To discuss the topic of bread with baker Russell Trimmer and his fiancée, Maya Muñoz, means also talking about philosophy, religion, social justice and the environment. These are people who strongly believe in the deep, ancient and still relevant power of the loaf.
“Bread is a spiritual thing,” Trimmer says, “a thing of wonder, a collaboration between the baker, the yeasts and bacteria, the farmers and the ecology of their land.”
Trimmer and Muñoz are launching a neighborhood bakery in Charles Village called Motzi, which is slated to open in time for this Rosh Hashanah. While the business will mostly focus on selling handmade breads, it also will offer pastries, vegetarian soups, light sandwiches and coffee.
“The point of the sandwiches is just to showcase ways to enjoy our bread,” says Trimmer.
Currently, Motzi’s bread can only be purchased through an innovative, community-supported agriculture-style subscription service available on Motzi’s website (motzibread.com). Customers can pay upfront for six months and pick up their weekly loaves at the site of the future bakery on Guilford Avenue and East 28th Street.
But that’s not the only way Trimmer and Muñoz’s business model is blazing new trails. “We wanted to start a business that would empower people to make healthy food choices, within their means, in a way that is as inclusive as possible,” says Muñoz.
While on a six-month back-country hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, Muñoz and Trimmer, who live in Charles Village, first started dreaming of creating a neighborhood bakery.
“I wanted to serve a neighborhood, make bread that people enjoy and purchase materials from local small-scale producers who care for their land,” says Trimmer.
But the couple also wants people to be able to afford their product. They are exploring several ways of making their breads accessible while balancing the costs of buying local and staying afloat financially.
One idea is a “Pay it Forward” model in which those who can afford to pay full price offset the costs for those who cannot. They also are looking into accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for their hand-milled, whole-grain, sourdough breads.
Trimmer apprenticed at Sub Rosa Bakery in Richmond, Va., which offered a lot of the attributes they are seeking to create with Motzi.
“That’s when I first encountered this model of a bakery — a business that supports a community and a community that supports a business,” he says.
Trimmer’s baking really took off after a fortuitous meeting at the Future Harvest Conference in 2015 in College Park, Md. Muñoz learned that local celebrity restaurateur Spike Gjerde was speaking at the gathering and immediately started pressuring Trimmer to give him a sample of his bread.
Trimmer initially refused, saying that the loaf in his car was not up to his standards. But Muñoz persisted and eventually Trimmer went out to the parking lot and came back with his bread.
Gjerde was impressed, but it wasn’t until six months later that Trimmer, out in the wilds of the Pacific Crest Trail, received word that Gjerde wanted to talk bread. Gjerde told him he wanted him to be the head baker at his flagship restaurant, Woodberry Kitchen, where he was tasked with developing relationships with local growers and developing a consistent product using local grains.
Trimmer and Muñoz have been warned on many occasions that starting a business as a couple might be a mistake. But Trimmer remains undaunted.
“Our partnership really flourished when we were hiking the trail,” he says. “We learned from that experience that we do well in challenging situations.”
While Trimmer is not Jewish, Muñoz, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a lapsed Catholic father, has rediscovered her relationship with Judaism through her involvement with Hinenu: the Baltimore Justice Shtiebel.
“I love that the blessing, the Motzi, is unique and blesses something that human hands have been involved with, invoking the sense of abundance in the natural world,” says Trimmer. “I think Judaism values bread in a way our society has lost.”
Trimmer and Muñoz are making every effort to make their bread accessible to a broad range of customers. They are seeking kosher supervision and hope to offer kashrut-certified products when Motzi opens in September.
Joshua Rosenstein is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.