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Billy Bread:

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Yes, it happened like that — more or less anyway — though Billy Fallen's own version isn't so Hollywood. Since moving his small baking operation from Vermont to South Allen Avenue here in 1999 — and waking every morning at 2 a.m. to satisfy the daily demand — he knows all too well the reality of baking 400 loaves of bread by hand. Even so, you get the feeling the guy has found his calling.

Fallen's love affair with the loaf was more or less an overnight thing, which did, in fact, begin in a quaint Vermont general store that was hawking some of the best bread he'd ever tasted. A search for its baker soon found him in the presence of an old Frenchman living in the area. "He was very secretive," Fallen says, "but I was insistent. I wanted to know the method to his madness."

To hear Fallen tell it, the Frenchman was no Jacques Pepin. Fallen's internship began with a grueling six straight weeks just sitting in a chair and watching him, saying nothing. "I think he was testing me," Fallen says. "He wanted to see if I had the patience for this."

Eventually, Fallen had his fists in the dough and an investor at his door. He learned the merits of handmade bread: the slow, short mixing times (contrary to the 15- to 30-minute mixing cycles of commercial places), and the wonders of proper yeast. "The holes you see in bread?" Fallen says, "That's where the flavor is. That's the yeast doing its job."

Fallen is so fanatical about his yeast, he returns to the store each day at 3 p.m. to feed it — a good dose of flour and water — after which it sits overnight until baking begins again the next morning. "The great thing about bread is that it's not anything you can hurry," he says. "You can't push it beyond its own limits."

Fallen makes only one type of loaf, which, for fear of being pigeonholed, he describes as "a naturally leavened, multigrained bread." Some call it French, some think it's a sourdough. No matter, Billy Bread is rapidly gaining popularity in the city limits and beyond, and soon he and his partner, Pete Markham, will be doubling their output to 800 loaves per day, delivering to shops as varied as Strawberry Street Vineyard, Ipanema, Ukrop's and Ellwood Thompson's.

In a strange twist, even Jean-Jacques Bakery, long among the few sources of decent bread in town, now orders and sells Billy Bread instead of baking its own. If you call ahead, you can even buy some fresh out of the oven. Fallen will hang a few loaves out on the door for you, the old-fashioned way.

— Dave McCormack

Billy Bread Bakery

1 S. Allen St.


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