When Chabaso Bakery (Chabaso) opened its doors in the heart of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1995, it was one of the first artisan bread companies in the United States. Now, after nearly 20 years in business, the bakery is ranked No. 1 artisan bread producer in the North East.
A trip to Europe sparked Charles Negaro’s love for traditionally crafted fine breads and motivated him to open Chabaso. “I was driven by a passion for baking and I wanted to bring the taste and enjoyment of traditional European breads to the U.S.,” explains Charles. “The quality of bread here was lacking and I wanted to introduce the artisanal styles to the area.”
In 1976, long before the bakery opened, Charles founded his first entrepreneurial venture – Atticus Bookstore in the Yale Center for British Art Building in downtown New Haven. The bookstore eventually morphed into a café bookstore and in 1995 Chabaso took off with a separate facility.
The bakery now operates from a 40,000-square-foot space and distributes artisan breads to retailers throughout New England and the Mid Atlantic. The bakery employs 175 people and generates over $20 million annual revenue.
Locally sourced grains
At Chabaso, everything is made from scratch, including roasted garlic for garlic bread. The company is dedicated to using only natural products and never includes any preservatives or conditioners. Chabaso takes pride in producing superior quality, wholesome artisan breads and pays special attention to develop varieties that not only taste delightful, but are healthy, as well.
Although all its artisan breads are quick to leave the bakery shelves, Chabaso is best known for ciabatta. “The process is very important and it’s different than other ciabattas on the market,” explains Charles. “It is a version of a sourdough and we let the dough rise for 12 hours every night. Long fermentation times develop flavors and textures to perfection—it takes time and work to make quality artisan breads, but you can tell the difference.”
As a pioneer in artisan breads, Chabaso is expanding to new areas in nutrition by moving away from white flour and entering the heirloom grains market. “In addition to our quinoa bread, we are working with other ancient grains and looking to expand our breadth of ingredients,” says Charles.
In order to appeal to mainstream dietary trends, Chabaso is also looking to join the local food movement. With many varieties of local grain being grown in the U.S., including spelt, which is a major player in the western Massachusetts grain market, the company is working with local farmers and grain producers to improve its selection of local and nutritious grain sources. “Because consumers are becoming more concerned with product traceability and supporting local farmers, we are looking for ways to enter the locally sourced grain market while still producing mass amounts of bread,” says Charles. “Fresh grains make better breads, so local has that advantage, but we need to be sure we can provide consistent quality and meet our volume demands while introducing these new grains.”
Chabaso provides par-baked items for supermarkets, which are frozen with a shelf life of several months and can be baked on-site. The company also has plans to expand its product line into sliced bread and non-bread items, which will require new bakery equipment and staff education.
Not only is Chabaso dedicated to baking the best artisanal breads on the Eastern Seaboard, it is also committed to the physical health and economic development of its communities. Chabaso funds a non-profit organization that provides urban garden space to surrounding neighborhoods and also donates to, as well as sponsors, local events.
“By supporting our communities, providing healthy alternatives and educating our young people we are able to sustain a healthier tomorrow for all children,” says Charles.
Chabaso team members participate in volunteer programs throughout the year, including Habitat for Humanity and Junior Achievement. Company employees are also involved in running and cycling teams that compete in various events to benefit many charities.
As a perk to its employees, Chabaso’s Healthy Eating Committee focuses on distributing healthful, free lunches for employees seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Although many other independent bakeries in the area have been bought out by larger companies, Chabaso Bakery remains family-owned and -operated. The bakery, which has put good faith in its name as it was formed by combining the first part of the names of Charles’ three children: Charlie, Abigail and Sophia: Ch-Aba-So, plans to delight its patrons’ taste buds for many more years to come.