Naturally leavened Old World breads made with organic ingredients got this now-diversified labor of love going.
story & photos by Bakery Boy
Niedlov’s Breadworks changed my opinion of artichokes. I had never seen their appeal before biting into a toasted Spinach Artichoke & Cream Cheese Croissant at this excellent Chattanooga bakery. The toasting is part of the magic. “We never use a microwave to warm anything,” an employee told me. “It all tastes better toasted.”
At Niedlov’s, “all” includes cranberry scones, wheat-flour-and-raw-sugar blueberry muffins, whole-wheat banana walnut muffins, molasses-ginger cookies, deli sandwiches, and much more. What surprises owners John & Angela Sweet is that their bakery, which opened in 2002, has evolved to include such a wide variety when they set out exclusively to make beautiful, healthy, slow-process, all-natural, Old World breads.
“We were just going to make artisan breads using organic ingredients, natural leavening, and traditional techniques, and sell them to some of the finer local restaurants,” John says. The Michigan native learned to bake while working at in Ann Arbor and through a 16-week baking science and technology course at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas. “Besides supplying restaurants we began selling bread through Greenlife Grocery and the Chattanooga Market. Branching out into other baked goods and opening a retail storefront were afterthoughts that grew from demand. We’ve become a bakery with a coffeehouse atmosphere, and we love having customers hang around.”
Angela, who studied dance and sculpture, finds artistry in baking. “When you think about it, baking is kind of like dancing and sculpting,” she says. “You’re on your feet all day, choreographing each move as you take bread from mixer to table to proof box to oven to cooling rack to display shelf, and shaping dough feels just like sculpting.”
“That creative process and the playful nature of the work is what drew both of us to this line of work,” John adds. “We have two small children who come to work with us sometimes, and it’s fun for us to watch how much they enjoy being here too.”
SIGNATURE BREADS Niedlov’s is best known for crusty, flavorful, often densely chewy Old World breads, some of which take up to 20 hours to process because of the very slow way in which yeast from the air works as natural leavening. The Ciabatta is made from unbleached wheat flour, organic stone-ground whole-wheat flour, water, sea salt, and yeast. “Our Wholey Whole Wheat, a thick, hefty loaf made with 100% whole wheat flour, is a best seller,” Angela says. “We also make a version of it with four kinds of seeds—sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flax. That’s what I had for breakfast today!”
Also on the daily bread list are Walnut Raisin, Italian Baguette, Chattanooga Sourdough, European Country Load, Farmer’s Rye, Pioneer White, and Brother John’s Dinner Rolls. Breads made only on certain days of the week (for a schedule see niedlovs.com) include Roasted Garlic, Kalamata Country, Cinnamon Raisin, Golden Raisin Oatmeal, and Cranberry Pecan.
ABOUT THE NAME Niedlov is a Bulgarian surname with no relation to John or Angela. “My last name is Sweet and I chose a career in baking,” John explains. “I could have called it Sweet’s Bakery—that would work on some levels. But it’s completely wrong for the Old World breads that are our main focus. We came across the Eastern European name Niedlov and thought it just sounded right. The name itself is kind of crusty and chewy, like the naturally leavened whole grain breads we bake.”
HOW THEY GOT THERE John ventured south to Chattanooga to study business at Covenant College, a Presbyterian liberal arts school located atop Lookout Mountain. “I went back home to Michigan, but this place kept calling to me,” he says. He met and married Angela, a fellow Michigander, while both worked at Zingerman’s. Once they built up enough of a grubstake to buy an oven and rent a space, they returned to Chattanooga and opened Niedlov’s Breadworks just around the corner from the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, adding a retail storefront later.
SLOW FOOD MOVEMENT John & Angela support the slow-food movement based on quality that isn’t possible with fast food. “It’s all about using simply methods, shorter ingredient lists, healthy ingredients, and locally produced ingredients as much as possible,” Angela says.
BAKER’S TIP: SPRITZ YOUR WAY TO CRUSTY BREADS To get bakery-quality crusty breads in your home oven, John says, load a water spritzer. “I find what works consistently best is to spritz the bread dough as it goes into the oven. Make it really wet all over. This does two things: 1) it helps the crust expand and not dry out by literally lubricating the surface, and 2) it sets up a ‘moisture migration’ that soaks in and keeps the crust moist during the early part of the bake.”
NIEDLOV’S SLOGAN “We Love to Knead. We Knead to Love.”
LOCATION 215 East Main Street, Chattanooga, TN 37408 (1.5 blocks from the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. From I-24 Exit 178 go north on U.S. 27, take Exit 1 for Main Street; turn left (east), go about 9 blocks, and find Niedlov’s on the left across from Fire Station #1.
HOURS Mon-Fri 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat 7 am.-4 p.m.
INFO www.niedlovs.com or 423-756-0303
AREA INFO Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.chattanoogafun.com