Monthly Archives: May 2010

Niedlov’s Breadworks, Chattanooga, TN

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.

"A naturally leavened whole grain bread is the essential bread," says John Sweet of Niedlov's Breadworks. Photos by Bakery Boy

“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 Zingerman’s Bakehouse 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.”

Dough for each Niedlov's loaf rises in a separate basket.

“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!”

Photo courtesy of Niedlovs

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 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.”


A retired wooden peel serves as an artistic poet's canvas.


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 or 423-756-0303

AREA INFO Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau,


Trading for Twinkies

Chalk it up to youthful indiscretion, but I used to swap glorious homemade cake for shrink-wrapped industrial blandness.

by Bakery Boy

I didn’t know how good I had it. Growing up in a bakery, I thought nothing of the steady supply of fresh-baked cakes, pies, cookies, pastries and doughnuts at my disposal, both at the bakeshop and at home. I failed to recognize my blessings and hungered instead for things I didn’t have. Things such as…Twinkies.

Cake vs. Twinkies

On the playground in elementary school, I lusted after desserts other kids pulled from their lunchboxes. Especially intoxicating: those mass-produced “golden sponge cakes with creamy filling,” as distributor Hostess describes its iconic Twinkie. I envied the crinkly sound of the cellophane wrapper being torn away, an exotic touch in my homegrown world. I marveled at the unpronounceable ingredients listed in small print on the bottom of the wrapper, a labeling feature our little bakery lacked.

I even admired the machine-like sameness in the shape of every single Twinkie I ever saw, stacked by the thousands in supermarkets and convenience stores. Such standard-issue treats were philosophically and economically off-limits in a bakery family—making them seem like valuable contraband.

What I pulled from my lunchbox should have been more than enough to satisfy any sweet-toothed third-grader. A generous hunk of double chocolate layer cake made from batter my father mixed and baked the day before. Walnut pieces carefully arranged on top by my grandmother after she hand-spread a thick layer of frosting and swirled the top into a sea of artistic peaks. The hefty wedge-shaped slice wrapped in waxed paper and neatly folded by my loving mother earlier that morning.

So what did I do with that rich, moist, glorious portion? I traded it away for the lightweight dryness of a designed-for-long-shelf-life Twinkie. I sat on one end of a seesaw and nibbled slowly to make it last, while my trading partner (if you’re out there, Billy, and want backsies!) sat at the other end and gobbled down what I should rightfully have considered a family heirloom.

At the time, I thought I was getting the better deal, sneaking a peek into the larger world beyond our humble bakery. Wrapping my hand around a Twinkie  and sinking my teeth into it ranked as an almost sinful achievement. Later I came to realize that what I had was a type of gold, and what I swapped it for was fool’s gold at best.

Nothing against Hostess and its obviously popular snack cake (the website claims 500 million are sold every year), but I should have known better. Now I do.

Raised by (Wild) Bakers

Growing up in a bakery inhabited by flour-dusted men and icing-flecked women.

by Bakery Boy

When I tell people I was “raised by bakers,” they always seem to hear “raised by wild bakers.” Somehow the phrase conjures images of a feral child living with wolves (Mogli in The Jungle Book) or apes (Tarzan in deepest Africa) or sheep (the mysterious Sheep Boy of Ireland). Despite the shock factor, it is a pretty good conversation starter.

Working dough by hand builds muscles.

I was indeed raised by bakers in my family’s place, known as the Dutchess Bakery in Charleston, West Virginia. The men all had Mark McGuire arms, their biceps bulging not from steroids or athletic training but from endlessly working dough into loaves at long wooden workbenches. The women always seemed to have smudged rainbows of cake decorating icing on their aprons and under their fingernails.

Some were actual family members—my grandparents, parents, siblings, uncles and cousins. Others seemed like family because several generations of employees worked with several generations of shop owners. I was a teenager before I realized otherwise.

For years my clan lived in a cramped apartment upstairs from the original bakery, which has since been razed to make room for a hospital expansion. Later they made the jump to suburban living and “commuting” more than a down a flight of stairs to get to work. There was a high school across the street and an elementary a few blocks away, so we were never far from home and hearth.

Four generations of my family have used this giant oven, which can hold hundreds of loaves of bread on six rotating shelves.

I mean hearth literally: A giant Ferris wheel-style Middleby-Marshall oven with six long rotating shelves radiated intense heat at the heart of our bakeshop. Before I was tall enough to see inside, I learned to flip a lever and stop those spinning shelves on a dime for bakers loading goodies in and out—a 5-year-old following in the family tradition. In winter that oven was a comfort. In summer it provided incentive to arrive early, finish quickly, and head to some shady swimming hole by noon.

As for whether the bakers who raised me were “wild” or not, that’s a subject for future posts. Certainly not wolf-boy or ape-man wild, though I did grow up hearing plenty of hair-raising stories about Depression-era survival, World War II-era brawling, and Cold War-era worries from the men and women who shaped my worldview. As a relatively wild young man myself, I did my share of sleeping off Friday nights by crashing on hard flour sacks in the storage room in order to be on hand for work Saturday morning.

I launched this blog to share stories of growing up as a bakery boy and as an excuse to continue visiting bakeries every chance I get. In my extensive travels (I’m a journalist and travel writer by profession), my bakery fascination has led me to hundreds of them, where I often meet others who were raised by bakers, and we start swapping stories. If you like bakeries too, feel free to share your favorites here…wild or otherwise.

Bakery Boy is Crazy for Bakeries

Bakery Boy is Crazy for Bakeries

I grew up in a bakery, worked in several, and learned a lot about life and baked goods in the process. I habitually visit bakeries wherever I go and have explored hundreds of them in my career as a journalist and travel writer. This blog shares both the tasty and the telling experiences and leads to favorite bakeries you won’t want to miss if your travels take you anywhere near them. Cookies anyone?

Bakery Boy