After two years of running a bakery out of their home, Rick and Tyes Cook now refer to their dining table as a “murphy-table.” It might make an appearance at dinnertime, but otherwise, it’s moved to make room for what’s become the family’s bread and butter—their cottage bakery, Manifest Bread.
Today, the couple announced that they are moving out of the house and will open a commercial space in the heart of Riverdale, by the farmer’s market and MARC train station. Open six days a week, the bakery will offer more than the usual sourdough boules, baguettes and bialys—they plan to expand into pastries like pain au chocolat or canelés, a pastry with a caramelized, crunchy outside that gives way to a custardy center.
Along with the announcement, they launched a fundraising campaign to help with the purchase of equipment, including a stone mill, oven, and commercial-size spiral mixer. The official opening date will hinge on the equipment and when the contractors pour the concrete for the floor.
Their search for a space started five years ago, but at the time, they weren’t intending to operate a bakery. The plan was to open a full-service restaurant, given their respective experiences. Before managing the bakery full-time, Tyes worked in customer-facing managerial positions around town, most recently at Obelisk, the Esther Lee fine-dining trattoria Peter Pastan opened in Dupont Circle 35 years ago. Rick worked different kitchen positions, including as the chef of seafood destination BlackSalt on MacArthur Boulevard NW. Today, when Rick isn’t baking, he works at Pastan’s 2Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria, preparing small plates for guests at the bar.
Rick’s start in baking goes back to Etto, the Pastan-founded location on 14th Street NW where he worked before 2Amys. There, they bake bread in-house. Rick noticed the difference between their product and what other restaurants were serving. He knew then that an in-house bread would be a component of his own restaurant.
Rick began baking with leftover Etto flour, to which he attributed his bread’s great flavor. Comparing freshly milled flour to supermarket flour is like comparing a cup of coffee made from freshly ground beans to a cup of Folgers. “It’s a similar idea,” Rick says. “There’s oils that bring along a certain profile.”
At Manifest, they mill about 50 percent of their flour and usually use it the day after milling. They source the grains from Baltimore County, Maryland, and Southern Pennsylvania farmers. The mill they will purchase will let them mill even more; however, they don’t intend to mill all their grain in-house.
The immediate results of Rick’s baking were not worth sharing. “It took from 2015 to 2017,” Tyes says. “That’s a couple years until we were like, this is awesome and people should try it.” Rick then baked for dinner parties. “The feedback that we got from that was actually a big confidence boost,” Tyes says. “It was one of those things where we realized like other people will enjoy this journey that we’re on.”
Starting in 2018, they sold loaves at weekly wine tastings at Weygandt Wines, a Cleveland Park wine shop. “It just seemed like a kitschy thing that made sense for that neighborhood,” Rick says. “If you’re buying some wine, you could use some bread as well.”
Regularly selling at Weygandt forced Rick to produce a consistent product. It was tough. “The loaves that came out, it was like a great bake or not so great bake. It was everything in between,” Tyes says. “Sometimes it wouldn’t sell out,” Rick says. “It was quite discouraging, but that’s how it all starts.”
As word spread and Rick’s technique developed, that changed. By the time the pandemic hit, their side hustle had grown to the point that all their loaves were spoken for before they even arrived at Weygandt. “This research and development thing just spun out of control and turned into what it is now,” Rick says.
During lockdown, a customer added them to the neighborhood listserv and they sold monthly bread subscriptions, the lump sums from which gave them enough cash to buy equipment, like a commercial oven and bigger fridge, allowing them to produce more. “Everything just kept doubling, but eventually when you double double double, it gets really big,” Rick says.
“At the beginning, we were doing 12 loaves at most and that would take 6 hours. Now on a 12-hour bake, I’m usually doing 350 cakes, cookies, baguettes, loaves, sandwiches, all for one day,” Rick says.
In their current form, they make the menu on Wednesday evenings, publish it on their website Thursday, and mill the flour that day. On Friday, Rick makes the dough, and Saturday, he bakes. A 350-piece menu will sell out within 20 minutes of publishing, Rick says.
During lockdown, they began baking twice a week, doing deliveries and realized that baking could be their future. “It gave us the luxury of time, which people in the restaurant industry don’t have,” Tyes says. “We said, ‘We can definitely do this.’”
The bakery grew to the point that Rick altered his schedule completely, going to bed at 9 p.m. and waking three hours later at 12 a.m. to start baking. “You roll out of bed and turn your oven on,” he says. “It makes you a little nuts. You’re wearing sunglasses at noon, as a necessity because your eyes burn.” A co-worker from 2Amys, Enrique Mendoza, helped with deliveries.
In the early morning hours, Rick enjoyed the company of an online community of cottage bakers. “All across the country, there’s a bunch of little hermits doing the same thing as you. You get a text from somebody at two in the morning, [it] isn’t alarming because they’re up at the same time as you doing the same thing,” Rick says. Many also volunteered tips, as there aren’t the same incentives to guarding recipes in baking. “It’s not like cooking, where you can implement molecular gastronomy,” Rick says. “Bread is bread is bread. The ingredients around you are what makes you different.”
In recent weeks, they’ve scaled back after Tyes gave birth to their second son, but at their height of production, deliveries could take Mendoza up to four hours. They have also switched to a pickup model. Customers can either pick up orders from the Cook’s Brentwood home or at Bold Fork Books in Mount Pleasant.
Despite knowing at the end of the summer of 2020 that they wanted to open a bakery, it took them another year to find a location and sign the lease. Finding an affordable spot has become even harder for small local businesses over the past several years, to the point that local chefs had to come up with alternatives. Paolo Dungca, for example, had to turn to preparing their 8-course prix fixe menu in food courts.
Even at the height of the pandemic, that didn’t change. “We ran into a lot of that. Here’s a good deal for the first maybe year or 18 months and then after that, it goes skyrocket to where we think the market is going to bounce back to,” Tyes says.
They expect to quadruple their capacity once they move into the new space and expand their menu. “I’m most excited about the fact that we’ve only played around with different things like pastries for basically just recipe testing and development and it hasn’t been in any kind of volume because we want people to get a pastry shortly after it comes out of the oven,” Tyes says.
For example, the previously mentioned canelés: “You have to eat them within like four hours of being made,” Rick says. “We just don’t have that outlet right now to where we make a dozen and the first 10 people can get their choice and sit down with a cappuccino and eat that and be like, ‘Fuck, this is really great.’”
In addition to coffee and pastries, there will also be sandwiches made to order and beer and wine available. “We really intend to be a place where you can kind of come and build your picnic basket or build your little hostess gift or what have you,” Tyes says.
They plan to have a small wholesale component as well. “[It] feels natural, since we know so many people in the restaurant industry from our years of working in it,” Tyes says.
Opening day is still undetermined, but for now, they’ll keep manifesting bread. “Manifest is just what it ended up being and it made sense in describing what has happened,” Rick says, explaining the name, from the promise of freshly baked bread for a dinner party to their output today and output once the bakery arrives.
For more information, visit their fundraising page.