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The Athens Bread Company displays "open" on October 15, 2022 in Athens Ohio.

Athens Bread Company reopens with changes

The Athens Bread Company reopened May 6 after a nearly 5-month hiatus from business. 

The bakery, one of many locally owned shops in Athens, cited excessive growth and exhaustion for its extended closure, according to a Facebook post from Dec. 4, 2023. 

Since its reopening, the ABC has implemented adjusted hours and additional bakery items to support a sustainable future for the small business. 

The shop, founded by Doug Wistendahl in 2014, is currently owned by Tim McKenna and his wife Devon Halliday, according to the ABC website. They have operated the shop since 2021, and strive to produce baked goods with locally sourced ingredients and sustainable baking practices. 

Halliday said Athens’ small-town feeling and connections play a huge role in the bakery’s success.

“It feels like a very intimate connection,” Halliday said. “There's no CEO that we call to ask whether we can do a certain thing and so (customers) really have our ear in a way that isn't always true of businesses.”

Halliday said she believes this helps customers feel involved in the business, a unique symbiotic relationship.

During the closure, Halliday and McKenna traveled to bakeries both domestically and abroad to find business models and recipes to mimic at their own shop, according to the post. 

Halliday said the time away allowed them time to consider the needs of the community they serve. 

“Most people we would talk to who stopped in were buying a loaf for dinner,” Halliday said. “If you're going to buy a loaf for dinner, you don't need it to be baked at 4 a.m., you maybe want it to be fresher and so if we're baking these loaves around 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. and then selling them in the afternoon, that seems to us a little more responsive to the way the bread is going to be used.”

With that in mind, ABC has changed its hours to 3-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and are closed on Saturday and Sunday. 

The bakery has also increased the role of its part-time baking apprentice, Luke Scanlan to help make bread and pastries. Halliday said his new role includes shaping and baking the dough rather than mixing it.

Along with its hours, the bakery adjusted its menu for the reopening. Halliday said the biggest change is the removal of sandwiches, but hopes customers see this move as a way of ensuring the shop produces baked goods as best they can.

“We did not have the staff or the inclination to become a full-scale sandwich shop,” Halliday said. “The expertise required for making bread and pastries is pretty significant and they're hard to replicate at home. We know people can make those sandwiches at home.” 

While menu items have changed, Halliday said their prices have not. The average loaf of bread costs $6, with the lowest loaf, a baguette, costing $4, and the highest loaf of specialty bread costing $7.50. Pastries average $3 with a range from $2.50 to $4. 

“Athens as a small town doesn't have all the amenities of a major city,” Halliday said. “Tim and I are proud to offer what we feel is major city quality bread that you don't have to pay ridiculous city prices for.”

 Bruce Dalzell, an ABC regular, said in an email he especially loves ABC’s seedy bread. 

“I just started patronizing in the past year. Usually every two weeks. They have downsized a bit, to be more agile and follow the local market needs,” Dalzell wrote in an email. “We are just happy to do business there and tell the world about our great little bakery.”

Another ABC regular, Katherine Ziff said in an email she is delighted to have ABC breads back on her table.

Halliday said the waves of support and understanding from customers like Ziff and Dalzell during the bakery’s closure was really touching, but the feedback has not been entirely positive. Halliday said new hours and a changing menu have been difficult for some people.

“Change in general can be hard to take, especially when you liked the original version,” Halliday said. “We did the best we could do and I think that that is what makes it easier to handle negative feedback, is knowing we're still doing our best. That's just about all we have to offer.”

With ABC’s reopening, Halliday and McKenna are careful to keep a sustainable livelihood for themselves, while remaining hopeful about the future of the business.

“With the reopening and the change of venue and the change of hours, the vast majority of people have been so excited and understanding and willing to work with us,” Halliday said. “I just feel really grateful that people are willing to fit us into their schedule.”


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