Roberta's Oven in a Box


The folks at Roberta’s have always had their collective fingers in a lot of different pies. There’s the shipping container radio station in the backyard–a partnership with Heritage Radio Network. On top of that shipping container there is a greenhouse that’s reducing the field-to-kitchen distance for some of the restaurant’s summer produce to about 20 yards. In an adjacent lot there are hundreds more herbs, greens and tomatoes sprouting for the summer and destined for diners’ plates, giving them three times the growing space they had last year. The Brooklyn Grange and its 12,000 seedlings are hanging out in the same area, just waiting to move to a permanent home in a few weeks.

And now, Roberta’s is about to become Brooklyn’s newest bakery.

For the past few months Roberta’s baker, Patrick Mullins (who incidentally was the drummer and occasional saw player for OCS before they became Thee Oh Sees), has been baking chewy levain-style loaves in the pizza oven at night and selling them at the Bushwick farmer’s market and at The Brooklyn Kitchen. They’ve been able to produce 100-200 good quality loaves a night, but the system is not ideal. “When we bake bread in the pizza oven we have to cool it down after pizza shift and we bake with no fire,”  says Chris Parachini, one of the owners at Roberta’s. “The catch is that the oven is not designed to work without fire so we lose our temp range fast (after a few batches) and then its very difficult to get that back without overheating.

All that will change in a few weeks when the new shipping container bread oven they’re building in the space next door is complete. “We’ve learned a lot working with small accounts and now we’re going to move to the next level,” says Parachini. “We’ll be able to make 500-600 loaves a night and up to 1,000 loaves once we really get going.”

(Above: The rough framework of the oven, wood will go in the bottom and a special heat-holding material will form a baking chamber.)

They plan on selling wholesale to markets around Brooklyn and to other restaurants, as well as offering the loaves for sale in the front of Roberta’s. And, the bread will be even better than what they’ve been turning out so far. Parachini explained that a pizza oven is all about constant heat fluctuations. “You’re cooking with an open fire and it’s all about constantly making more fire.” Dick Bessey, the builder behind the oven, is constructing it out of special materials that hold in heat, making for an extremely consistent temperature with minimal heat decay–a much better system for bread than an oven designed for pizza.

So what’s next after the shipping container bread oven goes live? “We’re opening a banquet hall next door for up to 200,” says Parachini.

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Sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of Brooklyn Based.

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