In a few months time, Zak Stern will move his baking operation from its cramped home on 26th street a half a block east and into the 7,000-square-foot behemoth down that was once the Van Alpert exhibition space. The original bakery, where a staff of 45 now lines up shoulder-to-shoulder turning out breads along with everything from toasts, soups, and pastas, will be converted into a full-time restaurant.
The move spun out of a sort of existential crisis Stern and his wife Batsheva faced as the bakery they once scraped to fund has mushroomed into one of Wynwood's main attractions.
Over the past year, investors have emerged with franchise opportunities. More have come around trying to lure them to open outposts in New York City, Dubai, Mexico City, and Kazakhstan. With two to three pitches coming in weekly, Stern decided to lay out a handful of goals. Among them: To remain independent and to never hide the most beautiful part of the bread-making process. "It's rare people get to engage with a factory and traditionally Wynwood was all factories," he said. It bucked all of the smart money's advice to get a cheap, sprawling commissary in Doral or Hialeah and open distribution points around the city.
The new space will offer coffee, pastries from the viennoiserie (specializing in sweetened, yeast-leavened dough), and a view of the whole process as raw goods enter and snake their way around the room before hitting the ovens. "Seeing things made for real can be a powerful experience," he said. A second, inner loop will contain the pastry operation. The bread operation will be partitioned off by a three-foot-wall to preserve kosher. Yet the most exciting part might be the small ventanita Stern is planning with house made pasteles and croquetas that could be available 24 hours a day.
"We're developing the puff pastry right now and there will always be someone in the bakery working so it makes sense," he said. "Imagine you go out drinking at the bars, you want something greasy, you can come by grab your cafecito, a fresh pastelito, or croissant to end your night."
The move also seems to come at just the right time as now more restaurants begin using product from Sunset Harbour bakery True Loaf. James Beard award winner Jim Lahey is also planning a sprawling outpost of his New York City-based Sullivan Street Bakery in Little Haiti.
Meanwhile, going from baking in a garage to becoming Miami's bread institution has forced Stern to struggle with the concept of the artisan. Indeed the word has become somewhat of an epithet for him, eliciting a slight smirk or grimace. But in that time, as his operation slowly mechanized as it expanded, Stern was forced to rethink what that concept meant and how to apply to a business that garners longer lines every day.
"It wasn't do we use our hands or is it small batch," he said. "The question is are we keeping the integrity of the craft and not compromising it to meet the demands of the market?
"The moment you change the process is the moment you compromise the craft," he added.
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Yet doing so hasn't been easy. His Wynwood bakery now turns out an estimated 1,000 loaves daily. Mornings require a careful choreography to avoid the deliveries that stream out the door to Whole Foods or the countless Miami restaurants that now deploy his crusty loaves.
The new space will include a second deck that could hypothetically allow Stern to double his output. Yet the reality is that he doesn't want to include investors, so there's a limit.
"We're here to bake good bread," he said. "We're not trying to build an empire."