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Bread Alone Launches the Country’s First Carbon-Neutral Bakery

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Photos by James Chororos courtesy of Nels Leader

Bread Alone’s renovated Boiceville location reaches net-zero status through clean electric appliances, efficient heating, solar power, and more.

Baking is a bonafide tradition in the Hudson Valley. Of course, the region leads the way in artisan breads, gluten-free bakes, and vegan alternatives.

Now, one of the pillars of local baking takes a giant leap toward the future of sustainability. After operating for nearly four decades, Bread Alone opens the nation’s first carbon-neutral bakery.

Bread-Alone-Boiceville-Dining-Area

“When my parents founded Bread Alone in 1983, there was a commitment to the natural world from the very beginning,” CEO Nels Leader says. For instance, they used organic wheat in the very first loaf ever baked.

“It became clear to us as a business that action against climate change was THE issue that faced the natural world. And, it was the issue Bread Alone had to tackle as it pushed into the future,” Leader notes. He represents the next generation of leadership for the brand, both literally and figuratively. With Boiceville, he takes his parents’ mission into another era.

Wood-fired-ovens

About four years ago, Leader and his team began brainstorming a specific plan to renovate the Boiceville property. The vision was clear: a net-zero, carbon-neutral bakery to supply the cafe locations with breads, pastries, and other goods. In addition, the Boiceville headquarters fuels Bread Alone’s appearances at farmers’ markets across the Hudson Valley (and in Manhattan).

Leader serves on the boards for Farm Ferments, the Woodstock Land Conservancy, and Ulster County Workforce Development. He also lectured at colleges and testified in front of Congress on sustainable practices and actions for businesses. In fact, his training through former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project informed the direction for Bread Alone Boiceville.

Baking

“That training really helped sharpen my thinking around what specific steps I believe are the most effective for combating climate change. Specifically, I came away from that training with a strong belief that clean electrification is really ground zero for combating climate change,” Leader recalls. “We need to electrify our lives, and then we need to produce all that electric energy from renewable resources.”

So, electrification became central to the renovation. Leader enlisted the aid of top experts from the Hudson Valley and beyond. HVAC contractor Joseph Malcarne in Rhinebeck designed many of the building’s energy systems.

Counter

First, the team constructed a well-insulated, tight building envelope. That’s step one for making an energy-efficient structure. Next, they installed air source heat pumps for primary heating and cooling. International innovator HEUFT worked closely with Bread Alone to design an industrial baking system that runs off an electric heat exchanger. This exchanger generates heat for the new modern ovens (from HEUFT), as well as the steam for wood-fired brick ovens. According to Leader, steam is absolutely integral to the baking process, since it provides the beautiful crust customers crave. Traditionally, propane or other fuel-oil boilers provide steam. 

Of course, electrifying Boiceville didn’t stop there. Bread Alone harnesses solar energy from roof and ground mounts (installed in an existing leach field). In addition, Leader sourced exclusively electric appliances, including dishwashers, induction stovetops, and the ovens—excluding the wood-burning Lefort ovens.

Lefort-Ovens-2

“In many ways, they really are the heart and soul of the business,” Leader says of the ovens. A few years after opening, the original Bread Alone outgrew its first oven. Around that time, Daniel Leader met Andre Lefort, a fourth-generation oven mason, on a research trip in Paris. Lefort traveled to the Hudson Valley in 1987 to build two brick ovens. In fact, he constructed them outside the original bakery, and a new building was engineered around them. Bread Alone housed the first Lefort oven installation outside of Paris. In addition, the Leader family proudly believes these ovens produced more organic wood-fired bread than any other in the nation.

“These ovens were the vessel that built the Bread Alone brand. Eventually, the business outgrew their capacity [prompting the move to Kingston]. When we committed to redoing the Boiceville bakery, we knew that we wanted the oven to be a centerpiece of the project. And with this project, we’re breathing new life into those historic Lefort ovens.”

Lefort-Ovens

They represent the bridge between heritage methods and innovative, sustainable technology. Boiceville’s Lefort ovens operate off of kiln-dried scrapwood from Hudson Valley lumber yards. In addition, Bread Alone uses air handling units throughout the building that move hot air from the oven area to parts of the building that need heating during the cold months. This reduces the load on the air source heat pumps, further increasing efficiency.  

Similarly, Bread Alone launched composting across the business to reduce food waste. Takeout orders from Boiceville come in compostable packaging. Of course, Leader believes sustainability also involves working with local products and makers. In addition to working with Hudson Valley and other Northeast-based fabricators, Bread Alone Boiceville serves Irving Farm Coffee from Millerton.

All the grain that we use in the bakery will come from regional suppliers in New York and Pennsylvania. Our food menu is a veggie-first menu. However, we have a few meat options that are all sourced from the Hudson Valleybut it’s predominantly a vegetarian or vegan menu,” Leader says. 

In a similar vein, the very aesthetic of Bread Alone’s Boiceville celebrates the area in which it’s based. Leader enlisted two designers, Dino Sanchez and Piotr Woronkowicz, to curate the experience of the space. Leader, a longtime admirer of Woronkowicz’s design work (Pentagram, frog), knew him from the art community in Woodstock.

“Bravo to him to find the opportunity to kind of shut down a major location and take this downtime to kind of create such a forward-thinking cafe right with all of these big reaches in regards to what a sustainable cafe is,” Woronkowicz says.

Woronkowicz brought in Sanchez, who has a long track record of working in hospitality design (AvroK0, Droga5). According to Leader, it was their commitment to rustic simplicity and modern, sustainable design that made the collaboration successful.

“I’m an industrial designer by training, and I got involved quite a bit with not just the interior spaces, but also how hospitality venues work. I have a branding studio, and, of course, [Woronkowicz] has an industrial design studio,” Sanchez says. “So, I think my role has been very much to bring that initial vision to it. The hospitality angle, soup to nuts. On the other hand, Piotr is incredibly detail-oriented and technical. We’re working together on this. It’s almost like we’re session musicians at this point, and we get to put these ‘albums’ together.”

Bathroom

Woronkowicz works mostly with smaller-scale objects. As an industrial designer, he has experience with product and furniture design as well as interior projects. The pair complemented each other throughout the process of bringing Bread Alone Boiceville to life. Above all, their goal was to convey the bakery’s relationship to the Hudson Valley through design.

One of the first things Sanchez and Woronkowicz noticed was the location. Boiceville sits at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains on Route 28. It’s one of the first things you see when you enter the region heading west. So, they included vaulted windows as framing devices. Linear metalwork shows the eye where to look. Customers gaze through the space and see the beauty of nature just outside. They’re viewing the Catskills through the “lens” of Bread Alone.

Bread-Alone-Boiceville-Bar-Area

Inside, chandeliers with triangular lighting fixtures further the mountain motif. A giant window behind the counter reveals the Lefort ovens in all their glory.

“It’s somewhere where you can kind stop and refuel or reminisce. When you walk in, we want you to see that [Lefort] and question the history of it. And then, you also have this new, revamped interior and softness welcoming people,” Woronkowicz explains.

Bread-Alone-Boiceville-Lounge

“Our design is a tribute to both Dan and Sharon Leader. The space, in our minds, is a representation of both masculine and feminine qualities. I think the feminine qualities come in the softness of some of the curves that you’ll see in the railing details and arches that we have over the windows, along with the lighter, almost creamy tones,” Sanchez adds.

According to Leader, the colors, the exposure of the windows, and the overall serenity of the experience all speak to a transition from normal day-to-day life to the respite found west toward the Catskills.

Baking-Bread

Plus, a lighter color palette contrasts with dark, woodsy surroundings, just as electrification points to a brighter future. The production space features red epoxy floors, chosen to represent the brick ovens and red fall foliage. Gorgeous mosaic tiles are another standout element. In fact, the team worked with Queens-based Nemo Tile+Stone, a 100-year-old company whose materials graced the Holland Tunnel and the Midtown Tunnel.

Most importantly, they designed the layout to accommodate in-and-out regulars and newcomers alike. People can take their time with breakfast or lunch, or grab a takeout order in minutes.

“Bread Alone isn’t an elitist brand. It’s a people’s bakery. Let’s design a space to be as flexible as possible for everyone’s behavior,” Woronkowicz says.

Bread-Alone-Bread

Since Boiceville opened its doors in early February 2022, both types of customers have found a new, yet simultaneously familiar experience. On a revamped menu, visitors can find old favorite recipes and new experiments. For example, the farm bread is a reimagining of the 1983 Norwegian farm bread. It’s a 100-percent sourdough made with cracked wheat and rye porridge. Contrarily, a newer hit is the buckwheat loaf, a sourdough pullman. The climate neutral-certified bakery is just as efficient and creative as ever.

Bakery-Prep

“Our ambition with the Boiceville bakery is to feed our community. One of the things that we say in the business is that we always hope we can touch more people than we can feed. Thirty-eight years in, still family-held, we’ve grown every year in a way that sets an example that others may be inspired to follow….Clean electrification is really the biggest lever we can all pull across society at large,” Leader says.

“I hope we’re setting an example that others will draw inspiration from,” he observes. “Thirty-eight years in, we’re just getting started.”

Related: Seminary Hill Cidery Pours Cider With Heritage in the Southern Catskills

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