Food - Early riser
A day in the life of TGM Bread's Rob Alexander
The sun had yet to rise as I pulled up to TGM Bread to meet with baker/partner Rob Alexander. Inside the bright bakery, I could see a lineup of brown paper bags stretching across the room, already filled with breads waiting to be taken to Krog Street Market later that morning. I could also see Alexander, moving patiently between the trays of dough and the ovens. The cool, early morning streets outside were silent, but the bakery hummed with warmth as baguettes slowly browned in the ovens and trays of English muffins let off steam nearby. While most of Atlanta was still sleeping, Alexander was getting ready to wrap up his workday.
TGM Bread is a unique bakery. It was hatched inside the General Muir, chef Todd Ginsberg's lauded contemporary deli, where Alexander arrived in 2014 to help bake the bread and buns that were so critical to the restaurant's pastrami sandwiches and award-winning burgers. Eventually, Alexander was helping supply sister restaurants Yalla and Fred's Meat and Bread at Krog Street Market, too. The growing demand for a variety of breads crystallized the idea of creating a full-fledged bakery dedicated to supplying the sister restaurants, outside accounts, and even retail and farmers markets. Pretty soon, other restaurants such as Ticonderoga Club came calling, and Alexander and the TGM Bread team delivered while preparing for further expansion.
In January, TGM Bread completed its build-out next door to the General Muir, and soon started offering limited retail hours during lunch and on the weekends. In February, Alexander was featured in a New York Times article "Bringing Artisanal Baking Down South," and the James Beard Foundation bestowed a nod of early validation by naming Alexander as a semifinalist for its Outstanding Baker award. Currently, the bakery is still settling in to its parallel roles serving both restaurants/wholesale and retail shoppers.
BRAD KAPLAN LOTS OF LOAVES: Pan au levain at TGM Bread
BRAD KAPLAN MUFFIN TOP: A tray of TGM Bread’s English muffins
BRAD KAPLAN HOT BOX: Head baker Rob Alexander pops soon-to-be loaves of bread into the oven.
BRAD KAPLAN PRETTY FLAKY: Croissants at TGM Bread
BRAD KAPLAN PLENTY OF DOUGH: Rob Alexander in the early bread making stages
Back at the bakery, light began to stream through the windows. I shadowed Alexander, watching him carefully roll out and cut the dough that would soon become crusty loaves of bread. I asked him about the recent recognition he'd received. "The James Beard recognition is a huge honor for the team," Alexander says. "The exposure is wonderful and certainly timely." Now Alexander and his partners (Ginsberg, Shelley Sweet, and Jennifer and Ben Johnson) have their eyes on building the business for the long run. "The public-facing presence at TGM Bread is easy," Alexander says. "Make great bread and offer it in a hospitality-driven environment. The planning and execution that goes into efficient wholesale distribution, however, is a new challenge."
By this time, a few more members of the TGM Bread team had arrived to help get the bakery ready to open at 9 a.m. They sorted through the oblong loaves of olive levain and cranberry-walnut, broad ciabatta, and the signature, pillowy Lila's loaf. As Alexander finished up the baking, he shared his excitement to try out new things like flavorful breads made from heritage wheat varieties or a relatively rare type of wheat called einkorn. He had recently returned from a trip to Sweden to work with fellow bakers using some impressive Scandinavian grains and flours. "Every time I've had an experience like that, it helps me know what I'm looking for in America," Alexander says. "When someone gives me some grain, and I make bread from it, and it doesn't taste quite as good as what I had there ... I know we can do better."
TGM Bread is open with a full assortment of products on weekends, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Lunchtime pop-up hours with a sandwich menu and limited bakery selection are Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. TGM Bread will also be at two farmers markets this season — Peachtree Road on Saturdays and Wednesday afternoons, plus Grant Park on Sundays.