The leap from mechanical engineering to running an artisanal bakery in Old Town is just about as long as a semester in France and a year in Hawaii.
“Halfway through my engineering degree, I studied abroad in France for a semester and after coming back home, I realized the bread here wasn’t like the bread in France so I started baking at home,” says Mitch Delemeester owner of The Bread Guy located at 411 Hancock Street in Old Town Saginaw.
While baking out of his house, Delemeester began selling bread at the farmer’s market.
“I was surprised to find that there were people in Saginaw who really responded well to that kind of bread, so I kept baking. But at the end of the summer, I was finishing up my degree and backed off baking bread.”
Delemeester graduated, met his girlfriend Sabrina, and moved to Hawaii with her when she got a job with Habitat for Humanity.
“I thought I would find an engineering job pretty quickly out there, but that wasn’t the case,” he says. “What work there is goes to the locals, people who they know are going to stick around. So I found this small restaurant on the side of the road called Strawberry Patch and walked in one day and said, ‘Hey, do you guys need a bread baker?’"
His baking soon created a following, and when he moved back to Michigan in 2018, he stumbled across the Saginaw Economic Development Corporation.
“They listed everything I needed to open a business in Saginaw and made it super easy...well, maybe not easy but manageable!” he laughs.
Delemeester put together a business plan, moved into the old Hamburger Hut, and worked with his landlord, Alex de Parry to build out the space.
He says that the combination of low rent and a supportive community made Old Town a great place to start a business.
“Everyone is extremely supportive. Everbody’s here wants everyone else to be successful - they want to provide the support, the mental support and patronage to help each other out,” he says.
What about Mitch’s bread makes it different than what you would buy in the grocery store?
Just about everything.
“The sourdough isn't just a type of yeast, it's not just a different strain of yeast from the environment. There's other good bacteria in there. Lactobacillus is a common one, but just other bacteria that are bringing about more acidity. They're creating acidity in the dough, which actually allows the natural yeast to thrive.
Once we’ve made the dough, it goes through a several hour process where it rises, or “proofs”, for about an hour. It'll then be manipulated, stretched and folded to capture the air bubbles in there.
It rises again, then it gets divided out, shaped to capture the air bubbles.
Then it rises again, gets its final shape. And then after it's final shape, it'll have a short proof before going in our refrigerator to retard the dough for night. So it gets an overnight retardation, which ends up adding more flavor to the dough, giving it a better crust.
After all that, we can pull it out in the morning and bake it.”
His love of baking is more than just crust-deep.
"I enjoy the challenge of starting with several simple ingredients and turning them into something special," he says.
"The bakery setting is somewhere I can reach zen, where I'm physically active and I can disappear into the process of creation, and is a safe setting for everyone to relax and feel at home and comforted."