While most of us are snug as bugs in bed, Ian Herrington is as busy as a bee in the hot-box kitchen of his Tremont bakery, Leavened. Every day, he arrives to work at 3 in the morning to begin tackling the Sisyphean tasks that await him. There’s the weighing, shaping and proofing of bread doughs. There’s the production of sweet doughs and pastries. And then there’s the actual baking. So. Much. Baking.
“I bake the sticky buns, I bake the pain de mie, I bake the sourdoughs,” Herrington ticks off. “The croissants go in after that and then the baguettes, the scones, the hand pies, the cookies, cookie bars and bread pudding. If I’m in my groove, the bake is usually done by 7:30. And then I immediately switch to prep for tomorrow.”
There’s a reason that new bake shops don’t appear with same frequency as pizza parlors, chop houses or even barbecue joints. Not only are the hours grueling, the work hot, dusty and demanding, and the profit margins battered by the fluctuating price of ingredients, but artisan bakeries also require an extraordinary level of skill to pull off with any degree of success.
“All the specialty equipment is really expensive, to hire good people is expensive, to get good ingredients is expensive,” Herrington explains. “It takes a lot of planning and good financial backing to make it happen. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t do it. To make really good bread day in and day out, you really have to devote your life to it.”
Herrington has devoted the last ten years of his life to the art and practice of baking. After eight years, he recently left his job as head baker of On the Rise in Cleveland Heights to prepare for the opening his own European-style artisan bakery, which he did in late September. The sleek, glassy and modern storefront anchors the northwest corner of The Tappan, a new residential building on Auburn Ave.
Like all great bakeries, Leavened imbues the neighborhood with heaven-sent scents like fresh-baked loaves, still-warm sticky buns and fresh-brewed coffee. In addition to core products like rustic sourdoughs in the form of baguettes, pain d'epi, fougasse and whole wheat loaves, Herrington and his team craft mile-high rosemary focaccia, fragrant cardamom buns and wedge-shaped cheddar and scallion scones. Seductive pastries like million-layer croissants – in flavors of classic, pain au chocolat, walnut cream, and blackberry-lavender jam – join drippy cinnamon buns, plum-filled danish and buttery chocolate chip cookies. New arrivals include airy pepperoni rolls, savory hand pies and sugary cookie bars.
In the morning, the café side of the operation whips up coffee drinks (made with Duck-Rabbit) like Americanos, espressos, lattes and cappuccinos. Come lunchtime, chef and general manager Chris Palton offers up one hot soup and two sandwiches, both of which are ready and waiting for quick purchase. The current soup is a vegan roasted tomato ($5), while the meat sandwich of late is the Italian ($10), a popular item that sells out long before closing time. Built on horizontally sliced focaccia, the weighty rectangular sandwich is filled with pepperoni, salami, ham, provolone, tomato and mild but crunchy giardiniera. The vegan option recently has been a chickpea salad sandwich. Herrington anticipates expanding the café menu down the road.
Owing to Covid, all of the tables and chairs are stacked up and pushed to one side of the space. But the intent is for Leavened to become much more than the grab-and-go bakeshop it is now. In time, it will doubtless develop into a buzzy neighborhood café where friends will meet in the morning over coffee and pastries, enjoy midday lunches of soup and sandwiches, and drop by for those crucial late-afternoon caffeine-fueled pick-me-ups.
Still, Herrington says that he’s been flabbergasted by how quickly his off-the-beaten-path bakery has taken off. Most of his customers hail from nearby environs like Tremont, Ohio City and Lakewood, but the owner regularly meets shoppers from all across the region. And by the time the doors to Leavened close for the day, all that remains are crumbs, which is why Herrington sets his alarm for the middle of the night.
“I haven’t had a day off in about three months,” he says, adding that even on the days the shop is closed, he’s hard at work in back. “I’m just frazzled trying to get everything done. When I was at On the Rise I had experience doing just about everything, but my main job wasn’t to do everything. Now, I’m doing everything.”
1633 Auburn Ave., Cleveland