Easthampton Bread Baker Earns National Recognition

Daily Hampshire Gazette, July 12th, 2016, by Alexa Chyrssovergis. The distinctive smell of freshly baked bread wafted in hot fumes from homemade loafs as Julie Copoulos placed them on a shelf early Tuesday morning inside the Easthampton bakery she co-owns.

It was slightly before Small Oven’s 7 a.m. opening, but bright-eyed Copoulos, 28, had been there since 4:30, along with co-owner Amanda Milazzo, 37.

Their dedication to the two-year-old bakery at 36 Union St. is being noticed. In May of this year, Copoulos was named one of Dessert Professional magazine’s 2016 Top Ten Bread Bakers in North America.

Copoulos said she always loved science when she was younger — chemistry and biology. And she loved food, too. Bread was a perfect way to tie the two things together, as mastering the art of bread making requires combining fresh ingredients in perfect and exact measurements.

Her dedication to the trickiness of the craft seems to translate to other aspects of her job too. One of her favorite parts of being an entrepreneur, she said, is doing fix-it projects.

“I love feeling capable,” Copoulos said. “That you can just start with a raw product, like flour or wood, and end up with something that’s beautiful, useable and refined, based solely on your skill.”

Before customers started flowing into the bakery Tuesday, Copoulos and Milazzo were like busy bees, preparing freshly made baked goods of all sorts. They had the assistance of longtime employee Maddy Parks and a newer member of the staff, Lizzie Whiteaker.

While Copoulos mixed dough for her renowned bread, Milazzo donned the top of marscarpone tartlets with local berries and Whiteaker stocked the front bakery window with goodies — almond croissants, sticky buns and sweet cheese danishes. Parks flitted about, buttering croissants and putting dough on trays to bake.

Small Oven, which uses fresh and local ingredients, has thrived since its kickstarter-backed opening two years ago thanks to community support, Milazzo said. Easthampton was ready for the bakery when it came around, she said.

The two owners see regulars come in often. Milazzo said one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is watching customers go through the stages of life in the bakery, from a first date to a baby shower.

“I feel like we are rewarded often with the customers,” Milazzo said. “They love the product and we love them for that.”

When Copoulos and Milazzo first met, they shared mutual grievances over trying to expand and experiment with baking in very small spaces. To remedy their frustrations, they launched Small Oven.

Though at first it was rigorous work, with each of them working 90-hour weeks, they managed to pull through with strong community support and a helpful hired staff, they said.

Parks, 27, started working at Small Oven only a couple weeks after it opened. She works as a baker’s assistant, but Copoulos and Milazzo call her a Renaissance woman.

Parks said she appreciates that Copoulos and Milazzo immersed her in work right away, and is glad to have been able to be with the business since its beginning.

“Julie and Amanda care about every aspect,” Parks said. “Not just quality ingredients, but presentation and community.”

Regular customer Amber Belhumeur, 31, agrees with Parks on this point. She’s been coming at least a few times a week since the bakery opened, and said while many restaurants and bakeries tend to cut corners in some areas, Small Oven does not.

Copoulos and Milazzo are very welcoming, she said, and add interesting and creative new flavors to their menu on a fresh and frequent basis.

“I think it’s the whole package,” Belhumeur said. “They do not skimp on anything. They think everything through.”