In the following 2015 feature story, The Northside Chronicle dives into the day-to-day processes of bread making at “Pittsburgh Born and Bread” bakery, BreadWorks, located in Charles Street Valley*. On Oct. 19, BreadWorks will celebrate 40 years of operation on the Northside.
By Haley McMonagle and Ashlee Green
Photo by Haley McMonagle
BreadWorks Bakery was opened in 1979 as the French Oven Bakery by Tom McMahon, Blair Eiler, Bill Braund, and Karl Bock, at 2809 Brighton Rd. in the Northside. It moved to its current location in 1987. In 1994, Fred Hartman, Don Walsh, Dave Thomas, and Dave MacKenzie became business partners, and three years later, the store became known as BreadWorks. MacKenzie retired in April of 2018. Currently, there are a total of 38 bakers in the production area, including mixers and oven operators.
Since the first opening, BreadWorks has always solely made bread. To commemorate the business’ anniversary, BreadWorks will be serving their famous Chocolate Babka. It takes 14 steps to make the Eastern European, yeast-risen coffee cake and according to Hartman, it’s a 24 to 30-hour process. It makes a delicious breakfast or dessert that pairs well with fruit.
“The dough that Mr. Walsh makes is still made using old world methods and steps,” wrote Hartman in an email.
This specialty bread is only served on Feb. 14 for Valentine’s Day, May 12 for Mother’s Day, June 16 for Father’s Day, Oct. 19 for BreadWorks’ birthday, and Dec. 31 for New Year’s.
“To achieve and sustain for 40 years at anything in the same place, in the same city, doing what you love, is unique,” wrote Hartman.
At Charles Street Valley’s* BreadWorkS, bakers work throughout the night to create over 100 varieties of bread.
Story and photos by Sabrina Romano
At BreadWorkS, a bakery in Charles Street Valley, making a day’s worth of bread isn’t a small task. The process starts at roughly 4 p.m. and doesn’t end until 5 a.m.
Don Walsh, the executive baker and partial owner, and his staff of 30 bakers begin by making the pre-ferments which Walsh describes as “the sponges and doughs that we make before we make the dough. It’s the fermentation of the dough.”
In this step, Walsh shared the special ingredients: poulash and sour seed products. The fermentation process is how the dough gets its flavor.
Some dough ferments for a few hours while some of their sour dough has been fermenting for years.
“This (sour dough) we started back in 1991,” Walsh said, referring to a large bucket of dough. “We keep adding a piece every day and we keep making new every day. We will take a piece today and we will make it for tomorrow.”
Each day, the bakers take a different amount of dough from the 1991 sour dough bucket.
“(It depends) on the strength of it and everything and depending how much yeast you have in it because you are growing your own yeast and you’re producing your own acids to give you the sour flavors and the sour dough,” Walsh explained.
Next, the bakers actually make the doughs. Out of all the ingredients, the bakers go through the most flour.
“We have four (flour silos) and they each hold 65,000 pounds,” Walsh said.
Walsh estimated that he and his staff uses 10,000 pounds of flour each day, along with 50 to 100 pounds of eggs. Depending on the type of bread, bakers might use salt, sugar, cornmeal, or shortening. One ingredient that isn’t in the stock room is preservatives.
When it comes to shaping the bread, the bakers and the machines both have a role.
“The machines will (shape the bread) in the beginning and later on the bakers will make it all,” Walsh said. “We make all the (dinner rolls) by hand. But all the hoagies we make on the machine.”
BreadWorkS operates in a large enough space to have multiple conveyor belts to relax the bread.
“We make our hoagie products and our string line products first and then we have the Kaiser line,” Walsh said.
After the dough is relaxed and has spent anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours rising, it is ready to be baked in one of the bakery’s many ovens. After a hard night’s work, the bakers have made over 100 products from upwards of 50 types of dough.
Lastly, the bread goes to the packing department where it is cooled, sliced, packaged and ready for delivery. Between 4-7 a.m., 18 trucks deliver the bread to local restaurants, hospitals, schools, and stadiums. Although customers can come to the shop to buy bread, most of the bakery’s business is wholesale.
The bakers repeat this process every day of the week. Walsh makes sure that his staff makes a little extra bread for those in need.
“Every day we have different charities that pick up (bread) like shelters or pantries. But nothing goes to waste,” said Walsh.
Starting in 1980, Walsh became a part-owner in1994, while mastering the art of bread making.
“I have been (baking) since I was 12, 13 years old,” Walsh said. “It’s not hard. It’s a routine now. I am sure it would be hard if we just started out. Now, it’s making sure everyone knows what they are doing.”
After all of these years, Walsh still has a passion for his art.
“I just enjoy making the product and the doughs and the passion of the bread itself,” Walsh said.
Besides changing locations, Walsh said the company’s fundamentals haven’t changed. All of the four current partners have been working at BreadWorkS since the 1980s.
The partners’ goal was to make hard crust, European style bread and they are still doing just that.
But they manage to keep things fresh by baking new varieties of bread.
“We are always making new products. Either we are developing or our customers are asking for them. We have developed a lot of products just for our customers,” Walsh said.
For example, after a customer requested a hamburger bun, BreadWorkS started making brioche buns and subsequently got into the hamburger business.
Glen Robbi, a resident of Mt. Nebo, said he’s been buying his bread from BreadWorkS as long as he can remember.
“I am a return customer,” Robbi said. “I like the crust. It’s fresh.”
*In the original version of this story, the neighborhood location of BreadWorks was misidentified as Brightwood. It is actually located in Charles Street Valley, and we have corrected it here in the republished version. We regret the error.