People & Places

Local baker revives a 'lost art'

Aaron Hall of the Local Crumb brings bread business to life in Mount Vernon

Aaron Hall, owner of the Local Crumb, shows off finished breads as they cool on racks on May 30 before being packed away for delivery at the First Street Community Center in Mount Vernon. Although Hall did not attend culinary school — in fact, his degree is in photography — he’s been in the restaurant industry and baking for several years. His mother and brother also are bakers. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
Aaron Hall, owner of the Local Crumb, shows off finished breads as they cool on racks on May 30 before being packed away for delivery at the First Street Community Center in Mount Vernon. Although Hall did not attend culinary school — in fact, his degree is in photography — he’s been in the restaurant industry and baking for several years. His mother and brother also are bakers. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
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Inspired by a loaf of grocery store bread that sat for weeks on the counter without growing mold, Aaron Hall, 29, decided he could do better for his body — and his taste buds.

“It wasn’t moldy or stale, which seemed really bizarre to me,” Hall said. “It wasn’t bread I was interested in eating.”

At the time, about seven years ago, Hall was making pizza at Lincoln Wine Bar in Mount Vernon. The Cornell College graduate had been developing the Wine Bar’s pizza crust recipe and decided to toss a sourdough loaf into the still-warm wood-fired oven one morning.

From there, his bread business, the Local Crumb, was born.

While Hall never went to culinary school, the baking trade was not new to him. His mother is a former baker, and his brother bakes in Brooklyn at She Wolf Bakery.

Hall said he considered moving to New York to bake with his brother but was encouraged to continue baking here, where the pace is slower, there’s less competition and perhaps more potential for success.

With the Wine Bar’s small oven, limited baking windows and little control over temperatures, however, Hall had a hard time keeping up with demand as orders poured in.

“It’s been kind of crazy,” Hall said. “I just started baking because I like it, and then people started paying me. Then I needed to bake more. ...

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“I’m not one to push my bread on people. I just do what I do and let people enjoy it if they want to, but it’s been nice to have support. I’m just glad people enjoy it.”

This spring, Hall opened a production facility in the First Street Community Center in Mount Vernon, where he churns out a variety of baked breads — from sandwich loaves to brioche buns, baguettes, miche and more. With a two-deck oven and more space to spread out, Hall said he has “twice the footprint” and is able to bake “three times faster” than before.

He spends at least five days a week baking, sometimes all day and even into the night, depending on demand and timing.

“Right now, I’m mixing and baking in the same day because of fridge space, so right now things are a little crazy,” he said.

The baker said there are “a lot of variables you have to pay attention to,” such as moisture content of the dough, oven temperatures and proofing time.

Hall mixes everything by hand and knows it is time to bake when the dough “feels right.”

“It’s kind of a lost art,” he said.

Passers-by in the community center are lured to the shop’s door by the aroma of freshly baked bread and are greeted by a flour-covered Hall slaving over an oven in the space formerly occupied by a confection shop.

He’s been there just more than a month and doesn’t yet offer in-store purchases or advance orders — much to some customers’ dismay. But until his health inspection paperwork is finalized, he said, he’s in a production-only phase.

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He said he hopes to open a retail operation soon that would include preorders and perhaps a cafe someday. But until then, customers can find his bread at the Mount Vernon and Iowa City farmers markets.

“It’s nice to support the local community and provide sustenance for people,” he said. “I think it brings them joy.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

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