The opening of a new storefront on Haywood Road will bring a taste of Europe to Beecham’s Curve, or as locals know it, East West Asheville.
The space at 295 Haywood Road that will soon house Old World Levain Bakery is now being transformed with clean lines, antique white walls graced with millwork, white marble and walnut counter tops, and banquettes with whitewashed wood tables and gray accents. Owner Susannah Gebhart describes her vision for the storefront as “cozy and serene with a European-French feel.”
Gebhart, who has been baking locally for nearly a decade, started her career working with a fourth-generation baker of Spanish-Italian descent at Annie’s Naturally Bakery when the company had its production space in Sylva. Other baking jobs helped shape her style, in addition to an academic background in food anthropology and travel overseas.
Finding herself as a career baker came somewhat as a surprise, Gebhart confesses. “Baking jobs were available to me throughout my 20s, but strictly to get by,” she says. “I never intended to continue baking, but so many of my pursuits involved food in some way.”
Gebhart also previously owned a natural food store and is the founder of the Appalachian Food Storybank, is an oral history project on Appalachian food heritage.
“Finally, all that interest in food culture, my own personal sensibilities and taste, and my understanding of baking coalesced in the last several years,” she says.
Last August, Gebhart took over the Montford Walk-In Bakery space after it closed and changed the name to OWL Bakery. After focusing on just wholesale and made-to-order products for several months, she decided that a bakery/café was the next step.
“I knew, ultimately, my goal was to have a really sweet little bakery and café where I can create a space and experience and not just be producing my products,” says Gebhart. “For me, it’s about the bigger picture, it’s not just about making the product — it’s about serving it with incredible intention and providing a space in which to savor it.”
OWL Bakery features naturally leavened breads, which means that all the bread is made with a sourdough starter.
“It is a very simple, rustic process by which I make my breads,” she says. All of her breads are mixed by hand, and Gebhart uses 100 percent organic flours from Lindley Mills and Carolina Ground. The bread is leavened over a 24- to 48-hour period and goes through an extended cold-fermentation period, which she says helps develop the complex flavors of her offerings.
And don’t worry if you aren’t a sourdough fan. Gebhart says her process favors a milder, sweeter taste and flavor profile than is achieved with typical sourdoughs. She accomplishes this by using a very young starter rather than allowing it to age until it’s highly acidic, ensuring that the traditional sourdough tartness doesn’t come through as much.
In addition to bread, OWL Bakery’s menu will include items such as tartines, or toast served with house-made toppings; homemade yogurt and granola, and pastries, including croissants, cardamom buns and Danishes, as well as coffee and tea.
“Every day of the week, we will also have a special pastry of the day, such as beignets or canelés,” she says.
Coffee offerings will include drip coffees brewed on the Fetco brewing machine, single-cup pour-overs brewed on a Kalita Wave set, and espresso-based drinks prepared with a La Marzocco Strada machine, says John Linch, a former Waking Life Espresso employee who is heading the bakery’s coffee program.
The bakery’s coffees will be primarily sourced from Mountain Air Roasting, a local coffee roaster led by Marshall Hance, and other select roasters in the specialty coffee industry, Linch says. Other offerings include traditionally prepared loose-leaf teas sourced from Upton Tea Imports.
“I’m hoping it will be a place where people can come for celebrations and to get a treat, but also where they can find really nourishing, honest food on a daily basis,” says Gebhart.
An outdoor area that is in the works will serve as additional dining space interspersed with herbs, flowers and fruit trees. Gebhart envisions summer nights accented with string quartets, carafes of wine, and charcuterie and cheese plates.
A wood-fired oven will join the kitchen to the outdoor space, creating the opportunity for wood-fired baking events. Gebhart would like to create an educational and community gathering place where people can participate in food-centered activities, such as cooking and food history workshops.
Old World Levain Bakery will be at 295 Haywood Road. Gebhart is planning for a soft opening at the end of February, with a grand opening in March. Tentative hours will be 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday and 8 a.m.-noon Mondays with a limited menu. Evening hours are planned for the summer. Visit owlbakery.com for details.