California couple to open artisan bakery
A California family has recently made a move to Red Oak with plans to open a downtown bakery.
Matt St. Lezin, along with his wife, Adriana, and their two daughters, Amelia and Sienna, have been busy making improvements to 308 E. Coolbaugh, the soon-to-be home of Matt’s artisan bakery, the Neighborhood Bakehouse.
Matt was born in San Francisco, whereas Adriana was born in Mexico and became a U.S. citizen, settling with her own family in California. After both grew up in California, Matt said he and Adriana met through the internet.
“I was basically a confirmed bachelor at that point, and one of my sisters nudged me towards the internet, and so we met for coffee and the next week I made a special trip down to see her,” Matt said. “We went to a bunch of art galleries, and saw “Shrek: The Musical,” at a community theater, and we were having fried chicken at midnight. It was either that date or the next time I saw her that I was convinced she was going to be my wife. It took a little convincing, but we were married in 2015, 11 months after we met. We’ve been married for seven years this month.”
Adriana added that Matt’s decision to reach out to her was very timely.
“I was actually planning on closing out my account that week, and he messaged me, so at the time, even though I was just interested in a friendship, I looked at his profile and he looked like such a gentleman that I said ‘sure’,” explained Adriana.
Matt and Adriana settled in Salinas for seven years, though Matt said they spent five of those years looking for a new place for the family to call home.
“It wasn’t the environment we wanted to bring our children up in, and it’s just so expensive. Even thinking of owning a house one day didn’t seem possible. In the nicest part of the town of Salinas, it would be maybe $750,000 for a home with three bedrooms, one bath, and no yard. I liked the area, but it was just a huge amount of money to spend on a house that didn’t have everything we wanted, like space and land for our kids to run around outside,” Matt said.
Adriana agreed that the housing market in California is vastly different than the one in Red Oak.
“We’re paying $1,000 less per month right now for the place we have here, it’s just insane,” commented Adriana.
As for how the family decided on Red Oak, Matt said they heard about the Red Oak community through the Rural Revival Podcast.
“I have no idea how I found the podcast, it was mainly just a brain relaxer I listened to when I was commuting to and from work. One day, they had on Jill O’Neal with JMercantile, and Daric O’Neal with Alley Poyner Macchietto Arcitecture, and the way they described the town, it sounded like exactly what we wanted. We even Zillow-stalked the town for awhile,” joked Matt.
Last December, Matt contacted the Red Oak Chamber and Industry Association stating they wanted to open a bakery, and that he felt the town was a good fit for them, and that they would be a good fit for the town.
“In the letter, I said we would love to be a part of a community like this. An hour later, I got a call from Elaine Carlson from the Chamber, and we talked for awhile. In February, we met with Elaine and Montgomery County Development Corporation director Steve Adams,” stated Matt. “We made a trip to the community in February looking at available spaces like this Coolbaugh Street building. We pretty much decided then and there that this was home. It also helped that we came during the week in February that it was in the 60s, so that made it more magical.”
Matt sought the commercial lease for 308 Coolbaugh first, and admitted it took some time to open the confirmation email, due to the mixed emotions of having a job and being close to family in California versus doing what they felt was right for their own family.
“I think for a week I didn’t open the email because I didn’t really want to look and think about it. And then finally after the week, all four of us sat down on the couch and did the E-sign and decided we were moving to Iowa. It’s been really excited, and we’re really really happy to be here,” advised Matt.
Adriana said it was even more emotional for her, and that drive back to California in February was a difficult one.
“I remember just bawling because I knew that we were leaving our real home, I felt it in my heart. It actually hurt to leave because I knew it was where we were going to end up, but it was even more emotional because I felt we were leaving our future home, but we were also going to be leaving behind our parents and our siblings in California,” commented Adriana.
Before COVID-19, Matt did safety and compliance, quality control, and project management in the manufacturing industry, and the company he worked for was purchased by a private equity company that shifted focus to distribution of raw materials. Matt said he was put in charge of manufacturing right before they pulled the plug on it.
“My starry-eyed self, I was thinking that we were going turn things around, and make sure no one loses their job, but in the end, it was up to me just firing everybody. So by the fall of 2019, I was basically in an empty building, and there were no projects that went past January, and Adriana was due with Sienna at the end of January. So at the end of January, I took my leave of absence for Sienna being born, came back in March, and basically went back in to sign my lay-off paperwork,” explained Matt.
Two days later, Matt said they started shelter in place, and finding another job was virtually impossible. In May of 2020, Matt went to work as an accountant for his local church, but he admitted a desk job wasn’t what he was happy doing, which led to him pursuing what he’d been doing since middle school: baking.
“We started running a cottage bakery out of our home. I got more seriously into bread baking in 2019, and I started off just making bread for people, and it grew from there to people requesting bread from me. I had a buddy in HVAC and construction who baked bread as well, and for awhile we’d be texting back and forth about how good our bread came out of the oven,” Matt explained.
In Salinas, Matt said there was a food and wine festival in 2021, and after signing up and getting the proper licenses, Matt set up his bakery as a business, and they participated in that festival.
“From there, we generated an email list, and that really got us rolling locally. We were doing Saturday local deliveries and doing bread on Sunday for people in our church. I bought a bigger bread oven, and it just kept growing from there. Also, I just enjoyed doing it, and it became a business that the whole family could be around and has some of the artisan craft that both myself and Adriana like. And now, a year later, we have a bakery space here that will be opening soon,” Matt said.
While they are getting the new building ready for opening, Matt said they’ve been regularly setting up at the Red Oak Farmers Market and getting their name out to the community. Matt said he is going to focus on baking, and the marketing is going to be handed by Adriana.
“He’s so very patient, but it really does stress me out to bake, and I can’t bake. So we compliment each other, he does the baking and I can do the social media, networking, and outreach, which isn’t Matt’s strong suit. I also run two small businesses totally online, so he’ll be making the bread and I’ll be at the front of the house welcoming in everybody,” Adriana commented.
In addition to operating out of the business, they’ll be looking at ways to ship the bread so they can offer product to consumers outside of the Red Oak area, and Adriana will help drive those sales.
In addition to a variety of breads, Matt also sells cookies with sourdough. As for artisan baking, Matt said it all comes down to using good ingredients.
“The flour that we use comes from a small mill that uses heritage strains of wheat. One of them I’ve used is a White Sonora. These older strains of wheat have more nutritional value, but also a great diversity in flavor. There’s more of a depth to a loaf of bread when you’re using these good grains, and the way it’s milled, it keeps the whole grain, and all of the mixing is done with elbow grease rather than machinery,” Matt explained. “Once we’re open, I’ll have mixers that help with some of that, but I’ll be shaping the bread by hand and hand-rolling the baguettes. We also do a long fermentation time. Bread takes a long time to rise, and so rather than using forced heat like a manufacturer, I’m generally letting a loaf of sourdough ferment in the fridge for three days.”
Matt said they didn’t do everything old-fashioned, but that his method was a mix of the best things of the newer technology, while mixing it with the craft and humanity of the traditional ways of baking bread.
Matt said he’s looking forward to making Red Oak’s downtown square smell like fresh baked bread every morning, and is working with a couple of local farmers and producers to have a small farm store operating out of the bakery.
He added the excitement is building, as he never anticipated owning a bakery in Southwest Iowa.
“This was kind of a surprise to us, but we’ve been well-received, even better than I hoped we would be. The community is amazing. Everyone on a personal level has been so welcoming, and we’ve made so many new friends selling through the farmers market. People want a bakery like this, and they’re excited to see us,” Matt stated.
On July 5, they expanded past the farmers market to offering local delivery on Tuesday, and are developing a mailing list. He anticipates the Neighborhood Bakehouse will be open in mid-August.
For more information or to order bread, visit neighborhoodbakehouse.com, follow them on Instagram at @neighborhoodbakehouse, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 650-207-7623.