Columbia City Bakery creates perfection one loaf at a time

Best-selling business author Harvey Mackay has a favorite quote, "find something you love to do and you'll never have to work a day in your life."

This could be the motto of Andrew Meltzer, 34, and Evan Andres, 36, owners of the soon to open Columbia City Bakery, located at 4865 Rainier Avenue. The hard-working team shares a passion for breads and bread making. Their new venture is a labor of love and proof positive that you can love what you do, even if it is your work.

Meet the bakers

Meltzer and Andres led two different lives on two different coasts, but their journey into bread making was a parallel one. Meltzer, originally from Philadelphia, worked with a baker for his first college job, and he immediately dropped out of school.

"I never knew anyone who made a living at it, and it was something I really enjoyed," Meltzer said. "I knew then that was what I wanted to do."

Meltzer spent the next several years moving around and baking bread in places like Santa Fe, Las Vegas, the Napa Valley and Portland. He also taught bread making at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. In 1994 he settled in Columbia City to begin work with Leslie Mackie, owner of Macrina Bakery. Meltzer refers to her as the "sweetheart of the bread scene."

While Meltzer perfected his craft, Evan Andres finished college and found himself sitting at a computer working as an environmental planner in San Francisco. He had never baked anything in his entire life, but a trip to Chile changed all of that.

" My girlfriend at the time (he is married to Julie Andres, owner of La Medusa in Columbia City) was a student in Santiago, Chile," Andres remembered. "I would hang out and watch the bakers bake bread in the grocery stores, which is where they bake them there. I was fascinated by the process, their labor of love and their attention to detail."

When Andres returned to the United States he immediately quit his job and began working at Metropolis Bakery in Berkley before heading north to the Emerald City.

"I heard about Macrina Bakery, interviewed and moved to Seattle to bake. Then I did a European stint, [came back and] worked at Dahlia Restaurant and Tall Grass Bakery in Ballard," said Andres.

His business partner attributes his life-changing decision and diverse experiences to an innate talent.

"Evan is a baking prodigy," asserted Meltzer.

Andres smiled to himself when hearing this, quietly shook his head, and put more bread into their huge, stainless steel oven.

The bakers became friends at the 10-year celebration of Grand Central Bakery and makers of fine bread soon after. They even found themselves judging at the Portland Summer Loaf festival, an annual bread-making jam session that attracts a wide range of talent.

"Our friendship developed over bread. We are both passionate about bread and we both understand bread talk. For example, we could spend four to five hours discussing the finer points of baguette making," Andres said with a laugh.

Meet the oven

While good bread requires the talent and the passion of exceptional bakers, both Meltzer and Andres will tell you that it is the oven that is the heart of the operation. The one they chose is a Bongard, a French steel, gas-fired contraption exceptional for its beauty as well as for what it does to the bread. The oven can handle between 120 and160 loaves at a time.

"We found this oven on the Internet four years ago. It was on the East Coast and we had it shipped out to Seattle by train. The Bongard heats by steam. The design of it has been the same for over 50 years," Andres said. "You know, even with the best equipment, you've still got to have the right preparation and ingredients. But this oven is really special. For one thing it's made by the French and they've been doing bread for years. The insulation that surrounds the oven ... keeps the temperature up so there is little loss each time the oven door is opened. That's key to having a good quality product. The inside is similar to a pizza stone, which results in a crispy crust."

Meet the Bread

Andres and Meltzer will tell you good bread takes time, and since time is money, and money involves production, a funny thing happens to the bread along the way.

"Everyone is getting bread that is 24 hours old these days," Meltzer stated. "This problem is really impacted by the size of the bread-making operation. Because of the time involved in baking, plus delivery, bakers are forced the start making their bread earlier and earlier in the day. The result is that by the time the bread gets to the customer, it has already been sitting."

Both Meltzer and Andres are proud of the local bakers here in Seattle and believe they are all doing a good job. While other bakeries are producing 5,000 loaves of bread a day, the goal of the Columbia City Bakery is to produce 1,000 loaves a day with the bread made and sold on the same day.

"There are small nuances to baking. Our goal is to keep our hands in the dough every day." Andres added, "We are really into bread, we like to eat it, and we make bread that reflects our personalities. We make bread as we like it and we hope others will want the same thing."

Meltzer and Andres have operated the wholesale end of the business for the past two months and regularly sell their wares at the Columbia City Farmers Market. As for their soon to be open store front, the shop will feature specialty and ethnic breads.

"We'll be constantly changing our offerings due to our travels," Meltzer stated. "We'll feature seasonal breads, too, along with some regular staples. We want to offer an eclectic range and have lots of variety over time."

In addition to the dozen varieties of bread each day, the bakery will also sell breakfast goodies such as Danishes, puff pastries, and croissants, along with Café Vita coffee.

"You know, this place was originally a bakery, from the 1930s to the 1980s", Meltzer shared.

"Yes", echoed Andres. "And we want it to be just that again, a neighborhood bakery."

Columbia City Bakery will be open for business in mid September, but customers can find their bread each week at the Columbia City Farmers Market. Store hours will be 7-6 daily. Closed Monday. For more information, call 723-6023.

Mary Sanford may be reached via

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