesome product and making it a positive experience for the Soltane community,” he said.
For more information about Soltane Bread and Spreads visit http://www.breadsandspreads.org.