The Hudson Oven Bakery may be a new arrival to the Croton-on-Hudson café scene, but its owner, Chase Fox Harnett, has been kneading sourdough long before it became trendy. Nearly a decade ago, after a semester abroad in Paris during his junior year of college left him with serious jetlag, Harnett found himself passing the early morning hours trying to recreate the loaves of French country sourdough that he lived on during his trip.
“Most of them came out like bricks,” he recalls, but the breadmaking bug had bitten, so Harnett kept at it. “I had switched my major to environmental science and was trying to figure out what my future profession might be. The more I learned about sourdough bread baking, the more I uncovered a community of bakers who run businesses from their homes,” he says. He began studying with a home baker in Nyack, and when he stopped baking, he offered to sell his rare portable Turtle Rock Masonry oven to Harnett—who jumped at the chance to buy it, and then needed to crank out enough dough (literally) to pay for it.
Harnett, who at the time was also interning at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, dubbed his new venture The Hudson Oven. In addition to bread, he began making wood-fire artisan pizzas, which he and his now wife, Madison, sold at festivals, farmers markets, and private events. In 2019, Harnett started a “Sourdough Scavenger Hunt”—he’d fill a wood armoire with bread on a Sunday morning and reveal the cabinet’s location on Instagram. (It was usually somewhere along the Hudson River, such as Tarrytown or Cold Spring.) Customers flocked to the cabinet to grab their loaves (payment was made via Venmo or cash using the honor system) which often sold out within a few hours, thanks to the cabinet’s viral presence on Instagram and TikTok.
“The hunt was fun, but it was more of a marketing and branding play,” says Harnett, who morphed the idea into a bread pick-up system, where people could order in advance and then pick it up at a locker in one of eight locations around the Hudson Valley. “It wasn’t the most reliable way for people to get bread—or for our business to make money—so it didn’t seem like the way to go,” he adds.
What Harnett really wanted to do was find production space where he could bake bread on a larger scale. And since Madison is a chef who honed her craft at Mimi’s Plate in Tappan, the idea of having a few tables, where people could relax “with a bowl of soup and a hunk of sourdough,” was also appealing. So when an old 50-seat Italian restaurant down the road from the Croton train station became available, the couple (who were married in September) bought it. “We decided to buy a building instead of a house,” says Harnett.
Over the last several months, Harnett has been fixing up the space, installing a new electric oven for the bread (his original Turtle Rock oven will be set up outside as the business’s mascot, and hopefully the centerpiece of an outdoor kitchen in the future) and readying the retail space—about 12 seats both indoors and out—where customers can purchase French country sourdough, cranberry walnut sourdough, brioche, rye bread, the occasional fougasse—which he likens to a sourdough sand dollar—as well as scones, muffins, cookies, and biscuits (the new space allows for passersby to watch the bread baking process from “starter” to finish).
There’s also an assortment of soups and stews and heartier fare like roasted chicken with green olives and apricots and roasted parmesan potatoes. “The café is really going to be Madison’s test tube, where she can experiment with menu items that complement my bread,” says Harnett.
For those who can’t get to Croton regularly, or just like the thrill of the “chase,” Harnett promises the scavenger hunt will resume once the bakery is up and running. “Our bread cabinet introduces people to our brand and product and hopefully they’ll go to the bakery and meet us in person,” he says. “We’ve tried to create a feeling of home here and we’re excited to have our followers experience it.”