Scholars of antiquity are unclear whether the “staff of life” is bread, or the wheat from which it has been made for millennia. Clearer is that bread has been a more important, sought-after staple around here since March, when the pandemic took hold of our lives with a vengeance. Ward Bahlman, owner of Breadsmith, feels that Covid-19 has changed area consumers’ ideas about bread, and has done so to his benefit. He had this to say: “Our increase (in sales) is somewhat due to Covid, because our new customers couldn’t get bread anywhere else, so they started coming here and realized, hey, this is pretty good bread. So, that has been a silver lining for us.”
Bahlman heard the same story many times: essentially that supermarkets and other outlets offering bread had their shelves picked bare, or the bread they did have was being rationed in a way that made customers look for better sources of supply. Enter Breadsmith!
“People we’d never seen in here before came looking for a good loaf of bread, and once they found us, they have been back again and again. So, those are new customers at our counter. And then, we’ve seen a lot of our customers, existing customers, stock up more; they’ll buy four or five loaves of bread instead of one or maybe two loaves the way they had in the past. They freeze them, which is the best way to keep our (extra loaves of) bread,” he said.
All that adds up to noticeably more bread going out the door at the Breadsmith shop on Michigan Avenue just off Hyde Park Square. But Breadsmith doth not live by counter sales alone. Add to those a healthy boost in wholesale trade, and one gains a better picture of this baker’s growth in recent months. Earlier in the pandemic disruption, the wholesale business was slowed, because more people were staying close to the nest. That has changed, Bahlman says.
“Without question, our wholesale accounts are asking for more product, more variety, and we’ve seen an increase in that business,” he stated. The wholesale accounts are two, Clifton Market on Ludlow at the edge of the gaslight district, and Pipkins greengrocer on Cooper in Blue Ash. Both accounts have overcome modest downturns this past spring and are placing larger orders and selling out more quickly than in the past, he said.
“Now, we’re working on introducing some of our muffins and scones (and perhaps sweet goods) into those accounts. We’re working on a grab-n-go box, with two muffins in the box, for one thing,” he said.
Other boons to business are the special orders that come along periodically. One of these involved the high holy days and Wise Temple. Temple leaders wanted to give each member of the temple a small round challah for Rosh Hashanah, and Breadsmith was chosen to bake the loaves—1,020 in all. “We got that order and delivered the loaves over a 2-day period. They asked us to put them in bags and put ribbons around the bags, and then folks at the temple delivered them to the members,” he said. He added that Breadsmith enjoyed better than average sales leading up to and during the high holy days as well, for which he thanks the Jewish community.
With the change of seasons, a few things change at Breadsmith as well. One is the introduction of pumpkin muffins and sweet breads. “We start making those pumpkin flavors in the fall, in October and into November, because that’s the season around here. We do our own spice mix for the muffins and bread, combining nutmeg and cinnamon and so on, to get a really good, balanced flavor to our muffins.”
The pumpkin flavors are offered for about two months, because that is the window for pumpkin in Greater Cincinnati, Bahlman said. “Actually, the hardest part of this job (running Breadsmith) is figuring out daily what we need to sell (make for sale). As an example, sometimes we might make 20 scones (for the day) and somebody will come in and buy 15 of them first thing, and we’re (sold) out by 9 am. You just cannot account for that, so we make what we think we can sell and hope for the best,” he said. So, grab a pumpkin muffin while supplies last!
See you, masked and socially distanced, at Breadsmith!
3500 Michigan Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45208