“I still feel like a wood-fired baker,” says Arturo Enciso, head baker of Gusto Bread, as he shapes a large ball of dough. He doesn’t look down, not really; it’s all known form and prior process. If Enciso seems comfortable doing all this, he should: His at-home, semi-underground bakery in Long Beach has been turning out hundreds of loaves and pastries every week for the past few years, after Enciso and partner Ana Salatino found themselves emboldened by California’s cottage industry food laws to move into production for themselves. They brought in flour bins, work benches, and hearty ovens to bake up a weekly storm of pastries, boules, baguettes and cookies from the converted living room of their rented two-story house on Chestnut Street, selling to restaurants, at farmers markets, and to hundreds who showed up weekly to their front door.
Now, after earning recognition as one of Southern California’s best bakers, Enciso is turning off the lights to phase one of Gusto’s master plan, with plans to move into a public-facing bakery right on Retro Row some time in early August. Even with a pandemic on, he finds time to be thankful for it all.
“We’re very blessed,” says Enciso by phone last week. “The way we operated our business to begin with has turned out to be a pretty great model.”
To really understand the journey, you have to know the first few steps. Unlike the recent crop of sudden stay-at-home quarantine bakers, Enciso has been making handmade tortillas and ultra-rustic breads since childhood. Gusto was in part born out of his time growing up in tiny Lebec an hour north in Kern County, and his family’s lineage back to Chihuahua, the north-central state in Mexico, just beneath El Paso.
He found his current baking passion in pages of the cookbook From the Wood-Fired Oven, and from a learning trip to several old school bakeries in Vermont. It almost led Enciso to ship his life across the country and partner up in a business there, but the passage of California’s cottage food operations laws in 2018 made the dream of staying local too good to pass up.
The at-home production laws have enabled an entire generation of passionate upstarts, like Leah Ferrazzani of Semolina Artisan Pasta in Altadena, to make what they love at home, and to sell what they can without being burdened with the usual construction, outfitting, overhead, and labor costs that come with a traditional retail and production space.
The movement is working, adding a whole slew of new makers and artisans to California’s already-prodigious restaurant community, at least before the pandemic hit. Now, with mostly takeout and to-go orders the norm around Southern California, a whole new ecosystem of former restaurant workers have sprung up making breads and cakes and pizzas in their own home spaces — some with cottage permits, some without. They’re all finding their path, often in smaller, tight-knit neighborhoods where local connections and word of mouth have a larger impact.
To produce all this bread, all Enciso and Salatino had to do was pull some inexpensive permits and convert their living room into an industrial-strength bakery. Enciso and Salatino live in the rest of the house — you can see their kitchen, coffee mugs and all, through the short hallway, and their AC unit teetering in the second-story window, painted in a blue trim. Long Beach embraced them almost immediately.
“We started with an email list of about 200 people,” says Enciso, loading the dough into the oven. Buzzy local cafe Wide Eyes Open Palms became Gusto Bread’s first wholesale account, which opened the door to others. “We just grew from there. I was already kind of perceived as this community baker, and then word really got out.”
In the intervening years, all those fans and all that attention came at a cost. The weight of the flour and baking equipment literally wore through the house’s aging floors, and the long lines and crowds of bread-loving fans took their toll as well. “It’s incredible what we’ve been able to create out of this space,” says Enciso.
Now they have the chance to grow into a new opportunity, something rare in this uncertain times. The bakery at 2710 E. 4th Street is in a prime retail location, and comes with 1,500 square feet of baking space. A tiny retail area up front will allow customers to safely queue for breads, pastries, horchata, and non-espresso coffee drinks like cafe de olla. It’s a big move, to jump out from underneath the cozy umbrella of cottage law to a big commercial footprint.
“It’s scary, everything we’re taking on,” says Encisco of the planned bakery opening next month. “It’s an evolution, but all of our hard work has been paying off. It’s just such a blessing to have all of this community support.”
The eventual opening of Gusto Bread the storefront bakery in some ways mirrors the rise of Colossus Bread + Pastry, the former Long Beach farmers market stand that opened its own retail and bakery production space over in San Pedro. Like them, Enciso credits the community of Long Beach for making his dreams come true. In fact, he’s fairly certain that Long Beach is maybe the only place where Gusto Bread could have worked at all, thanks to the unique confluence of population density and fierce local loyalty. It has allowed Enciso to continue to work small and be sustainable, even as he makes the next big step toward a full time bakery.
“The people who support me are here,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”