WILMINGTON — Julia Castellano’s path to becoming a full-time baker was born from her desire to teach. She traveled to France to instruct on English as a secondary language, but during her downtime she would consistently bake bread, cookies, pastries and the like.
“I found myself being obsessed with baking and always turning to it as an outlet when I was missing home or feeling lonely,” Castellano said. “My northern Italian background and love for bread began at a young age.”
A coping mechanism, once inspired by homesickness, became a passionate career that will transpire into opening her first hometown shop. Little Loaf Bakery & Schoolhouse will launch in the next four months.
“We were supposed to open in November,” she said. “But there have been a lot of delays.”
Castellano’s dream started forming after she left France and traveled to Argentina. She was making cookies and selling them out of her small apartment.
“The laws are different, so you can do that there,” she said.
Castellano said baking never “felt like a task,” and watching others devour her loaves or sweets brought a different kind of joy than teaching. It was there that she made the decision to follow her passion rather than follow her degree in French and education.
She returned to Wilmington and worked at The Peppered Cupcake and True Blue Butcher and Table to save money to attend a six-month intensive pastry-chef program in Vancouver, Canada.
“The way they approached everything was truly from scratch — every basic thing you need to know,” she said, “especially the bread component. That is where my interest sparked for sourdough.”
After graduation, she returned to Wilmington — where she and her family moved to from New York when she was 10. Castellano signed on to do an apprenticeship at the former Love, Lydia bakery in the South Front District, run by pastry chef Lydia Clopton.
“I loved her product so much and wanted to get my foot into the door,” Castellano said.
It led to her first head baker position. Castellano had plans to move back to France at some point, then Covid-19 hit. She said it freed up her time to hone in on technique and experiment more.
“My personal business kind of sparked out of it,” she said.
Castellano was making country white sourdough boules and baguettes out of a “tiny oven — half the size of a regular oven,” she said. At most, she could only make 20 loaves a week to give to friends and family.
“One day, a friend handed me a $10 bill, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no — please, don’t!’ But she said, ‘Take it — you need to be charging people for this. It’s so good.'”
Castellano then took to her Instagram account, where she posts pictures of her baked goods, to ask if anyone else would be interested in purchasing bread. “And it blew up,” she said.
Castellano began participating in local farmers markets, often selling over 100 loaves per event, while also working as the executive pastry chef at True Blue Butcher and Table.
“I told True Blue, ‘Alright, you have a year out of me; I’ll start this pastry program, but then I’m gonna go off on my own,'” Castellano remembered.
She ended up working at the Forum eatery for a year-and-a-half, curating the bread program.
“You can feel her effort behind the end product,” True Blue chef and owner Bobby Zimmerman said. “The discipline that she has is incredible. In baking, if you don’t follow the process exactly, you aren’t successful, and clearly she is successful.”
Castellano said her parents rallied behind her dream and suggested they all go in as a family to purchase a place in town. “My father and mother, they both found this house on Wrightsville Avenue, and it was perfect,” she said.
Once Yarns of Wilmington — located a few doors down from Protocol — construction is underway to transform the 1,200-square-foot cottage into Little Loaf Bakery & Schoolhouse. Castellano said the business will focus on Old World European breads — sourdough, German rye, brick loaves, Italian loaves, French baguettes, and specialty items, like challah.
“My absolute favorite is the sourdough focaccia,” Zimmerman praised, “because the fermentation is perfect.”
“I’m really looking forward to making specialty grain breads, too,” Castellano revealed, “having different kinds of wheat.”
She already has reached out to a friend in Puerto Rico who grows wheat, a place from which she hopes to procure grains. “I want to know my farmers,” Castellano added.
She also sells wholesale to Homegrown in the Cargo District, Palate in the Brooklyn Arts District and The Getaway in Riverlights. “The volume continues to grow,” Castellano said, “and I expect to expand my client base.”
Aside from bread, Little Loaf will sell sweets — mostly layered and fine European pastries, perhaps a few cookies and cakes. She expects to have three to five full-time, rotating bakers: possibly two bread bakers and two pastry chefs in addition to herself.
“I really want to create a work environment not typical for a restaurant or bakery — a place where people feel like they’re a part of it, are paid well, and leave not completely depleted,” she said.
The bakery’s price points will be between $5 and $10. There will be wine and beer sold as well, plus Castellano will tap back into her love for teaching. She plans to host baking classes in breads and pastries, likely up to 10 people a class. However, she wants the schoolhouse to expand beyond bread.
“Someone’s going to do a calligraphy class, another how to make at-home soaps and lotions, a candle class, jewelry-making class, at-home garden — everything that you could ever think of,” Castellano said.
Little Loaf Bakery & Schoolhouse will be located at 3410 Wrightsville Ave.
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