PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK TREGENZA
Former executive finds his passion in artisan breads
In the Italian city of Florence, secret bakeries are a longstanding tradition. Hundreds of home bakers supply the city’s cafés, and locals in the know wait outside these clandestine bakeries in the early morning hours to grab a fresh, hot-from-the-oven pastry.
Andrew McClelland didn’t set out to have a secret bakery of his own, but the twists and turns of the past six months have led him down this path. Now, at his home in South Salinas, he produces hundreds of loaves of rustic sourdough and whole grain breads, as well as pastries, croissants and more each week.
People order his breads online, pay in advance and then pick up at a table outside his house twice a week—contactless and convenient.
“I’m probably doing too many loaves for my own good,” says McClelland with a chuckle. He notes that baking, even in the comfort of one’s own home, is demanding work with extremely long hours.
His passion for what he does lifts him above that, though, and there is a constant creative outpouring of new offerings, like his chocolate cherry rye loaves, artichoke and ricotta-filled croissants and rosemary brioche burger buns, to name just a few. He even makes handcrafted sourdough dog biscuits.
For McClelland, the Secret Bakery is a return to some of his favorite things—baking and being in the kitchen. He has been a dedicated home baker for several decades, long before quarantine sourdough was a thing. At the same time, it’s a chance to fill a hole in local artisan food culture. Few Monterey Bay area bakeries specialize in breads, and there was none to be found in Salinas.
“I’ve always been a food person at heart,” says McClelland, who began working for restaurants as a teen in his native Toronto. He then made his mark in the corporate world for many years, pioneering the first chopped bagged salads for Fresh Express and other readyto- eat products for Dole and Taylor Farms. More recently, he was general manager at the Carmel Valley farm stand of Earthbound Farm, which he helmed for about a year.
McClelland still consults for ag companies, but the dearth of good sourdough bread in the region continued to nag at him. Last year he became intrigued with the idea of having his own bakery, even looking at potential spaces, and also began baking and selling breads at the Oldtown Salinas Farmers’ Market at the beginning of 2020. “I quickly started selling out,” he says. “I had very happy customers.”
But then the COVID-19 pandemic came along and he opted to pull out of the farmers’ market—at least for now— and sell from home, with the help of daughter Rhylae, whose regular job as an event planner was impacted by the pandemic. Rhylae built the Secret Bakery website and manages its social media.
“She’s been amazing and I’ve hired her part-time,” says McClelland. “She’s now launching out on her own by consulting to other bootstrapping startup brands.”
McClelland has always felt drawn to hearth breads, especially sourdough. He’s been inspired by great bakers like Joe Ortiz and Nancy Silverton, as well as Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread and Brother Juniper’s Bread Book.
To McClelland, great bread is all in the details: the right kinds of flour, hand mixing and shaping, slow fermentation, a perfectly caramelized crust and an airy moist crumb. His breads are naturally leavened, a process that he believes is enhanced by his use of organic flour.
He sources his ingredients locally whenever possible, using wheat from Coke Farm in San Juan Bautista, which he mills himself, along with freshly milled flour from Oregon. Hearty whole grains are his passion, with loaves like San Benito Sesame Whole Wheat, Double Fermented Scottish Oat, Country Sour Boule and whole wheat baguettes on the Secret Bakery menu. Pastries range from croissants and pain au chocolat to morning buns and blueberry pinwheels.
For a lone baker to have this kind of output seems amazing, especially when you consider it’s all done from home. McClelland has designated an extra room in his house for baking supplies and uses a Belgian oven that he describes as being made for “serious home bakers,” holding nine to 12 loaves at a time.
For now, McClelland is going with the flow and seeing where his business will take him. He’s thankful to be able to stay home and still make his customers happy with his freshly baked offerings.
“Will I ever have a storefront? Who knows?” he says. “I love what I’m doing.”
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas tree farm in North Monterey County, writes about sustainable living, home design and health for numerous publications and websites.