Bert Premuto and his wife, Diane, were walking their West Highland Terrier, Miranda, on one particularly chilly morning in the Hudson Valley when they passed by the old Fishkill firehouse. Although they strolled along the same path every day, this particular day was different.
It was the day they noticed the “For Rent” sign on the building.
At the time, Premuto, who was working in electrical repairing, was in search of a way to get back to his baking roots. The old firehouse handed him the opportunity on a silver platter, and soon Bert’s Bread House came to life.
“When we ran into this little old firehouse, we fell in love with the nostalgia of it,” he explains. The firehouse was built in the early 1900s and was the second firehouse in the village of Fishkill. It hearkens back to a time when the trucks were horse-drawn and the water was pumped from a well.
Like the firehouse, Premuto also has a storied past in the region. His baking legacy began when his grandfather, Alfredo Umberto Premuto, moved to America from Naples, Italy when he was 18 years old to pursue the American dream and open his own bakery. Shortly after the move, his dream came true and founded his very own bread shop in Tuckahoe, where his three sons helped him craft all manner of loaves and rolls. After years of running a successful business, he retired and decided to sell the bakery.
Although Alfredo was out of the bread-making game, he passed along his love of baking to Premuto’s father, Carlo, who also owned a successful bakery for 21 years. It was under Carlo’s guidance that Bert developed his love of baking. Once Carlo passed away, his six children ran the business for a couple of years before eventually going their separate ways.
Premuto himself found work at a number of different bakeries, then decided to complete his associate’s degree in electrical technology, a field he pursued until the day he made that fateful walk past the firehouse.
“One thing led to another and I wanted to put my baking skills back to use and work for myself,” he explains. Once he committed to renting the space, he and his wife spent four months on planning and construction before the bakery was up and running. Notably, the duo had design authority on details large and small, incorporating thoughtful touches like succulents on every table, shelves full of rolling pins and whisks, and bread baking stones on the wall.
Premuto’s vision for the bakery was to create a space that is both cozy and comfortable. The bread rolls are self-serve to help make people feel at home. When customers walk in, they’re greeted by Diane at the counter, with Premuto just a few feet away working on his baked goods — but ready to come out and socialize in an instant.
“I want my customers to feel very comfortable, feel like they can sit here and catch up with friends, and just relax and enjoy the experience,” he says, adding that the history of the building is an incentive to visit in itself.
Since the grand opening on May 25, Premuto has fallen into the swing of things. He’s the main baker at the bread house and starts every morning at 2 a.m. with his Italian bread before moving onto ciabatta, then focaccia, and so on. Bert’s breads are influenced by the owner’s Italian roots, with French and German influences as well.
By the time the door opens at 7 a.m., Bert’s bread baskets are stuffed to the brim with crispy, soft loaves and rolls, along with harder-to-find treats like brioche buns and focaccia. Not only are the yeast goods fresh-made, but they also cost as little as 60 cents. Afterward, Premuto shifts gears to focus on sweets like croissants, pastries, and cakes until the store shuts down at 5 p.m. Notably, the desserts are just as tempting as the breads for which the shop is known, and include everything from cannoli and lemon squares to cheesecake, carrot cake, and tiramisu.
Premuto may have chosen to open Bert’s in Fishkill for the firehouse, but he and Diane also love the village for the sense of community that permeates the area.
“I got to say, the whole community has been great to us. We’re really happy that we’re here,” he enthuses. “I just want to bring the community good products that they can enjoy and have a great experience in our bakery.”
Bert’s Bread House
19A Robinson St, Fishkill