Zak Stern, better known as Zak the Baker, didn't see his Wynwood bakery with a bustling café when he envisioned the place. Then, a line cook at Michy's told him about a woman who was into farming and goats.
Now under the care of 24-year-old Sasha Ullman, the place buzzes throughout the day with customers lining up for toasted slices of sourdough wheat bread topped with mashed avocado and Jewish rye with sabich, layered with eggplant, hard-boiled egg, radicchio, and mango salsa.
Her small team has curated an ever-expanding list of sweet and savory toasts, although the initial plan was to slice Zak's bread into sandwiches.
"But every time we made a sandwich, I thought it was too pretty to just cover up," she says.
Thus the "toast program," as she calls it, was born. In the past eight months, a couple of daily soups and salads and, most recently, potted whitefish and smoked salmon have made their way onto the menu. The place is in for an epic, well-earned crush of customers when Art Basel Miami Beach rolls around. Don't expect to get through the door.
Ullman, a Miami native, learned to cook from her bubby (grandmother) Harriet Ullman, who to this day, even in her mid-80s, still caters for brises, bar and bat mitzvahs, and weddings.
"Bubby was born in Poland; she speaks Yiddish," Ullman says.
Ullman attended the University of Central Florida to study hospitality management and following graduation landed a job at Melissa Kelly's Primo at the JW Marriott. After a short stint, she stumbled upon a farming fellowship in Connecticut that set her on a new course.
"After that, I knew I wanted to work in a place where I could have a connection to local farmers," she says.
She returned to South Florida with a job at former Top Chef contestant Lindsey Autry's Sundy House in Delray Beach. That led her to volunteer for a Michelle Bernstein Art Basel pop-up and later into the kitchen of the celebrated chef's now-under-renovation MiMo restaurant. A mutual friend linked her and Stern together over a shared passion for goats.
"I've made some good connections with farmers. I love that they can come to the store here with things no one else will buy and we'll make something fun with it," she says.
Ullman says Stern gives her full freedom to bring in whatever produce she likes and cook whatever she wants. The best bites have been those of salty Jewish-Mediterranean origin. There have been toasts with herring, crème fraîche, and pickled onion as well as crisps layered with aioli, caper-relish, scallions, and sardines.
As the bakery grows (they're still baking bread for wholesale in the wee hours of the morning), there are also plans to renovate the kitchen to meet growing demand.
If you happen to spot Zak next time you're at the bakery (he's the one wearing the wifebeater and scraggly black beard), tell him to let Sasha do whatever she wants.