NEW HAVEN, CT; HOUSTON — During each stage of the pandemic, one thing has been there through it all: carbohydrates.

But not just any carbs. Crusty, begging-to-be-slathered-in-butter-and-jam artisan bread carbs. The world shut down and boredom levels went up, resulting in a surge of home baking and launching sourdough bread to the top recipe search on Google. Tik Toks were made, starter tips were shared, focaccia was meticulously decorated with vibrant vegetables. And most importantly, consumer expectations for taste and texture went past the point of no return.

But as the world settles into life in COVID-limbo, consumers have come to a crossroads. They no longer have the time to make their own bread, but they still crave that fresh taste. Bakers around the country are answering that call, determined to maintain premium artisan quality while getting it to consumers in a convenient manner.

The mission is simple: Put better bread into the hands of the people.


Perhaps the biggest challenge of artisan bread production is locking small-batch quality into a large-scale operation. Commercial bakeries need the efficiency of machinery for time and output’s sake, but they don’t want to lose the gentle dough handling that comes from a human hand.

Charles Negaro Jr., CEO of New Haven, CT-based Chabaso Bakery, has seen his bakery’s operation at all stages of growth, and he’s found the sweet spot between culinary art and mechanical engineering.

“When I started here 16 years ago, everything was handmade — we were making ciabatta on a big table and throwing the dough across the room,” he said. “We’ve come a long way since then. Now we can actually make what we call ‘better than handmade’ bread because certain machines can be gentler and a lot more consistent.”

The reason gentle dough handling is so critical is because you don’t want to undo all the work you’ve put in through the (at times painstakingly) slow fermentation process. Unlike a no-time dough, artisan bread often goes through bulk fermentation that creates gas bubbles. Those bubbles need to be preserved through the time on the line and into the oven; otherwise, you miss out on that signature texture that makes great bread, well, great.

“That’s the big challenge that artisan has gone through over the past 20 to 30 years,” Negaro said. “You put all this time and energy into making a beautiful, gassy dough, and you’ve got to turn it into a loaf without de-gassing it. A lot of manufacturers are now starting to consider time on the line as bulk fermentation time, which is really smart because you can make that dough band and bulk ferment at the same time, which increases your consistency.”

"We can actually make what we call ‘better than handmade’ bread because certain machines can be gentler and a lot more consistent.” — Charles Negaro Jr. | CEO | Chabaso Bakery


These aspects have also been top of mind for Tasos Katsaounis, CEO and founder of Houston-based Bread Man Baking Co. The bakery is fresh off a major expansion — increasing its square-footage 10 times over — and his thoughts have been dominated by maintaining product quality while making the right investments on the equipment side.

“When you scale, you might experience a bit of degradation in quality,” Katsaounis said. “But we pride ourselves on having the privilege of using the moniker of ‘artisan bakery.’ Because of that, we were looking at anything and everything we could to take advantage of the technology that exists today to help us scale and meet demand, but also to do it where we’re not shortcutting.”

The Bread Man team was laser-focused on acquiring a line that could run all its artisan products, a quality mixer and a stress-free dough processing system. The bakery uses a stone deck hearth oven for its artisan breads, which is something Katsaounis didn’t plan on letting go as the operation expanded. He asked himself, ”Do I want people to notice the shift because the quality dipped, or because the bread they fell in love with to begin with is in more places?”

Flexibility is another key aspect to smooth production in an artisan bread bakery. At Chabaso, creativity comes through flexibility with a bread’s structure. When a new trend comes along, Negaro said you might have to, in the spirit of a bread analogy, figure out how to take a loaf-shaped peg and put it into a boule-shaped hole.

“You usually can do that, but there are challenges,” he said. “If you want a flexible bakery, you need to have a well-defined process and product architecture so you can figure out how to [tweak it]. Every single product doesn’t have to be a revolution; you just need to find those variables that make sense. For us, it still has to fit into our Chabaso ethos.”

A core component of that ethos is using quality ingredients, which is something that Chabaso and Bread Man Baking have in common. Reed Immer, sales and marketing director at Chabaso, said that a shift to better ingredients remains a big focus for the team now and over the past few years.

The bakery is working toward using the cleanest ingredients possible for its entire portfolio including sliced bread, something that is important to Negaro and the rest of the staff.

“Most sliced breads have an approximate bajillion days of shelf life, and getting sliced bread into the in-store bakery is always challenging, but it’s been successful,” Negaro said. “Our labels always have very few ingredients on them. And when we put our consumer hat on, we can do sliced bread with a lot fewer ingredients than the ones with 21 days of shelf life. It’s driven by the bread that we want to eat.”


the team doesn’t use any chemical-based preservatives or conditioners, and their breads are also non-GMO. That does mean the product is going to have a shorter shelf-life, but it doesn’t bother him much.

“It matters what you are putting into that bread,” Katsaounis said. “We don’t skimp on ingredients. And on top of that, I have two very talented guys leading our operation. Our director of operations just has artisan bread flowing through him; he is so scientifically intelligent. I have guys like that, who understand and respect the process of artisan, non-GMO bread. Pairing that with high-quality ingredients and a production facility that’s equipped properly, that’s where you start seeing a consistent product that your customers expect to pay for.”

As these bakeries expand their business, they’re eager to keep the things they are known for, but they also are looking to strategically roll out new artisan products. Chabaso has a unique testing outlet with its sister business Atticus, a retail micro-bakery also located in New Haven. In addition to helping other Connecticut food businesses commercialize their products, the team also gets to test out its latest creations in the consumer market before mass producing them.

“Atticus has served as a sort of baking lab for Chabaso,” Immer said. “We are able to do this specialty stuff on a small scale, and we’ve learned a lot there. We see opportunities to bring some of those aspects into the Chabaso production.”

Katsaounis also hopes to break into new markets with the right equipment. His next goal is to perfect more artisan buns and rolls. He loves what he calls the “sexy crusty stuff,” but he also knows there’s more out there to be conquered.

“I would love to see the ability to find innovation transitioning toward the artisan manufacturer,” he said. “It’s the fastest growing segment in the industry, and I’d love to see the technology flowing with that. There are so many other breads we want to make.”