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Althea Bread bakery opens in Charlottesville

With the last name “Bayker,” it was maybe only a matter of time before Marian Bayker found themself kneading dough and rolling out croissants.

Ironically, it wasn’t always the plan for Bayker, who earned a molecular genetics degree and worked in a cancer immunology lab for some time. Hard sciences and soft doughs might seem wildly unrelated to most, but Bayker says there’s a lot of shared ground between the sort of research she did in the lab and the baking she now does in the kitchen.

“It’s actually funny just how similar some of the processes are and keeping yourself organized,” Bayker told The Daily Progress. “Baking is all about math and recipes and schedules, and it actually winds up being a lot like a science experiment at the end of the day.”

Though their two interests may have some similarities, there’s one difference Bayker is grateful for: no more lab mice.

Bayker is the owner of Althea Bread, now open in the Tenth Street Warehouses off West Main Street in Charlottesville.

The space is the former home of the popular Bowerbird Bakeshop, which closed in December of last year. The two bakeries have similar origin stories, much like Bowerbird, Althea got its start selling baked goods at the local farmer’s markets.

Bayker and their partner, Suz Bayker, have been fixtures at the Ix market since 2019.

Marian Bayker began cultivating their passion for baking a year earlier in the kitchen of the cabin the couple owned. A plaque hangs on the wall there bearing the name of the home, “Althea,” meaning “wholesome” and “healing” in Greek.

“I felt like it fit well with what we’re trying to do here,” said Marian Bayker.

While working out of the cabin, they formed a “Bread Club” where, every Thursday, members would receive a loaf of freshly baked bread at their front door. The club’s deliveries temporarily stalled while the Baykers were “focusing on the farmer’s market … and figuring out how to get into the new space,” but Marian Bayker said they recently reactivated the club, and all Charlottesville residents are welcome to sign up via a link on the bakery’s Instagram page.

As the business began to gain more traction at the farmer’s market, the Baykers moved their production facility a couple of times, to areas around Ix Art Park and Birdhouse, a local chicken restaurant on Henry Avenue.

The kitchen space at their new location is more than double what they were previously working with, said Marian Bayker, who brought on a handful of new employees to help manage the front of house as well as slowly introduce them to the world of baking.

“For me, it’s about balancing how to build the business at the right pace and adding people at the right speeds to keep the financials squared away,” said Marian Bayker.

Bayker admits they have “too many big plans down the road” and they occasionally have to remind themself to take it slow. One such plan they mentioned: building out the current menu to include more savory, on-the-go selections, such as hand pies.

Bowerbird left behind a refrigerated case to store goods long term, which was not an option for Althea when operating out of a farmer’s market stall. The appliance allows Marian Bayker to get more creative with their products as they’re considering a line of different types of homemade butters.

“Part of my idea for this place is that you can get things to take on a picnic, or to have for a snack — you can get a baguette, you can get some butter, you can get some jam,” they said. “I’d love to expand those things and get some little toppings, things you can have with your bread.”

Though the city is not lacking in bakeries by any means, with several within walking distance of Althea on 10th Street, Marian Bayker said that their establishment sets itself apart by only using local grain. Originally, the Baykers ground the grains themselves, but as demand grew, they contracted with Deep Roots Milling. The company operates Woodson’s Mill, a historic, water-powered stone mill located near Lovingston in Nelson County.

“I think that everyone in town has been really friendly to us. I do know that there’s a lot of competition in town, but I think that we have a unique product even so,” said Marian Bayker. “I really am doing this because I love it and because I want to share. It feels like that’s the attitude I get from other bakers in town too, which is great.”

With a Mudhouse Coffee shop located right next door to Althea, there was definitely a possibility of some friendly competition. However, Marian Bayker said the proximity allows the two businesses to “work together,” as they invite customers to keep sipping a Mudhouse latte while purchasing some of Althea’s sourdough bread.

“We’re really excited to have a coffee shop next door because I do have a background in coffee, but I’m so busy running the bakery that I didn’t really want to get an espresso machine,” said Marian Bayker with a laugh.

Marian Bayker moved to the area to work in the pathology department at the University of Virginia, but left to pursue other interests.

“The last job I remembered liking was at a coffee shop, so I went and did that,” they said.

They wound up in the kitchen of the Mudhouse in Crozet, which is where they first learned the art of making bread from the shop’s baker, who bestowed upon them the secret to baking success: “Keep love in your heart.”

“And that’s cheesy,” Marian Bayker admitted. “But it also really translates to this. Sometimes having been in a space without the ability to have customers come in, you kind of forget that you’re making this for people to enjoy.”

“I think that’s what I want the most out of this place is to really have that be a present part of the bakery production itself. I want people coming in and enjoying it, because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s for,” they added.

And more and more customers have been coming in since Althea Bread opened its doors about three weeks ago. The store’s grand opening will take place in two weeks, said Marian Bayker.

The shop’s current hours are 8 a.m to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. They plan to be open on Sundays as well in the upcoming weeks.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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