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Jul 26, 2018 5:21 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

In Wainscott, A Tale Of Two Bakeries And A Village Transformed

Breadzilla serves up warm sandwiches at lunch.       KYRIL BROMLEY
Jul 31, 2018 1:04 PM

If Wainscott was ever “Midhampton,” as several old maps suggest, it seems to have outgrown that name. Once a hamlet described for its literal “middle-ness” relative to other East End towns, Wainscott has developed its own unique character.And at the heart of that evolution were, and remain, two bakeries.

Levain Bakery sits in a cozy corner of Wainscott’s shopping plaza, laced in red trim outlining wooden panels and bursting with the warm smell of chocolate. It has been in the building since 2000, when owners Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes decided to expand their business to Wainscott after opening a store in New York City five years earlier.

Across from Levain, to the north and just beyond the plaza’s parking lot, is Breadzilla, a sandwich shop and bakery that has called the space home since 1995. It is owned and operated by Nancy Hollister and Brad Thompson, once married and still in business together.

For almost 20 years, the four bakers have brought life not just to Wainscott but to the larger neighborhood as a whole. Now, two of the four may soon pick up their aprons and leave town.

There is a small “for sale” sign newly taped to Breadzilla’s front door. After years in business, the store’s owners explained that a break from the arduous baking grind may entice them to sell.

And as Levain continues plans for expansion—a new store recently opened in New York City—a question arises: Is the end of an era looming?

Planned in the 1980s and completed in 1987, the Wainscott Village shopping center and its immediate vicinity have never comprised a walkable business district. But, even so, it has become a food hub of sorts, with shops selling seafood, bagels, deli foods and wine growing alongside the two bakeries.

“The village has really grown from being small to this,” said Chimene Macnaughton, a co-owner of Wainscott Wine and Spirits, a store in the village, holding out her arms, signifying the square’s expanding influence.

The owners of Breadzilla had worked at a fishery, but Ms. Hollister was unable to return to the job after she hurt her knee skiing. She found work at Plain and Fancy, a bakery in East Hampton that was also known for its sandwiches. Soon, she began baking at home, and started Breadzilla as a wholesale catering business from her own kitchen.

Though she and Mr. Thompson had considered opening a store of their own, they wanted to make sure it was in a property that they owned themselves. One day, while Mr. Thompson was making a tuna delivery to the Seafood Shop, he happened across an old upholstery store with a small “for sale” sign in the window—“almost exactly like the one we have in the window today,” Mr. Thompson said recently.

With the goal of making good food and pricing it below some “fancy” restaurants the couple had visited, they bought the building. On July 4, 1995, just a few months later, Breadzilla opened for business.

In that same year, 90 miles west in New York City, friends Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes together opened a bakeshop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that specialized in cookies. Five years later, when summer months meant slower business, they decided to expand the brand, opening a second location in Wainscott.

Each morning, Ms. McDonald or Ms. Weekes arrives at the store at around 6. “We work for the next day,” said Ms. McDonald—all items are physically made the day prior to being sold, then baked the day of sale to ensure quality. Any leftover goods are donated to local charities—in Wainscott, that charity is Phoenix House, an organization that helps people suffering from addiction.

Breadzilla continues to manage operations in almost exactly the same manner that it did when it opened 23 years ago. Each day, either Ms. Hollister or Mr. Thompson arrives at around 2:30 a.m. to prepare items that take longer to make, such as the store’s signature sunflower bread. The other arrives at around 9 a.m.; the two switch off taking the early shift each week. Even on Mondays, when the store is closed, the two show up to keep track of finances and begin baking breads that require a full night to rise.

“This is hard physical labor,” said Mr. Thompson, who also fixes the store’s machines should a problem arise. “It’s not easy to make everything from scratch,” added Ms. Hollister.

Still, they manage to have fun in the kitchen. Each machine—many have been around since the store’s founding—is given a name. “Little Mittsy,” an oven, and “Ricky Retardo,” the dough retarder, are just two.

The people who work at the counter include Tom Jawin, a mathematician, Felix W. Estrada, an “information sponge,” and Michael Baculima, an East Hampton High School student, and there are employees who’ve worked at Breadzilla for as long as 20 years.

“We have such a diversity of staff,” said Ms. Hollister, “and that really brings more into the kitchen.”

As at Breadzilla, Levain owners Ms. McDonald and Ms. Weekes strive for an environment that is enjoyable.

“We are 150 percent involved,” said Ms. Weekes. “We want a place that is fun to be in … we want people to want to be here.”

“We just love being in Wainscott,” Ms. McDonald said.

The hamlet even attracts visitors from other parts of town. One is Norman Brosterman of Springs, who rides his bike every morning to one of the bakeshops, then eats his breakfast at Wainscott Beach.

“They’re both just so great,” he said, shortly after a visit to Levain last week.

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if breadzilla goes away it will be a sad sad day
By BrianWilliams (68), on Jul 27, 18 9:35 PM
No more squishy rolls, fabulous scones or handwritten menu? Life stinks sometimes. But I understand the need to escape the grind. Sad.
By harbor (390), East Hampton on Jul 28, 18 4:00 PM
Southampton, Riverhead Building Supply, Supplies