By Andrea Harwood-Palmer
NightWork Bread Co. is a new sourdough bread company in Saratoga Springs.
Co-founders Leigh Rathner and Cindy Rosenberg distribute the bread at the Saratoga Farmer’s Market, Spa City Farmer’s Market and Bolton Landing Farmer’s Market. The husband-and-wife team began selling their bread on the first weekend of May. Rathner said they have sold out every weekend.
Rathner grew up on Long Island and had grandparents in the Catskills. He went to college in Oneonta. He moved to the Adirondacks then moved to Los Angeles for professional and personal reasons.
“I never wanted to leave. My heart has always been here,” said Rathner. “When Cindy and I were discussing how to get out of the city, and how to make this bread business into an actual living that could support a family, we decided we wanted to do it here.”
Rathner and Rosenberg moved back to the area in February. They rented a kitchen from 9 Miles East Farm, which had state Board of Health certified working space available.
The common thread among all of NightWork Bread Co’s products is that they are all naturally leavened. The partners use a sourdough starter as the leavening agent for everything they make.
Sourdough and naturally leavened wheat products utilize a fermentation process that breaks down certain proteins in the wheat. The process makes the bread more digestible for most people.
Both Rathner and Rosenburg have had digestive issues throughout their lives. Testing for gluten intolerance came back negative, yet they were unable to eat any kind of wheat products for over 10 years. A friend recommended they try naturally fermented wheat, specifically long-fermented sourdough bread.
The long-fermentation process involves at least 16 to 24 hours of fermenting. This breaks down most of the proteins that so many people have a problem digesting with wheat-based products. Using a sourdough starter and a long-fermentation process was how most bread was produced before commercial grade yeast was available at the turn of the century, they said.
While living in Los Angeles, Rathner and Rosenburg found some bakers who utilized long-fermentation. They found they could tolerate eating bread made in this particular way.
“We were both absolutely thrilled that we could have bread products in our lives again,” said Rathner. “And they were really good bread products. Generally, when people are taking the time to use this sort of historical method of fermenting and baking bread, they tend take a lot of time and care in their process. They tend to use higher quality ingredients, because it’s a time-consuming process. So the bread was not only digestible, it was delicious.”
Rathner and Rosenberg started taking classes on how to bake the sourdough bread they liked it so much they started making it at home.
Rathner is a camera man by trade, doing work for television, movies and commercials for nearly 30 years. When the pandemic hit, many filming sets in Los Angeles were shut down. Rosenberg, an acupuncturist, closed her practice temporarily. The couple was home all day, every day, with their adult children living with them.
“I started baking bread. I started buying better and better quality flours. I was experimenting with different fermentation times and processes. I was watching endless hours of YouTube videos, reading articles and buying books. After awhile, I was baking more than we could eat,” said Rathner.
Rathner gave the excess bread away to neighbors, who soon began asking for more bread and offering to pay for it. Soon he was baking several dozen loaves of bread a week and selling it to friends and neighbors.
“People were going crazy for the bread,” he said.
As the pandemic wore on, the couple began to consider what they wanted their future to look like.
“Part of my wife’s and my life-plan was to get out of the city altogether when the kids were on their own,” said Rathner. “The pandemic really highlighted some of the aspects of living in a big city, particularly Los Angeles, that we really just didn’t like.”
Rathner and Rosenberg moved back to Upstate New York in February. Mutual friends connected them to Gordon Sacks, founder and CEO of 9 Miles East. The kitchen space available to rent included a large 3-deck pizza oven. The kind of bread Rathner bakes requires a deck oven, not a rack oven.
“It was a big challenge. It took me a good 6 or 8 weeks to really master how to bake the bread in a pizza oven. Various aspects of it make it difficult,” said Rathner.
NightWork Bread Co. uses only organic wheat. Rathner states the flour they use is very fresh, used within 30 days or less of being milled. This process allows the flour to retain most of the nutrients and active enzyme that help break down proteins in the flour. Rathner said the FDA allows commercial bread companies to keep flour shelved for several years after it is milled, which degrades the nutrient content of the flour tremendously.
He said talks are in the works for the bread to be carried at The Seneca restaurant. The bread is also found on an ad hoc basis at Old Saratoga Mercantile and at the Thursday night summer farmers market at 9 Miles East.
The website is www.nightworkbread.com and the phone number is 310-430-0951. They are also on Instagram.