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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Liv, Love, Local: Downhill Bread

Downhill Bread has developed from an at-home btking operation based out of Bezamat’s home kitchen to a full-time endeavor from a commercial kitchen on Bristol’s Main Street.
Downhill Bread has developed from an at-home btking operation based out of Bezamat’s home kitchen to a full-time endeavor from a commercial kitchen on Bristol’s Main Street.

Since its founding in 2020, Downhill Bread has been building momentum in Bristol, Vt. 

In establishing Downhill Bread, Brooks Bezamat evolved his bread and pastry business, from an at-home baking operation based out of his Lincoln, Vt. kitchen to a full-time endeavor with a commercial kitchen on Main Street in Bristol. Bezamat serves bread and pastries three days a week in addition to a fuller spread of breakfast and coffee options on Wednesday mornings.

Bezamat’s friend and collaborator Madeleine Meller has also come on board to take on a variety of non-baking tasks, including front-of-house operations and deliveries.

Bezamat has been a chef for 17 years, splitting his time between catering and restaurant work with bread baking initially as just a side passion. Word of Bezamat’s delicious baking spread organically as customers at places where Bezamat sold his products developed a taste for his crusty, hearty loaves, and began to seek it out. 

The name “Downhill” came from Bezamat’s passion for skiing.

“It started out of his kitchen, then he started supplying it to general stores,” Meller explained. 

Bezamat first began selling bread to Beaudry’s Store in Huntington, Vt. and Lincoln General Store in Lincoln, Vt. respectively, before expanding to also selling bread directly out of Tandem — a shared, mixed-use commercial kitchen space on Bristol’s Main Street — and other wholesale accounts, including the Middlebury Co-Op, and seasonal farmer’s markets and farm stands.

According to Bezamat, Chad Robertson’s popular bread making book “Tartine” was an inspiration for base bread recipes, but he has adjusted those recipes substantially to create bakes with their own unique characteristics. 

“I tweaked a lot of things and did what I like,” he said. “Method is a big part of it too. That comes with time and it's personal preference. I make the bread I like to eat.” 

Through trial and error, Bezamat has landed on popular flavor combinations beyond just classics, such as a fennel sesame loaf. Despite being a one-baker operation, Downhill has a plethora of bread options on bake days from plain to poppy, bagel to baguette. 

While being the sole baker allows for closer quality control, the natural limit on production has made it difficult to scale up while maintaining work-life balance, Bezamat said. Meller assists with deliveries, breakfast service and other non-baking needs, but Bezamat handles all baking operations. 

“We only have a certain amount of oven space. So there's a real cap on how much bread we can make every day,” Meller said. “How big can we get without sacrificing quality?” 

The summer marked an important lesson in juggling growing demand from a variety of accounts, as more farm stands reached out to stock Downhill Bread than in other seasons. The demand for small volumes of bread from customers at many delivery locations placed a major strain on one baker with a small team. 

The impact of this on Bezamat’s work-life balance inspired a shift in strategy moving forward in 2024 as he looks toward sustainable growth without compromising the quality that customers seek. 

“The goal is to have more bread sell at fewer locations,” he added. “Keeping my max amount and then also just knowing when to rein it in, not overextend.” 

Bezamat and Meller plan to continue supplying a growing account at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op, where they supply loaves on Wednesdays and Saturdays, selling wholesale at Tandem and still providing to other small local accounts as is sustainable. 

Bristol patrons can also find Downhill loaves and canneles stocked at Minifactory, a café located just a few doors down from the Tandem kitchen on Main Street in Bristol. 

Bezamat also plans to continue adjusting the product mix. When he first started Downhill, he made more pastry products, including eclairs, tarts and other baked goods. While canneles have remained, he has shifted away from some of the more labor-intensive pastries in order to prioritize bread and bagels and fulfill wholesale orders. 

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Despite the challenges of early mornings and finding balance, Bezamat and Meller have gotten momentum from the community support they have received. 

“Feedback from the community… to me is the biggest success. Just knowing how much people love the bread,” Meller said. “It's just so nice to hear that because [Bezamat] puts so much effort into making it.” 

Meller experienced the community hype firsthand, trying Bezamat’s bread before even meeting him and deciding to come onboard. A friend shared a loaf with Meller while they were at a sugar shack, she said, and her intrigue was there after the first bite.

“It's kind of hard to get…with some mysterious maker in Lincoln, who sometimes sells at the general store, but you have to be on the list,” Meller recalled her friend explaining the original Downhill Bread business model. “I was like, I have to meet this guy.” 

Bezamat and Meller both appreciate the face-to-face interactions and opportunity to connect more deeply with customers during the slower winter months. 

“He's up extremely early baking bread but for the first few hours of the morning, people are coming in, they're getting warm bread and they're talking to him,” Meller said. 

Bezamat described the business as having been a way to make good friends and immerse himself in the Vermont community. “When I'm awake enough we can have a conversation. And it's great,” he added.

“I just feel so lucky that we landed here and that I think that both of us really care about contributing to the community in a variety of ways,” Meller said. 

Downhill Bread’s Wednesday morning expanded breakfast service is an effort to show up for the town, Bezamat said. He recommends trying the “crispy pig” terrine breakfast sandwich, which uses all parts of the pig to create a sandwich that pairs tenderly fatty, melt-in-your mouth meat on a fresh Downhill English muffin with egg, arugula, mustard and other herbs and spreads. 

According to Meller, Bezamat’s goal with Downhill Bread is simply to create an authentic and honest product. Switching to organic, phosphate-free Milanaise flour sourced from Quebec, while more expensive as a unit cost than King Arthur Flour, is one such recent change reflecting this ethos.

“I think that things that are easier generally aren’t as good, take shortcuts to be better. I don't always want things to be difficult, but to have them be really great,” said Bezamat. 

Downhill Bread is available at Tandem, located at 26 Main Street in Bristol on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., along with breakfast sandwiches and Little Seed Coffee served from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Wednesdays.

Olivia Mueller

Olivia Mueller '24 (she/her) is a News Editor.

Previously an Arts and Culture editor, Olivia is an International Politics and Economics major with a Spanish minor. Outside of the Campus, she is a spin instructor for YouPower, an avid runner and hiker, and a member of the Middlebury Mischords a cappella group.