Berkeley Baker Finds a Kitchen Close to Home
By Sarah Henry • Photos by Robin Jolin
For more than 10 years, Eduardo Morell’s breads—a favorite at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market—have had a commute: 35 minutes from the Headlands Center for the Arts near Sausalito, where Morell spent two 16-hour days each week baking his breads in a wood-burning oven for loaf-loving shoppers.
Now, the veteran baker and West Berkeley dweller lives mere blocks away from a whole new workspace for edible enterprises where he has a kitchen all his own. His bakery is housed at Berkeley Kitchens, an emerging commercial, food-based business community—profiled in this magazine’s Spring 2013 issue—in a renovated historic, brick building at the corner of Eighth and Carlton streets.
On baking days past, Morell barely slept. “I miss the ocean air, but I don’t miss having to spend all that time driving,” he says. The commute was tough after a long workday. “It’s great to get more sleep and more time at home.” Morell, who has been crafting loaves for 14 years, has baking in his blood; his Puerto Rican great-grandfather owned a bakery too.
Morell’s new 975-square-foot space sports a brand new Bassanina oven from Italy—considered state-of-the-art bread-making equipment—from which this small-batch baker can turn out his signature loaves. As much as he loved working with a wood-fire brick oven, Morell is enjoying the reliability of gas. “There’s a lot of nostalgia for the wood oven, but it’s a lot of work,” he says. “You have to bake when the oven is ready; with this oven, it works on my schedule.”
Currently, Morell produces around 250 loaves on market days, but in his new digs he expects to ramp up production to include wholesale accounts with restaurants such as Gather, for whom he’s developed a new bread, dubbed “the party loaf” by his wife, due to its hearty size. His multigrain and sesame loaves, with their crisp crust and open crumb, would make a welcome addition to the restaurant’s much-lauded “vegan charcuterie.” Morell is also selling his bread through Three Stone Hearth community kitchen and he’s been in talks with other potential vendors.
There are other benefits to having a bakery closer to home: Morell’s wife, Tamsen Fynn, is now able to spend two days a week at the kitchen scaling and shaping loaves alongside her husband. A musician, Fynn sees potential in growing the bread business, while still keeping the enterprise sustainable and locally based. And the couple is glad that their daughter can hang out at the bakery after school and maybe even lend a hand when she’s older. “It’s a win all around working closer to home: There’s more time for my family and more time to develop connections for my bread in the community I live and work in,” says Morell.
Morell’s repertoire includes organic breads, bagels, and scones. “My loaves are made with a sourdough starter and fermented, which gives them a complex flavor profile,” the baker says. “I make multigrain, spelt, sesame, rye, and rosemary breads that are naturally leavened and nutritious. I don’t make a fluffy loar of bread with lots of white flour.” His “local loaf” features heirloom grains from nearby Full Belly Farm.
Morell is among a small-but-growing band of local bread artisans who are experimenting with ancient gains, fermentation, and flour milling methods. Morell, along with the likes of Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery and Josey Baker of Josey Baker Bread in San Francisco, Craig Ponsford of Ponsford’s Place in San Rafael, and Dave Miller in the Sierra foothills want to create healthful and delicious loaves that are high in protein and easy to digest. They also want to avoid baking the kind of brick breads that came out of ovens during the back-to-the-land era of the early 1970s.
And people are willing to pay more for these modern loaves: Morell’s breads cost between $5.50 and $7.25, depending on size and ingredients. Given that he typically sells out on market days, it appears that East Bay bread eaters appreciate the hearty wholesomeness and handiwork of a good tasting and good-for-you slice of toast, Atkins or Paleo diets be damned. “Past and current dietary trends and fads will come and go, but there will always be people who love bread, it’s a major staple around the world,” says Morell. “We’ve learned to stay focused on producing high-quality, nutrient-dense bread that nourishes people. It’s as simple as that.” •
Morell’s Bread: 2701 8th St, #114, Berkeley. morellsbread.com