No matter how much ink has been spilled about the new Tartine, Rye Goods Co., a tiny bakery project in Orange County, is a quintessential 2019 bakery.
It operates out of a 400-square-foot converted garage on a quiet Tustin residential street and is run by Sara Lezama, a culinary school grad who wanted to more than just bake cupcakes. Instead she got a Cottage Food Operation permit, installed three convection ovens in the garage behind her house, hired a small team and started her own organic bakery.
True to the times, Lezama first brought Rye Goods’ products to the public in the form of a food truck, parking in front of neighborhood coffee shops, where her menu of whole-grain loaves, cookies and croissants paired well with the morning coffee crowd. But Lezama didn’t much like the truck thing — “everybody just wanted cinnamon rolls” — and so after a year she closed the truck and instead sold her bread and pastries directly to the coffee shops she’d previously parked outside.
Under spinning ceiling fans, Lezama and her crew of seven start baking at 1 a.m. in order to deliver finished baked goods in time for the coffee shops to open.
“Our neighbors are very supportive,” said Lezama on a recent morning at the bakery. “At 2 and 3 in the morning, it smells like cinnamon outside.”
Rye Goods makes croissants, bagels, carrot cakes, hand pies and bread — all of that bread is baked in the 16 Lodge cast-iron Dutch ovens that, when not in use, are stacked by the ovens like bowler hats in a haberdashery. There’s a wholesale business, an online shop and a home delivery service. Rye Goods also does a weekly Sunday morning bread pop-up at Daydream Surf Shop in Newport Beach, which often sells out in an hour.
Lezama grew up in Orange (“I’ve been a baker since I was a little kid; I was fascinated by ovens and knobs”) and attended the now-closed Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena in the mid-2000s. “I hated it,” she says of her time in culinary school. After graduating, she quickly found that “anybody who was hiring just wanted cupcakes, and that made me angrier.” So Lezama honed her skills at hotels and bakeries for a few years until she could open her own bakery.
While searching for whole grains to bake with, she met Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms in Tehachapi, and got hooked on his Abruzzi rye — so much so that she named her bakery after it. Although she uses other flours than just rye, it’s rye that goes into her tart dough, the chocolate chip cookies (made with 100% rye flour), banana bread, the loaves of farmhouse rye and the sourdough starter that powers most of the breads and pastries. “It’s the fussiest of starters,” Lezama says of the all-rye mixture that bubbles away in a Cambro on the production table.
Rye Goods now has a working relationship with the Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project: Lezama and her crew closed the bakery last year to go help Weiser and his team plant grain, and she recently brought a grain mill to the farm so that they can mill flour on site. (The bakery currently mills much of its own flour, about 25 pounds a day, in a small KoMo grain mill at the bakery.)
If all this sounds like a bit much to jigsaw into a space the size of a storage locker, it won’t come as a surprise that Lezama is working on moving Rye Goods into a larger space. She’s currently building out a bakery, retail shop and classroom in a Newport Beach location that she hopes to have open by the end of the year.
The new bakery will house a classroom where Lezama can teach baking classes (she currently teaches classes at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano) and a large production kitchen. Until it is ready, Lezama and her bakers have been experimenting with brioche and focaccia recipes, and have been making a lot of sourdough pizzas and grilled cheese sandwiches.
“We just eat them,” Lezama says of the pizza and grilled cheese, the product of extra bread and bread dough. She paused and allowed that with more space at the new bakery, she might put that stuff on the menu too.