Peter Nyberg says bread isn’t complicated.
He says it’s just flour, levan and patience, and he talks fondly of the simple, French country loaf that brought prominence to his Plymouth bakery — Hearth Artisan Bread.
But it’s a little more impressive than he makes it sound. What Nyberg fails to mention is that the flour is used by the pallet; the levan, or “starter.” he uses has been lovingly kept alive for three decades; and he and his team actually make close to 1,400 loaves of a dozen different varieties of bread every day.
“It’s really a word-of-mouth operation,” he said of his bakery in an industrial park on Camelot Drive. “If you know you know, but you’d never know we were here otherwise. I’d rather it be that way.”
Peter Nyberg, the baker, and his wife Nicole, the businesses mind, are celebrating 10 years of Hearth Artisan Bread this October. The pair started in the same space they’re in now, but with an 18th Century wood-fired oven doing most of the heavy lifting. Peter Nyberg and a single helper would stoke the oven all day, sleep in the bakery while bread proofed overnight, bake and deliver fresh loaves to restaurants in the early hours, nap in the back of the delivery truck and then spend the day delivering samples to other could-be customers.
While the walk-in bakery gets a steady stream of customers, it was the wholesale business that helped Hearth thrive — and it grew quickly. At one point, Hearth was the bread provider for all of the area’s Wahlburgers and opened a second kitchen down the street. But then, the lifestyle started to threaten the hobby Nyberg has held dear for 25 years.
“I just really didn’t like what we were turning into as we grew,” he said. “The fun and the personal touch was slipping away, and it just wasn’t worth it. . . Life is good as a little neighborhood bakery.”
Hearth Artisan Bread sells between 12 and 15 different types of bread, from the French country loaf that got them started to whole wheat, simply seedy, marble rye, onion rye, Jewish rye and a handful of others. The bakery also sells cookies, biscotti, a dozen bagel varieties and, from Thursday to Sunday, sheet pizzas. They’ve installed a walk-up window and have plans to start serving breakfast sandwiches and expand their pizza offerings.
“We have a lot of plans for the future but it’s nice to be able to slowly grow and do what we want,” Peter Nyberg said.
And while those plans may be big, the concept behind them is small: create small-batch breads from handmade natural levans. A bread, the Nybergs say, that appeals to a simpler time.
“We have a good amount of German and French customers who say it reminds them of what they could get in their home country,” Nicole Nyberg said.
It’s not just the product that appeals to people, Peter says, but the concept of the bakery itself. From the bakery counter, customers can see into the work space where 7-foot-tall rotating ovens, industrial mixers and nine full-time employees work to make what they’re about to buy.
“A lot of people get very nostalgic about their bakery, and when they come home they want that classic loaf they grew up with,” he said. “We’ll be creative and try new things, but we’ll always do out classic loaf.”
Peter Nyberg explains eloquently that what Hearth makes is not what’s made in Sara Lee factory. Commercial bread is full of packaged yeast, gluten and preservatives, which he blames for gluten intolerances becoming more prevalent. But his bread comes from three natural levans — or starters — he started three decades ago, and has maintained since.
“It’s fresh, it’s local, it’s handmade,” he said. “People come in and say ‘I’ve really never had artisan bread, they try it, and you turn a whole new audience on to that type of bread.”
“They’re back the next day because they ate the loaf so quickly,” Nicole said.
Hearth Artisan Bakery is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 123 Camelot Dr. in Plymouth. Loaves of bread cost between $3 and $6.
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.