Breaking Bread with David McInnis
Q: How is your bread making different?
A: As a society, we’ve normalized bread as being the sliced bread found in grocery stores, and on the other end of the spectrum is this “fancy” artisan bread. Things have kind of gotten switched around! Part of what drew to me to making this kind of bread is that it felt continuous with history. Historically speaking, I didn’t want it to be different; I wanted to make bread that was normal 500+ years ago. It is how bread was made for a long time.
One thing that is a little different is that our production tends to be pretty improvisational. What’s in season? What do we have on hand? What can we get locally? We sometimes joke about someone coming in and stealing our recipe book…because we don’t have one.
Q: Where are your ingredients sourced?
A: We get stuff from all over, all the while striving for authenticity. Essentially, part of the reason that I started this bakery was to make something that felt real and whole, not just a little part of a big process that no one is able to see. We try to connect ourselves to the larger agricultural world. Most of the grain that we use comes from a tiny little farm in the northwest corner of Kansas. We get a lot of produce through the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers cooperative (AVOG). We mill a lot of the grain in the shop, which allows us to get a little closer to the origin.
Q: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue bread making?
A: I ran a small bakery with another gentleman in upstate New York. It was then that I felt like I had really found a home in bread making. It felt like something that I could spend my whole life doing and it satisfied what I was looking for in work on so many levels. Philosophically, tangibly… working with the dough, there’s something that exists at the end of the day that wasn’t there at the start. Also, it’s something that you don’t really master – you can get to be on good terms with it, but it always offers you a challenge.
Q: What was the inspiration for the name and logo?
A: The Nightingale goes out in the middle of the night to do its work, and so does the baker. The logo was really based around the business card.
Q: What has become your most popular item (aside from pizza)?
A: The go-to house called the Kansas Red. The morning buns are super popular too.
Q: Let’s talk about your Saturday pizza. People can’t seem to get enough of it and the reviews are off the charts. They compare it to pizza from major cities across the country and even around the world. What’s your secret?
I am at least as surprised as anyone else with the demand for pizza. Every week I think, “What the heck? How did this happen?” We sell over 100 pizzas in a four-hour window. It’s one of those things that people just love, like ice cream. As people get whatever degree excited about decent bread, they get about 10 times more excited about pizza. I also think it’s because we use good, fresh ingredients. We’ve found that we really like the brighter, fresher flavors rather than the more traditional, heavy pizza. We bake the bread and cheese of course, but a lot of the work goes on after it comes out of the oven. The colorful toppings such as the microgreens really brighten it up and add another level of depth.
Q: Do you have any future projects for Nightingale?
A. We have many secret projects; I can’t tell you about them, but they will be delicious. Here’s a hint: some may happen after 6 p.m. In terms of trajectory, I want to us to keep the focus on whole grain loaves. More nourishment; less instant gratification.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge thus far with Nightingale?
A. I often wonder, “Is it ever going to feel easy?” But that’s life! And it’s true for small businesses in general. I didn’t really grasp the amount of responsibilities that small business owners have to juggle until I created Nightingale. It was a lot of uphill at once, especially starting the bakery mostly on my own. There are a lot of firsts and they hit you all at once. The most challenging thing has been the art of time management.
Q: What has been your biggest success at Nightingale?
A. Someone left a comment on a receipt that read, “It’s like walking into a fairytale – it’s enchanting.” Another customer compared it to a little bakery in Bulgaria; they felt something here that they had felt there. That’s when I feel most grateful – when someone has an experience here rather than just a business interaction.