It’s easy to eat Runner and Stone’s amber-hued pretzel absently, nibbling the thin crispy arms that cross over themselves, the soft curves of the bulbous tops flecked with salt, without contemplating the Champlain Valley Mills organic white spelt flour and the 4 percent lye dip that lends its toasty pure flavor. Then five minutes later it’s gone, and you’re left wondering why you didn’t buy three. Come fall, the bakery will be operating out of Gowanus, at 285 Third Avenue; for now, you’ll have to hit the markets to find its wares: rye breads with beautiful crusts and developed tang, buckwheat loaves packed with peaches too good to bake into bread, and canelés, squat French pastries with caramelized crusts and custardy interiors. We chat with Peter Endriss, head baker, the hands and brain behind some seriously serious bread.
How did you get into baking?
I actually was a civil engineer and changed careers. I always wanted to a cook since I was a little kid, so finally I realized I hated civil engineering and started staging as a line cook. Then I cooked for a year and wasn’t super into the pressure. I went into pastry and then was waiting for a restaurant to open where I was going to be doing the pastry menu. I had some time so I staged at a bakery in Southern Germany, where my father is from, where I fell in love with the rhythm and the work. When I came back, I pursued a bread position instead of pastry and never looked back.
I like baking a lot more than pastry because it’s different all of the time, so it’s a lot more gratifying when you get a beautiful bread than a pastry that you’ve made from a recipe that turns out the same every single time. It’s a little more engaging to me.
You baked at Per Se? Was it enjoyable?
Enjoy? No. But grateful for it? Absolutely. I’m glad I have had that experience. But for three years it was constant stress, unmitigated constant stress. The pressure is so high, because the quality is so high, so there’s no room for error. When baking is so variable, that’s really rough. But, that said, it made me such a better baker because the baguettes had to look exactly the same. I learned everything that can go wrong with a baguette at every stage, from pre-fermentation to service, and I learned that with every bread we did there. It was good for me to learn how to control dough.
When does Runner and Stone open?
September. It’s the scheduled date for now.
How much of the new operation is bakery? And how much is restaurant?
It will be both. In the morning it will be a viennoiserie with a pastry line-up, bread, an espresso machine — we’ll do Italian-style coffees with Crops to Cup coffee, they are in Gowanas also. And then lunch will be like sandwiches and salads, soups, for dine-in and take out but no dinner service. And then starting with the dinner service, we’ll have a bartender, wait staff, full-table service, with a full sit-down menu. My partner is the chef component, Christopher Pizzulli, he was the chef of Blue Ribbon Brooklyn. He just left so we can go full speed on this project.
Why open a bakery in Gowanus?
It’s kind of like Gowanus chose us. We were looking everywhere, for over a year for a space, East Village, LES, all over Brooklyn. When we started looking at Gowanus — it seemed to have a neighborhood feel without being overpowering, or inaccessible, like Park Slope, price wise. It’s close to public transportation, has enough things going on, so we knew there were people going out to do things, but not too many where we’d feel lost and overwhelmed by competition. Then we found this space and entered into a partnership with the owners, who are architects. We found that we totally share a vision and it’s like a dream come true. We got so lucky with them. One wall of the bakery will be concrete blocks that they are casting out of old flour sacks. It’s a really cool visual.
Where are you working out of right now?
Right now we’re at Hot Bread Kitchen, up in Harlem. I was consulting with them for a year and a half up until we started doing the markets. We have a really great relationship, it’s a wonderful space, and they’ve been very generous.
Where did the name Runner and Stone come from?
When we finally decided on Gowanus, I did some research on the area and found that the first flour mill in New York, was like, two blocks away from where the restaurant is going to be. We wanted a name that tied us to a mill. Traditionally, a stone mill has two flat circular stones that grind the grain, one is called the runner stone and the other, the base stone. So that was the genesis of the name. The office manager at Hot Bread Kitchen came up with it, so that’s another thing I owe them.
What’s your day-to-day like?
For our four weekend markets we do a Thursday overnight prep shift making fillings or pre-ferments, then we do a Friday overnight for the Saturday markets. So last night I started at midnight — make all the breads, pack them, drive them down to the market. At 5, I close this market, then go to Smorgasborg, close that at 6, then I go home. Sleep for about four or five hours, then go into to work again at 2 a.m. til about 6 p.m., Sunday. It’s like 35 hours in two days. It’s intense.
Check back tomorrow for part two.