Little T American Baker
Endless powdery white snow in our neighborhood and cool temperatures make us crave a warm drink and something sweet for the afternoon. How happy we are to have some sweet places within walking distance. Little T American Baker, located in a contemporary building on the corner of SE Division and 26 th, is a high quality bakery guided by four elements: “flour, science, hands and heart.“
Owner Tim Healea and his passionate team use the best basic ingredients: the knowledge of the fermentation process and baking science, excellent hand- shaping skills and a passion for baking. The ‘heart’ stands for the community of the neighborhood. As I met with Tim for our meeting, I immediately felt the special vibe of this bakery. It is a gathering place with sweet and savory treats for young and old alike (or…for people of all ages). Food brings people together and can be enjoyed any time of the day, whether to chit- chat with a dear friend , after a long walk with the dog or after the daily workout.
A former journalist, Tim switched into the culinary field in 1997 and attended the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. To this day, he upholds a boasting career as a pastry chef and bread baker. He spared some time for me from his daily schedule and I was able to chat with him about his bakery, passion and inspiration.
I was given the nickname Little T while I competed in the Coupe de Monde de la Boulangerie to distinguish me from my teammate Tim Foley. The artisan bread world is a small community and when I opened the bakery I put American in the name, because I wanted to show that you don’t have to use French or German techniques or traditions to be a talented baker.
Why did you choose this specific location and interior design?
I kind of fell into it; it was a happy accident. Initially we were looking in North Williams, close to Tasty n’ Sons. It was more affordable, but had less physical capacity. I hired an architect for the design and in a coincidence her partner was the project manager for the building at the Division location. So we met and discussed the design and closed the lease a month later. I am trained in classic artisan techniques and baking, and I wanted to involve something different by taking these techniques and changing something here and there to make it my own. I wanted the products to be reflected in the design of the bakery. That’s why I chooses the modern design.
Why work on your own?
In 1998 I joined the Pearl Bakery as their first intern and served nine years as their head baker. After a few competitions and teaching in Asia and abroad, I consulted with Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen and created their baking program. I put the formulas and recipes together, how to measure flour etc. Through this process, I realized that I like routine and having a place to go to work every day. I reached the point where I could do that for someone else and felt it was time to do it for myself.
Was there an initial trigger to change from journalism into the culinary field?
It happened over time. Wearing a suit and tie and having a nine-five desk job wasn’t my idea of a journalism career. Even the daily life in New York is a full-time job, not a place to settle down. I craved the feeling of being at home and decided to take the step into the culinary field. Cooking and baking started as a hobby. I volunteered at a cooking school program and attended a culinary art program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. After I read the baking cookbook of Nancy Silverton’s “Bread from the La Bread Bakery,“ I started to make my own sourdough starter and bake my own bread at home and at school.
What signifies your bakery for you?
Community keeps me interested in the bakery. The bakery is a gathering place; I know there are people who come here and spend some time to eat and drink, while others make only a quick stop to grab a bread or pastry to take home. And it is a community of people who are passion about their work. It is rewarding giving people the opportunity to be able to support something they really enjoy and like. It makes it special and extraordinary to work here and come every day to this neighborhood.
How important are local ingredients for you?
Absolutely important. Having a small business is about having relationships with the source such as Woodblock Chocolate or the miller for the flour, as the more relationships you have with local sources the more you support the community. Over time I have developed closer relationships and know exactly who, where and what my distributors produce. Especially as you work with alternate flours like green pea flour or teff flour, you should be able to know where it grows and how it grows.
You opened a second location at Union Way in the Pearl. Can we expect more expansion?
We had a demanding request to open a second location on the West side of the river. We used to bake for Stumptown and since they bake their own bread, we had more capacity to produce. It is a vibrant place so we took advantage of the space. I don’t think we’ll expand in the future. My main focus is on the retail bakery. We sell our bread mainly in the neighborhood to Pasta Works, St. Jack , Bar Avignon and some other bars and restaurants. I only wanted to grow so far that there are not changes in the dynamics of the bakery and the team.
Can we still find you baking or in the bakery?
Yes, definitely. If someone is sick or on vacation or during special occasions like Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Easter or during high demand I will step in. I have three head bakers: one for bread, one for pastries and one for breakfast pastries. During the week they start baking at 3 am and on the weekend at 4 am. Usually I come in the morning and check in with everyone.
Where is your inspiration coming from?
My inspiration comes from different sources. Sometimes a new ingredient that is fresher or has a different flavor gives me an idea. Or right now we are adapting a few new products with more heritage grains. Or I drink a cocktail which has a liquor in it that tastes like anise, and it gives me a new input. Other sources are books, either ones I see here or ones which I bring back from my travels. An Asian cookbook where I cannot speak or read the language, but can view the pictures gives me the opportunity to have my own ideas about what kind of ingredients they used.
Where do you find balance ?
I would say, traveling gives me balance. I have a good team here and know everything is taken care of when I leave. If you cannot find me here, you will probably find me outdoors with my dog. My next trip will be to go to Southern Mexico. I like their complex cooking. I have so far traveled to Germany, Austria, France, Spain and Asia.
I can only highly recommend you take your time and visit Little T American Baker on Division and Union Way. I enjoyed my chat with Tim and if you ever have any questions about special ingredients or you are unsure if you want the salty brownie or the pretzel with egg and ham, ask the kind and well-trained staff.
Little T American Baker
2600 SE DIVISION ST @ SE 26TH AVE PORTLAND, OREGON 97202 (503) 238-3458 firstname.lastname@example.org/
MON-SAT 7am-5pm SUN 8am-2pm