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Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Toastmaster

Everyone has a story about toast.

Okay, perhaps that is for the more specific breed of food nerd, but at the very least, I do.

There was the time my stepmother went all out on some fancy-pants dinner for my grandmother and all she wanted was toast. There’s my friend for whom his mom made chop-chop eggs—mushy soft-boiled eggs with toast—every time he was sick. Then there’s another friend who swears that eating two slices of toast before going on a binge prevents a hangover.

Toast is toast, right? Relatively banal, comforting, cheap, and easy.

Well, think again.

Meet next-level bread: artisanal varieties slathered with everything from fresh butter to small batch preserves.

Enter the Toast Bar. Popping up in San Francisco, toast bars are rising up in many metropolitan areas and Columbus has joined the game.

It seems totally appropriate that Dan Riesenberger—Dan the Baker to his fans, and arguably the purveyor of the best organic bread in the city—would open his very own version.

On this day, it’s quiet and dark before dawn and Riesenberger sits in the warm glow of his production facility, the front of which will be the Toast Bar, making lists and planning for the grand opening. It’s the only light on Grandview’s obscure Ridge Street and it spills out onto the sidewalk, beckoning like a well-lit place should. Riesenberger, in his baker’s whites, short hair, and metal-rimmed glasses looks more scientist than baker but, essentially, that’s really what a baker is—a scientist that knows the personalities and properties of ingredients as fickle as yeast, water, and flour.

Bright and sparse, with light wood and comforting blue walls, the space has a well-curated mix of modern and vintage pieces. Two two-tops and a family table wait for opening weekend.

Since the announcement of Toast Bar, anticipation has been high.

“I was hoping for a big response for sure, but I wasn’t expecting this,” Riesenberger said. “It’s been nice to see how enthusiastic people have been.”

“It seems like there’s been a lot of response nationwide about toast bars and toast being a new food trend,” he continued.  “It’s stuck a nerve, in a good way—people are really so passionate about it …I think it allows for a great opportunity to elevate such a simple product. That’s the beauty of it to me: something that people recognize and they already understand—they’re familiar with it. But it’s taking it to a level that’s really not been done, per se, in that way; like how it’s been done for salads and steaks and other high-end food products, but toast has kind of been an overlooked element until now.”

The Toast Bar will feature a regular menu, daily specials, as well as the opportunity to try a “flight” of toasts—different breads with different toppings. “My favorite regular one is the almond butter and maple sugar, but in the last week, I’ve really been enjoying the Nutella-stye spread; it’s Belgian chocolate and hazelnut—we’re getting a special one from Barefoot chocolate that all organic.”

In addition to the sweeter side of things, the toast will have its savory moment on the menu as well. Riesenberger explained savory options will be served “Danish” style—100 percent whole grain, dark Danish rye served with vegetables and meat on top. Look for cured lox and picked vegetables, a beet and cream cheese combination flattered by springs of fennel, and a mushroom duxelles option. Butter will be made each morning so it’s fresh and bright.

Part of the reason people are clamoring for Riesenberger’s toast is the amount of goodwill he’s built up in the community, from his days of baking in the backyard and selling at farmer’s markets to today. “It’s true for sure, it’s not like we stumbled into town proclaiming toast,” he quipped. “We’ve already established our brand and identity, people already love the bread and really respect us…it’s been a huge help. People already expect something exciting from us.”

“It’s really amazing to see how much it’s grown, how much it’s expanded and how the response has been, you know, from everyone—it’s encouraging. It keeps me at it every day.”

In addition to unveiling Toast Bar, Riesenberger and company are also rolling out house-made granola, pastries, Danishes, cakes, cookies, pies, and more.

“All at once, [it’s] this big retail impact we’ve never had before.”

To help with the mixing and prepping and baking, Riesenberger listens to music, from old school hip-hop to classical. Every room in the space has been outfitted with speakers. “Whatever the mood fits, if I really need to get something done, something face paced and loud,” he said.  “I’m always offending the neighbors because I turn the music up too loud—music is a part of it. It keeps the energy up and the flow going.” If Toast Bar had theme music, he notes it would be old Miles Davis, which goes perfect with toast and coffee.

And as for Riesenberger’s toast story, it stretches back to childhood as well.

“I remember my mom always making me whole wheat toast with peanut butter and brown sugar and that was like this thing that I ate all the time and it was just delicious…that’s where the maple sugar, almond butter combo came from as well.”  

Make your own toast stories Wednesdays through Sundays, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Toast Bar is located at 1028 Ridge St. in Grandview.

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