GrowNYC Grains: What does the structure of your bakery look like right now? About how many loaves a week are you baking?
Tyler: I am baking 100 loaves 6 days a week. I have a double-decker convection oven and bake everything in cast irons. Folks can pre-order bread for pick up Tuesday-Saturday 4pm-7pm in Carroll Gardens. We have a table out front with a bell to ring when picking up pre-ordered bread. Whatever is leftover will be frozen, and I’ll give it out if people reach out for community events.
GG: What role has the pandemic played in bringing this project, of baking bread for your neighbors, to fruition?
TS: I have seen a large psychological shift to people buying locally. Local food has been treated more seriously since the pandemic. People are thinking critically about how they want to spend their money. This shift to hyper-local small scale embodies everything I wanted in a bakery. There is an insane amount of inherent compromise being made for the convenience we became accustomed to when it comes to the super grocery store. I am trying to position (ACQ) at the opposite end of the spectrum, working on building a model that works for small independent bakers, but is also sustainable. The strongest impulse about business is that if it’s not growing, it’s dying. The truth is, it doesn’t need to be done as rapidly or in such an inflated way. You can grow slow and steadily, and that’s the way to build a real community. Instagram has been useful to spread localized news, but people have learned about ACQ largely through word of mouth.
GG: What role does using local ingredients play in your business? Have there been any obstacles you've had to overcome due to availability, and how did you handle that?
TS: I believe the only way to nourish oneself and community successfully in our current capitalist form of society is to literally use capital to support your neighbors. I’m very much of the belief that all systems that negotiate power must be decentralized. You have to be supporting your local organic farmers if you’re eating food, unless you want everything to be consolidated into corporate mono-cropping. Local organic agriculture is the only way we should be eating. There are cool luxuries we can mess around with if we feel like being decadent, but those should never overpower the local infrastructure of food. If rye berries run out, I will switch to another whole grain. If I have to change einkorn to red fife or spelt due to seasonality of harvest, that’s fine, that’s great. It keeps me engaged with the process, and everyone gets to taste something different. My model is simple with only three loaves of bread on the menu. And being the owner and laborer means I can be more fluid and dynamic about the process.
GG: What is your hope for your bakery in the next couple of years?
ST: Having a Greenmarket stall would be fun. As it is, I am at the market twice a week shopping, so it would be cool to be integrated into it and engage with the Greenmarket more. I want to continue focusing on skills and making better and better bread. I want to prove a point about organic agriculture by making extremely beautiful bread. With the right pairing of good farming with good baking, using ethically sourced organically grown produce, and hard work, exceptional things can be created. An underlying goal I have is to take on more apprentices and have them open their own micro bakeries. Taking the time to train people about this craft enables them to have this operation in their own community. Ideally, there would be hundreds sprinkled around the city. My bakery is being put on a pedestal right now because it feels unique. It shouldn’t be unique; community bakeries sourcing locally should be an implicit part of our urban society.
Photos from ACQ Instagram: @antiquest_baker