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Specialty breadmaker rises to the occasion

A Pinellas Park shopkeeper melds Italian tradition with new technology to produce fresh, crusty loaves.

By PIPER JONES CASTILLO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- Massimo Maviglia is up before the sun, keeping his favorite childhood memory alive. He measures and kneads the day's dough. He sprinkles poppy seeds, fresh rosemary and rye. With a giant spatula called a peel, he places the round and oblong loaves into one of his four ovens.

"I remember my relatives making bread and working at brick ovens in Italy. It was a big part of my life," said Maviglia, a native of Avezzano, a town northeast of Rome.

Three weeks ago, Maviglia opened Bread Artisans at 4442 Park Blvd. With an investment of $50,000, Maviglia renovated a 420-square-foot storefront, a former nail salon, adding his laboratory (preparation area), a kitchen and front room for customers.

The bakery specializes in artisan bread, which involves fermenting the dough for 18 hours. Traditionally, artisan bakers cook the bread directly on the hearth, or bottom, of a brick oven, resulting in a hearty crust.

"In Europe, this type of bread, cooked in brick ovens, has been a big part of a family's daily life for generations. A couple years ago, when I was thinking of starting a business, I visited northern California, where many restaurants use brick ovens. I was thinking of learning how to build and sell them, but what happened was I became interested in artisan breadmaking," he said.

Maviglia, 39, thinks there is an untapped market for artisan bread in Pinellas County: "We can teach something to people that they don't know anything about."

Bread Artisans combines old-world traditions with high technology, Maviglia said. Instead of a brick oven, Maviglia chose a Dahlin oven from Sweden. The $6,000 oven is electric. It has the same effect as a brick oven but is less cumbersome. The hearth's stone is heated electronically. Within 20 minutes, the four decks can reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Maviglia is the first to admit that his small business may seem risky.

"This business is definitely capital-intensive," he said. "I may need to buy a 60-quart mixer. I plan to hire trained artisan bakers, and I'll have to come up with the money for that," said Maviglia, who holds a master's degree in international management from Thunderbird American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Ariz.

"I believe it will take me two years to get back my money from the original investment," he said, "and frankly, I think that is quite the norm for starting a small business, and the money is not really the point. We are here out of a passion for the type of breadmaking."

Rick Butler, a Pinellas Park council member, applauds Maviglia. "To open any small business takes a fire in your belly. The city wants businesses like Bread Artisans here, but with a small specialty business like theirs, it's tough sometimes to get the word out to the people who would visit it. If they hear about it, I think customers will be not only commuters but also retirees nearby. My own mother, for example, will make a mega-trip there. Their kind of bread is what she grew up on."

In 1996, when Maviglia's girlfriend, Yolanda Molina-Gavilan, 38, accepted a position at Eckerd College teaching Spanish literature, Maviglia agreed to move with her from Arizona, giving up a job at American Express. From 1996 to 1999, Maviglia was a self-employed investment consultant as he gave himself time to acclimate to Florida, he said.

"I knew I wanted to start my own business. For the last 20 months I've been preparing to open this," he said.

"For breadmaking, a big concern of ours is the weather. The temperature is something I must always monitor. My lab cannot get over 77 degrees, and in the summer, before I add water to the dough, I need to refrigerate it to make it cool."

In between classes, Molina-Gavilan works the cash register. She also helped design the store.

"We intentionally made this place to be reminiscent of the way things were," she said, pointing to paintings of European women in a bygone era toiling over kettles and ovens. "We want people to come in here and get the feel of the old world."

The menu includes specialty breads such as Pane Integrale (poppy seed, whole wheat bread) for $3.30, Pane al Rosmarino (round wheat bread with rosemary) for $3.70, and basic Italian breads such as Campagna (thick crusted bread) and Montagna (traditional, peasant-style bread with softer crumbs), both for $3.15.

Bread Artisans also sell tarts and cakes, including Crostata alla Fragola (strawberry tart) and Torta di Miele (honey-ricotta cake).

The bakery is open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

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