ITHACA, N.Y.—Wide Awake Bakery has long sold its artisan bread and pastries at grocery stores, at farmer’s markets, and from bake stands, but now the bakery is opening a storefront.
The brick-and-mortar location, now open in the Franklin Market at 435 Franklin St. in the City of Ithaca, is welcome news for the city’s foodies. Wide Awake has distinguished itself in the Ithaca area for its commitments to traditional fermentation techniques and locally sourcing its ingredients — a commitment possible through its partnership with Oechsner Farms and Farmer Ground Flour, both of which are only about a mile from the bakery in Mecklenburg.
Long lines often form at Wide Awake’s stand at the Ithaca Famer’s Market as hungry customers seek out pretzels, cookies, pastries, loaves of sourdough, ciabatta, or — highly uncommon in the American pantry — a loaf of vollkornbrot.
Vollkornbrot, a dense rye bread, comes in the shape of a brick, and is best sliced thin, said Stefan Senders, a founder and co-owner of Wide Awake.
“Half an inch thick, it’s not that good. It’s not a pleasure to eat, “Senders said. “But a quarter of an inch thick, put some cold butter on that thing, a radish, and a little bit of salt — and it’s awesome.”
The kind of attention to detail that Senders puts into even the act of slicing bread is effused into the business. A loaf of Wide Awake bread — from sourdough starter to pulling a finished loaf out of the oven — is a three day process.
Around 400 households are signed up to receive loaves on a weekly or bi-weekly basis through Wide Awake’s Community Share Agriculture, or CSA, program, according to Senders. With that kind of success, the idea of opening a physical storefront may have seemed inevitable, but Senders said that the plan only became serious about a year ago.
It has less to do with business expansion than a desire for Wide Awake to sustainably continue into the future. Senders is frank about what catalyzed him to open the brick and mortar location: a surprise cancer diagnosis.
“Metastatic prostate cancer — stage four cancer,” Senders said. “It kind of looked like my chances for living more than five years are pretty low.”
Senders said he “never got depressed,” despite the grimness of the diagnosis, but he worried what would happen to Wide Awake Bakery if he were to pass away. The team at Wide Awake are “incredibly fantastic,” Senders said, but the business is centered on him. He felt that if the bakery had a storefront it could give the business a better chance of continuing if he were to die.
“I didn’t like the idea of having this thing where I would just die, and then [my team] would just have nothing,” Senders said.
So, he began talking to the team.
Esmé Saccuccimorano, who mainly works making Wide Awake’s pastries, said, “We had a bunch of dinner meetings at [Stefan’s] house and talked it over before even asking, ‘Is this a good idea?’”
Liz Brown, Senders’ wife and the bakery’s bookkeeper among other roles, said “It just suddenly started seeming like a great idea.”
Senders described Wide Awake’s staff of nine — excluding himself and Brown — as a group of mostly young adults who are dedicated to the craft of making great bread. “I wanted a business that could support them and help them have families. And, you know, it’s hard to make a living,” Senders said.
Now, almost a year since the storefront idea was conceived, Wide Awake is selling bread at the Franklin Market, and Senders says his cancer treatment is “going great.”
Espresso, local cheeses, honey — anything that will go good with bread — will join Wide Awake products. Even local flowers, Senders said.
Although, the gravity of the project has sunk in.
Brown said, “Stefan and I have had a lot of sleepless nights in the last couple weeks just thinking, ‘What have we done?’”
“We’re pretty old!” Senders said. “Taking on a project — it’s a very big project. It’s very risky for us.”
Risky, but exhilarating, Senders said — and even nerve racking. “I mean crazy nerve racking. But that’s not a bad thing. That’s just part of it.”