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Richmond's Idle Hands Bread Co. Works to Meet Growing Demand

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Jay Metzler spent 20 years selling vinyl in record stores. Now, he gets up a whole lot earlier to make sure the bread rises for the day at his bakery, Idle Hands Bread Co.

A former co-owner of Bon Air’s Perk Coffee & Lunchbox, Metzler fell in love with baking and decided to make a leap into sole ownership. “I took $10,000 and opened the bakery in Scott’s Addition in a 200-square-foot closet,” he says.

It was inevitable that the bakery would grow out of its tiny space, but it happened much faster than Metzler thought. He found a space four times bigger in Jackson Ward, at 312 Brook Road, and moved in only a few months after the original opening. He says he didn’t have the proper equipment in the old space — and still doesn’t.

Although bread is his passion — his specialty is naturally leavened sourdough — he also makes Viennese and French-influenced pastries, cookies and croissants, also naturally leavened.

“We do it the way the old French bakers do,” he says. “We bang it out with a rolling pin.”

And in each of the more than 400 pastries the bakery sells every week, the butter that’s banged out is folded over and over again into the dough by hand — not by machines, which do this work in most bakeries. Metzler isn’t against machine-aided pastry-making, he says, but the bakery just doesn’t have one.

He’s also baking in the same oven that he had in Scott’s Addition, but his production has increased. It’s not easy, Metzler says, but he and his classically trained overnight baker, Drew Thomasson, get the multiplying wholesale orders done and the shelves on Brook Road filled despite the kitchen’s drawbacks.

The retail bakery is open Wednesdays to Saturdays. But Metzler has a five-year plan that includes adding tables and chairs, more coffee drinks and sandwiches. When he looks to the future, he sees his bakery as more of a French bistro. He’d even like to do pizza once a month. For now, though, he’s working with what he has.

“I’m always working against myself,” Metzler says, in terms of time, space and equipment, “but that’s just the way it has to be. And I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done.” facebook.com/idlehandsbread.

CORRECTION: This story originally misspelled Jay Metzler's name. It has been corrected.

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