The Scratchbread team opens gluten-free bakery in Williamsburg
It’s been a minute since New York has heard from Matthew Tilden, the chef behind Bed-Stuy’s famous Scratchbread neighborhood bakery. In the half-decade since Tilden closed his beloved bread counter with a 42 verse poem, the chef has done consulting work, including for the Maya Congee Cafe in Bed-Stuy and High Low Beverage Company in Bushwick, as well as some reflection. He thought about how to create a better, more sustainable food business – don’t hire unpaid interns, find a managing partner – and understood that his next project, a neighborhood bakery called 7 grain army, will focus on grains, not gluten.
Among the lessons he’s learned, there’s one thing he’s ready to share with the world (or at least Williamsburg to begin with): “Muffins suck.”
More than five years after closing his first business, Tilden opened his second project earlier this spring, a corner bakery at 88 Roebling Street where everything is gluten-free. After opening 7 Grain Army – first as a 4/20 and Mother’s Day pop-up, then as a weekend-only operation with baked goods and prepared foods – Tilden and her co- founder Jeffrey Olsen is gearing up to grow in a big way, with overtime, gluten-free “flour” tortillas and a few more grains.
Fans of Tilden’s work at Bed-Stuy might be scratching their heads. Sure, a frozen version of his legendary Anson Mills oatmeal made its way to the new bakery, but what about the sourdough and bourbon wheat breads that earned Scratchbread its citywide tracking? Notably, neither Tilden nor Olsen follow a gluten-free diet. The decision to move away from wheat was driven by the duo’s desire to create breakfast options that emphasize whole grains, seeds, and pre and probiotics.
It all started with muffins, which “are basically cakes,” says Tilden. ” We do not want [people] walk away having 50 percent of what they just ate be sugar. We want it more in the 20% range, with some probiotics. At 7 Grain Army, where baked goods are made from grains like fonio and quinoa, he calls his version of the muffin a “muFin.”
What is the capital letter? Tilden says it means “a big breakfast cake major.”
Some Scratchbread fans might be disappointed, but then again, 7 Grain Army isn’t exactly for Scratchbread fans, Tilden says. “I don’t care if people expect certain things,” he says. “It’s for the people who really need what we’re doing.” He means gluten-intolerant New Yorkers, who would have lined up at the new bakery, hoping for a single gluten-free option and finding a gluten-free menu.
The local bakery’s menu seems to grow longer with each visit, but currently includes loaves of millet and sorghum bread, patties full of cinnamon-pecan coffee cake, and nearly half a dozen. of muFins. In this last category, don’t miss the blueberry-oat version – the duo plunges the blueberry-cranberry jam directly into the center – or the corn muFin, made from Anson Mills corn flour and fonio, a West African cereal without gluten also present. on the menus of Teranga and Fieldtrip.
Drinks include coffee from Parlor Roasters and jamu, a Balinese drink made with turmeric, ginger, coconut sugar and lime that Tilden encountered while hiking the Indonesian island after Scratchbread closed. .
The latest addition to the menu, breakfast tacos on a gluten-free “flour” tortilla, may be a Brooklyn first, even for a borough whose selection of Texan-style tortillas continues to grow. Tilden could have just used a corn tortilla, which is gluten-free by nature, but the California chef wanted to replicate the absorbent, doughy Southwestern tortillas, which are just as good after half an hour in a delivery container as they are cool.
His gluten-free tortillas – made from a blend of millet, brown rice flour, sorghum, oatmeal and toasted cornmeal from Anson Mills – are currently available with two toppings: a chewy tofu quiche. and egg white, or crumbled green chorizo with Chihuahua queso.
As for the name of the restaurant, Tilden and Olsen say the seven grains they will feature are still coming together. Four have been confirmed so far – fonio, brown rice, quinoa, and oats – each of which will ultimately be represented by their own mascot, but for now the only representative of the bakery is a lone black bean in a mask. Super hero. The character comes from a children’s book Tilden featured about a “super” food that fought off bad ingredients.
The book deal was never done – his agent reportedly told him to start with a cookbook – but the bean found permanent focus on a sign at the entrance to the bakery, as well as on several of its prepackaged foods.
During his roughly six years at Scratchbread, Tilden rose to prominence for his anti-establishment approach to restaurant management, where he served up sought after dishes – oatmeal, pizza bread and gooey chai buns. – sometimes in paper cups. The French toast was deserves the hype he received, according to Grub Street, while New York Times critic Tejal Rao named the bakery one of the best in town in 2012 roundup for the Voice of the village.
But behind the scenes, performing an incessant one-person surgery was wreaking havoc on Tilden’s sanity. “It was all on my shoulders,” he says. “I created something that everyone wanted, but it wasn’t smart from a business standpoint… I knew about a year and a half before I closed that if I couldn’t find a partner, I was going to close it. “
Tilden couldn’t have known at the time, but the founder of Scratchbread had already met his current business partner in 2012. Olsen – now managing partner of 7 Grain Army, then a burnout event producer – was already working at Scratchbread when it closed in 2015. He responded to a Facebook ad for a bakery dish washer job between jobs and ended up staying, he says.
The couple broke up after the bakery closed but reconnected for a series of consulting projects, which included menu development at Maya Congee Cafe and High Low Beverage Company. In 2020, the duo began raising funds to open 7 Grain Army through Mainvest, a microinvestment website that allows individuals to invest in businesses in increments of $ 100 or more. About 115 people have invested a total of more than $ 57,500 in the bakery at the time of publication, some of whom are neighbors, Tilden says.
The partners plan to eventually leverage the platform to bring the bakery muFins to the freezer aisle of grocery stores, but for now, the best way to get a taste of Tilden’s latest project is to go to the 7 Grain Army counter. The Williamsburg Bakery is currently open for take out and delivery from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.