Jun 15, 2022
In “Bread and Friends,” the final episode in her five-part series for Gravy, producer Irina Zhorov meets Camille Cogswell and Drew DiTomo in the final stages of preparation to open their new bakery. They hope that Walnut Family Bakery will be a special space in its Marshall, North Carolina community, where people run into friends, meet new acquaintances, and generally feel good entering. But how does such a place get created?
Marshall was once a thriving town, where people went from the surrounding country for all their needs, but as new bypasses and highways were built, the area began withering. The population of Madison County, where Marshall is located, was at a high of around 22,500 in the 1940s. By the 1970s it had dropped by nearly 30 percent.
Starting in the 1990s, new people began showing up—for the natural beauty, including mountains and streams; because of the area’s reputation as a stronghold of Americana music; or for its population of incredible artists and craftspeople. One of the first businesses opened by such a newcomer, in 1997, was a bakery.
Jennifer Lapidus produced European-style hearty loaves in a wood-fired oven. When she left, in 2008, she rented the space to other bakers, each of whom ran their own version of the place. Everyone who baked there came from outside Marshall…and yet they tried to build community with pizza nights and workshops. But the people who frequented the bakery over the years were almost exclusively the newcomers, while the locals preferred biscuits and cornbread to those heartier bakes. Plus, many locals didn’t have the time or budget to make a special trip for bread.
Lapidus sold the place in late 2020 and the new owners, Cogswell and DiTomo, plan to run a retail operation, so that anyone can come by on the weekends, order at a staffed counter, hang out with a coffee, and stock up on bread for the week. They want their neighbors to gather on the property. Their business model and very ethic is built around a sense of camaraderie and care.
In this final episode, Zhorov talks to Cogswell and DiTomo all about their visions for the bakery’s future, and how they plan to bring all of the people who make up Marshall’s community to their table. Additionally, she hears from Rob Amberg and Paul Gurewitz, two long-time Marshall residents and regulars at the bakery throughout its many iterations. As Zhorov tells us, “To turn flour into bread, good bread, requires skill, but to turn strangers into friends—into community—is the world’s greatest alchemy.”