Andy Kadin of Bub & Grandma’s makes real bread–earnestly and without short cuts.
And if you’ve ever baked bread, watched the yeasted dough multiply and feed, seen the crust brown and crack…you know bread is magic. More than the sum of its parts—it requires basic ingredients but an incredible amount of skill and patience. Bread is also volatile, because after all, yeast is a living thing bending to weather, pH, moisture, and sugar. In short, bread is exciting.
Bub & Grandma’s makes this kind of bread, using locally milled whole grain flour and a genuine desire to make bread with integrity.
I was lucky enough to spend an early morning at Bub & Grandma’s bakery watching rye loaves come out of the oven and jiggly ciabatta dough being portioned. We spoke about the long hours, the mutual lack of sleep that seems requisite in the food world but also about the incredible generosity of friends that have gotten us to this point and how much we love what we do.
Read more of our conversation below.
SOO N: Tell us how you started with bread baking
Bub & Grandma’s: It really spun off from a desire to open a sandwich shop. This town is sorely starved for an earnest sandwich – an earnest anything, really – so I thought I’d invest some time toward making my bread special while writing my business plan. I started at home making terrible, oddly-shaped ciabatta on a pizza stone. After about a year of loose futzing, my friend Jed fed some of my stuff to Scott Zwiezen of Elf and Dune restaurants and he asked me if I could make him 28 loaves for the next day. I blacked out and said yes only to come to and realize that I’d never made more than 8 loaves at a time. I somehow figured it out and started doing bread for them every morning. The next six months had me graduating from my crap home oven to a pizza oven (thanks to Town Pizza) to borrowing time in steam injection ovens (thanks to Clark Street and KandV) to buying my own (thanks again to Clark Street). Now I’m in my own bakery space and have had three days off since February.
S: How would you define “good bread”?
B&G: Good bread can only be made by someone who gives a shit. If their motivations are for something other than creating the unreachable, absolute best – like, perhaps, money or smartly designed business cards or Instagram cred – their bread is not good bread. It will never be good bread. There has to be a psychological screw loose that causes the baker to hinge their entire well-being on whether the ear on their sourdough is perfectly separated or the crumb is as open as that famous guy from San Francisco’s loaf. And the thing with bread is that it almost never listens. There are so many factors that go into it being “right” that the properly motivated baker can almost never be satisfied. Anxiety. I think it’s anxiety. And I have plenty. The rest is high quality flour, patience and vigilance. I get my whole grain flour – where bread’s flavor and nutritional value come from – from Grist & Toll, an incredible local grain mill in Pasadena. I am extremely lucky to have Nan Kohler and her mill within 5 miles of my bakery, not just because of her flour but because of her smarts, generosity and refusal to allow me to talk shit about my own bread. Thanks Nan.
S: You make a great rye sourdough. Anything special about your sourdough starter?
B&G: Nope, not really. It’s made with 100% whole grain flour and is what’s classified as a stiff starter, meaning that it’s only 65% hydrated. It’s a pain to work with, but it gives me the results I want relative to flavor and fermentation activity.
S: Can you share some of the challenges of having a food business?
B&G: I’ll just start with this: a complete reconfiguration and thus collapse of life as you once knew it. Honestly, my friends in food warned me. They literally said, “don’t do it” and “it’s not worth it.” For me, the jury is still out. The last six months have contained some of the most rewarding and also the most destructive moments I have ever faced. Your relationships strain. You lose familiarity with your old friend sleep. You work 7 days a week for all the hours you’re awake, the first of which are well before dawn. The rest take place in a 300 square foot white box with no windows that happens to house a 525 degree heat-spewing machine. That overwhelming feeling you sometimes feel you now always feel. It’s constant. Your money is on the line. Other people’s money is on the line. Not to mention that feeling of inadequacy when your bread doesn’t come out exactly how you had envisioned. But holy hell, it’s still a hundred thousand times better than the decade I spent writing commercials, especially when the bread is beautiful.
S: Working in food is hard. The hours, the labor—what makes it worth it for you?
B&G: There is great comfort in choosing what I view as an earnest path – I make things with my hands that people eat and enjoy. Simple things. Things with three ingredients that all come from the earth. I don’t try and convince them that it’s better than anything else. I just make it and hopefully they eat it and hopefully they like it. I like it. And that’s all that really matters.
S: What’s next for Bub & Grandma’s?
B&G: I need to train a baker who can take my place a couple days a week so I can both sleep past 5AM for once and get to finding a location for my original concept – a breakfast and lunch spot. That and developing all sorts of new weird breadlings.
S: Tell us about your favorite baking/cooking scar?
B&G: So far so good on the scar front. There’s one on the top of my forearm from reaching into the oven and not paying attention, but that’s pretty standard. I’m also 6’3” and hit my head on everything, but nothing permanent there. Last week was interesting. I live in Mt. Washington above a big canyon and have to carry my preferments down the 100 or so steps to the road every morning, pre-dawn. Last Thursday I missed one of those steps and spilled 8kg of poolish all over the place and scraped the crap out of both my ankles. I bled through my socks and had to make my ciabatta with straight dough. Blood, sweat and tears, as they say.