Breaking Bread with Rustica Bakery

Rustica Bakery feeds our bellies and souls by giving back to the community.

As the end of the year approaches and winter starts settling in our bones, our bodies call for carbo-loading and our hearts for ways to give back to the community. Rustica Bakery has both on its holiday (and year-round) list.

The West Lake Street bakery was founded in 2004 by master baker Steve Horton (now running Baker’s Field Flour and Bread), who then partnered with Greg Hoyt for six years before selling the business to Hoyt in 2015. Now the sole owner, Hoyt says Rustica’s objectives have remained: to make artisan, French-style, flavorful bread. “All the breads are shaped by hand,” he says. Those things haven’t changed from the start, “and that’s partly why Rustica has the reputation and the following that it does,” he says.

Just stepping through its front doors gives you the impression they take bread seriously. The wall is lined with compartments overflowing with rustic bread varieties, and while the pastry case is filled with delightful treats, there are no trendy cupcakes in sight.

“As a bakery business, Rustica is a boulangerie,” Hoyt says. “Our definition of that is, we’re bread first.” The food on the menu is created with bread in mind. “Obviously a sandwich is made with bread,” he says. “But we will create a soup and it will be inspired by how the bread will fit into the soup. Either as a crouton or as something you can dip.” And they work so their pastries and desserts don’t overshadow the bread. “Which is to say, they’re not going to be overly fussy or overly gorgeous so they’re not more attractive than the bread,” he says.

It’s hard to be more attractive than Rustica’s baguettes—the bakery’s bestseller. “We have mastered the baguette, which is not easy,” Hoyt says. Following that, the bittersweet chocolate cookie and the plain—truly a butter—croissant are top sellers. In the winter soup sales increase, and panettone and gingery cookies are sold around the holidays.

But for a bakery that sells fresh bread every day—what happens to the leftovers?

“We never sell day-old [bread],” Hoyt says. “It’s part of the dilemma of operating a business like this. The nature of it is we will always have some waste.” Consumer behavior is hard to predict, and baking bread is a science. “We don’t bake baguettes throughout the day, and there’s no way that we can add more if we’re running out. You have leavening time, proofing time, shaping time, and the timing is so important,” he says. While their breads hold for two to three days and families will use them for days after buying a loaf, Rustica will only sell fresh-that-day .

They donated some leftovers to pig farmers in the past, but lacked intention about how they donated unused bread, Hoyt says. So the team decided to change that and started researching.

Rustica is a small business, which means it couldn’t meet some of the requirements of nonprofits, like delivering items. “We needed somebody to come pick it up.” Enter: St. Stephen’s Loaves & Fishes and the Minneapolis Crisis Nursery. Both could pick up, and both put the food to good use feeding those in need.

Hoyt says the benefits go beyond knowing you’re helping the community. “We saw a shift in the way we think about our products and the way our staff views their jobs.” He adds, “[It] seems really simple—it makes sense,” but it has given a little extra meaning to showing up for work.

Rustica's Rescued Food Feeds Children and Adults in Need

St. Stephen’s Loaves & Fishes and Minneapolis Crisis Nursery both are local institutions that benefit from rescued food—food otherwise gone to waste—just like Rustica provides.

Minneapolis Crisis Nursery’s (MCN’s) mission is to end child abuse and neglect, and to create healthy families. It’s often forgotten that children are a significant part of the homeless population in the Twin Cities, many from families in poverty. Rustica’s donations specifically help provide nourishment to kids in three separate cases at MCN, communications manager Emily Burck says: when families come into the clinic for crisis help, when kids stay for care while a family is in crisis, and during in-home visits MCN representatives conduct for prevention and follow-up.

At Loaves & Fishes, Rustica’s day-old bread and pastries help feed those who might not know when their next meal will be. Executive director Cathy Maes says their 28 locations serve roughly 2,000 meals a day, “and we partner with organizations that can provide social services—anything that can help our guests be self-sufficient.” St. Stephen’s site coordinator Frank Wandzel says he now gets a call every Monday and Wednesday night telling him whether or not Rustica has food to pick up, “and they never have not had food to give us.”