“Breaking bread together is life changing. The most humble of all food, bread brings life and allows others to share life together,” says master baker Joshua Westover, founder of Atlanta’s Bake-N-Jam, a family-run Atlanta bakery that specializes in handmade artisan breads, jams, and sweets. “Radical hospitality is the welcoming of all to the table to share a meal and the lives that each other bring.”
“Bread gives us the opportunity for life. Without bread, civilization wouldn’t exist. Bread in any form is life. It provides connection to the earth, and to each other,” Westover maintains. In fact, bread has been an integral part of community as far back as the first civilization. The Food Timeline states, “The history of bread and cake starts with Neolithic cooks and marches through time according to ingredient availability, advances in technology, economic conditions, socio-cultural influences, legal rights (Medieval guilds), and evolving taste. The earliest breads were unleavened. Variations in grain, thickness, shape, and texture varied from culture to culture.”
Raised in an Ohio Mennonite community, breaking bread together was rooted in cultural tradition. “Memory is found in cookbooks, as well as an expression of faith and a desire to share meals. My grandmother would share recipes with friends and neighbors all the time, and in turn would receive recipes from others,” he recalls. “My grandparents’ home almost always smelled like fresh bread, as well as other foods cooking. Zwieback, a Russian Mennonite roll or yeast bread, was most popular in my family.”
From Ohio to Atlanta On a Mission for Urban Enrichment
“We moved to Atlanta in 2011 as part of a yearlong commitment with Mission Year, an urban ministry and service program. We fell in love with the city and never left,” Westover says. As a former social worker, Westover assisted individuals with disabilities, children living in foster care, formerly incarcerated individuals transitioning back to their communities, and youth experiencing homelessness. His master’s degree concentrated on urban community development, and his thesis focused on limited food access in urban communities. Though the charitable aspect of his business is still growing, “We hope one day to provide job training and employment opportunities to those who are experiencing homelessness or have been formerly incarcerated.”
Though Westover has been cooking full time for others since 2016, to transition his baking from a side business into a standalone venture, he participated in Emory Goizueta Business School Start:ME Accelerator Program for microbusiness development in Atlanta. “Start:ME has been the full catalyst for supporting my rapid transition to working for myself full time since mid-March and the societal impact of COVID-19. Their support has been fantastic. The experience was hard, challenging, and educational. I came out with the tools that I needed to feel that I am going to be able to make Bake-N-Jam a success!”
Dusk to Dawn, the Bakery Evokes Scents of Comfort and Joy
A day in the life of a busy family bakery begins before first light. Westover takes the lead on baking while also sweetening the shop’s offerings with locally sourced unique jams, jellies, and marmalades. Westover’s wife Debbie, a registered nurse, manages Bake-N-Jam operations, while the couple’s young sons lends their expertise as official kitchen helpers and taste testers.
Known for his Sourdough, Sultana Raisin Bread, Artisan Sandwich Loaf, and Cinnamon Rolls, Westover is always adding new loafs and rolls to his baking repertoire. “Depending on how many orders for bread that I have pending, I typically am up and in the kitchen by five or six a.m.,” Westover says of his routine. After coffee, he begins with levain, a starter dough that is a fragrant leavening agent of yeast, flour and water. As the powerhouse in every yeast bread, levain must be slightly warm to proof, a process that involves a resting period at room temperature during which gasses in the unbaked dough ferment and help it to rise before baking.
While the breads and bagels are rising, “I will take inventory, and make sure new orders didn’t come in overnight that I need to begin working on,” Westover explains. “Once ready, the dough is scored and baked in cast iron pans. Bagels are boiled in sweetened water and then baked. After the morning bake off, other doughs, both bread and cookie, are made and allowed to proof or rest.”
Georgia-grown strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, watermelon, figs, and apples represent the core of Bake-N-Jam’s sweet center. “As it is the season for summer fruits, I am busy processing and canning jams,” Westover says of his creations that include Peach Vidalia Jam, Smoked Apple Preserves, Pepper Jelly, and Cara Cara Orange Marmalade.
Though the daily routine varies with shopping and restocking inventory, his schedule blocks time for meeting with customers during deliveries and at farm-to-table markets.
Baking is more than a profession. For Westover, baking is about sharing love. “My grandmother grew up as a Mennonite, and her kitchen and dining room were always open to family, neighbors, and individuals experiencing crisis or homelessness. Radical hospitality was the example that I was taught in her kitchen. Cook with love and feed hungry people. God will take care of the rest.”
Though societal change and urban renewal may be forces in flux, one fact is clear to Westover. “Bread is humble. The recipe is quite simple: water, flour, salt. Alone, none of these will keep a person alive. But when combined and baked, you could survive on bread for a lifetime. Food, more than anything else on the planet has the power to bring people together.”
Prepare to be enticed by the promise of fresh, perfectly baked breads and Summer-sweet jams when you visit Bake-N-Jam’s website. Have you ever tasted Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies with just a hint of Kosher salt?