Valley Bounty: Rise Above Bakery
Published June 11, 2022 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
By Jacob Nelson
“It was always my dream to own a bakery,” Brian Meunier says. A bakery with a café that evoked warmth and familiarity. Somewhere to enjoy handmade bread and pastries – somehow both simple and indulgent – made with ingredients from people you might know. That dream coalesced as Rise Above Bakery, which opened its doors at 282 Main Street in Greenfield in the spring of 2019.
Rise Above is best known for their scratch-made sourdough loaves and flakey croissants and breakfast pastries. Their repertoire also includes other breads like baguettes, ciabatta, bagels, and Khorasan loaves, as well as pretzels, tarts, and other desserts as holidays and seasonal local ingredients tempt their creativity. Everything is made in-house, most of it with flour milled locally by Ground Up Grain in Holyoke.
“Bread is my biggest passion,” says Meunier, “and using more local flour felt like it had to be part of the mix.” That was more challenging at the start. “We always knew we could get local produce,” he says, “but local flour was hard to find in the quantities we need until recently.”
Over time they’ve used more and more flour grown in the region. Some of this comes as Meunier dials in recipes and economics, but sourcing has also gotten much easier with the founding and expansion of Ground Up Grain, who mills flour grown by Northeast farmers right in Holyoke. With this resurgent availability, Rise Above has committed to using 100% local flour in their sourdough and a good amount in other products. Some lighter breads require a mix of organic Khorasan flour, which Meunier can’t source nearer than Canada, and pastries require some specialty flour.
Buying local is all relative, and Meunier is excited to push the envelope. “The grain milled by Ground Up Grain isn’t grown in Greenfield, but it is from the Northeast, they mill it here, and they’re experimenting with things like delivery by electric van,” he observes. “Compared to massive corporate farms growing in the Midwest and shipping flour halfway across the country, I feel better about this. And when it’s easier to get local flour, it makes me want to use more.”
The quality is better too, he says. “There’s much more flavor and aroma in the bread made with locally milled flour. We order it weekly, and often it’s milled the day before we get it. That kind of freshness was unheard of earlier in my career.”
Flour becomes bread and pastries at Rise Above over a multi-day process. When bakers arrive between 2:30 and 4:00am, most products are at a midway point. “The sourdough was mixed the morning before, shaped into loaves through the mid-day, proofed at room temperature and then in the walk-in fridge overnight, then baked the next morning,” Meunier explains. Lighter doughs like baguettes and ciabatta are mixed in late afternoon and follow a similar path, as do pastries, which are formed one day, refrigerated overnight, and proofed and baked in the morning. Twice a week the team makes their pastry dough, incorporating flour and sheets of butter into a flaky, layered sheets by rolling it out, folding, and repeating over and over.
Much like the butter worked into that pastry dough, Rise Above has folded itself deeply into a vast network of local businesses. They source from dozens of local farms and producers, sell to many farms, stores, and restaurants, and these relationships have become reciprocal and layered. Take their partnership with The People’s Pint in Greenfield. “They deliver our bread to a few places in Northampton and Amherst while they deliver beer, and often bring us flour on the way back,” Meunier says. He’s also made bread with spent grain from their brewery, and their restaurant has Rise Above bread on their menu.
Many of these relationships blur business and friendship too. “I’ve become good friends with Ben Clark, and we get the majority of our fruit from his family at Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield,” Meunier says. “I get eggs from a neighbor, who always had chickens but got more when we opened so she could supply the bakery. I get rhubarb from friends. I’m always walking in carrying bags of local produce and whatever else I can find. A chain bakery might have one truck come weekly and deliver everything, which would certainly be easier than running around trying to get the freshest most local stuff. But this is the only way I can imagine doing it.”
Rise Above’s bread and pastries are available at local stores like the Leverett Village Coop, Atlas Farm in Deerfield, and Millstone Market in Sunderland, and as part of CSA shares at places like Warner Farm in Sunderland. You can also order them to for home delivery through Sunderland Farm Collaborative and Mass Food Delivery, and their bakes are on menus at several local restaurants, from the Lady Killigrew Café in Montague down to Nourish Café in Northampton. And of course, it’s all for sale at the bakery and café in Greenfield, open Tuesday through Saturday, 7am – 2pm for take away.
“No one is eating inside yet,” says Meunier, “but you can come in, see everything displayed, and talk with us.” He looks forward when they café can again be a bustling, joyful hub. He’s put a lot of thought into that side of the business. “I want this to be a place for people and families to feel comfortable and just enjoy themselves,” he says. “We won’t frown on you being a little loud and messy.”
Pre-pandemic, Meunier feels they achieved that. “Being right next to the Greenfield Farmers Market, families would come over on Saturday mornings and it would get crazy, all the kids playing with the puppet theatre we have in the corner,” he recalls. “I loved it. So much.”
Even at the height of COVID they offered some much-needed cheer. “Customers told us when the grocery store was frightening, going to Rise Above for bread and a glimpse of a friendly face was what they looked forward to,” Meunier continues.
“Running a bakery is a lot harder than you’d think until you do it,” he says, “and some days I get lost in the work and get down. But when people share a story like that, I remember why we do this – to be a positive beacon in our community. ”
Jacob Nelson is Communications Coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) To learn more about bakeries and restaurants near you using local food, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally