It’s 4 AM, and baker Dave Vacca, of the 85th Day Food Community, a Mystic, Connecticut-based restaurant group, and catering company focused on building and supporting the regional food community, is already sliding those first loaves of country wheat out of the oven. An industry that will never conform to the standard 9-5 routine, this life takes passion, it takes commitment, it takes… coffee.
I spent a day with Dave to see the inner workings of his operation and gained a whole new appreciation for the dedication that goes into his craft.
As I pulled into the desolate parking lot I thought, “well, certainly no shortage of spaces. Maybe starting your day at 3 AM has its advantages”… (it doesn’t). The bakery itself is an unassuming building tucked into the back of an office park. And if not for the heavenly aromas drifting through the halls, you’d never even know they were there. Dave unlocks the door and flips the lights on to reveal a large open room, designed and organized for one purpose, production. And that production begins immediately! After a brief tour and a quick check on the oven, he wastes no time getting to work on several small mountains of dough.
Bread-making is a game of chess. Planning and preparation, strategy, and timing. What’s baking now was mixed hours before. What goes into the oven first, maybe the last to come out. Bread needs time to rest, or PROOF before being baked and no two styles are the same.
Dave supplies bread to several local businesses, and they’re all relying on him and his staff of TWO to keep them stocked. Besides the retail loaves and restaurant bread, if the pizza dough isn’t made, Nana’s won’t have pies to sell, if the rolls are forgotten, Grass and Bone 86’s sandwiches. Dozens of chefs all slaving away to not only create, but produce dozens of unique locally flavored dishes, and it all comes down to three people and one oven. No pressure, right?
As more and more finished loaves begin to pile up on the cooling rack, I’m astonished to see just how many different breads they make, and all at the same time. honey wheat, caraway rye, cinnamon raisin, sunflower and pumpkin seed, cheddar and rosemary focaccia.
As soon as the last loaves come out, and while still pretty warm, they’re bagged up, labeled, and ready to head out the door. Dave’s also making all the deliveries today. As we open the door to the outside world I’m greeted with a blast of cold air and the bright sunrise If I wasn’t awake before, I certainly am now.
It’s 7 AM now, and Nana’s is just opening their doors. As Dave arranges all the freshly baked bread the first lucky customers walk through the doors. Once again, perfect timing.
Two days earlier, I sat with Dave at Nana’s to plan our pre-dawn meeting. We had a coffee and watched as customers came and went. I couldn’t help but notice the little smile that came over his face every time another loaf walked out the door. The culmination of all of those early mornings, all the mixing, the kneading, the folding. Did they understand all it took? I hoped so. And if they didn’t before, I certainly hope they do now.
Artisans like Dave and his team are sadly a dying breed. Far too few take the time to carry on the legacy of generations past. To use the lifetimes of knowledge that came before them, and remind as many as possible that words like local, and artisanal, and hand-crafted truly do mean something. That we should all seek out and support our local businesses more now than ever. And I think a warm slice of bread is a fine place to start.