Baking a sensory experience at Wave Hill Breads

If you are trying to locate Wave Hill Breads on High Street in Norwalk strictly by sight, it will require more than a little concentration.

Its functional but nondescript storefront blends in with the other buildings on the street. But if you bring your sense of smell to the search, you will have absolutely no problem finding it.

Indeed, the extraordinary aroma created by Wave Hill’s baked goods has an intoxicating effect. Or as a FedEx courier puts it, eyes widening as he surveys the lineup of freshly baked breads, “Wow, this place really smells good.” 

“We get that all of the time,” owner Tim Topi confides as he hands the deliveryman a croissant in gratitude.

Wave Hill Breads first opened in Wilton in 2005 under the ownership of Margaret Sapir and Mitch Rapoport. They named the company after historic Wave Hill in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, a public garden and cultural center where the couple held their wedding ceremony. Trained in traditional French baking methods by artisan baker Gerard Rubaud, Sapir and Rapoport initially focused on a single item — a crusty, dense pain de campagne (French for “country bread.”) When they relocated their operation to Norwalk in 2011, they introduced two additional breads — a ciabatta with olives (Kalamata and green) and roasted red peppers, and a whole-grain multigrain boule. 

One year later, they added Topi to their staff. The Albanian-born Topi had begun his career in Rome as an apprentice in a bakery near the Vatican and within three years he rose to the rank of master baker. Arriving in the United States with his wife, Angela, in 2012, he fielded several inquiries from Connecticut bakeries before zeroing in on Wave Hill Breads’ offerings.

“Their bread was the best I had to sample,” he recalls. “I was at bakeries that were much more famous and were willing to pay me more. I knew I was getting paid a few dollars less here, but I didn’t care.”

Two years ago, Topi and his wife purchased the business from Sapir and Rapoport, who retired to Puerto Rico. Topi has carried on the mission of the founders by placing greater emphasis on the quality of his output than the quantity of items. He stresses the importance of using as many organic ingredients as possible and grinding the grains on-site to ensure freshness in the baking process.

Thus one striking aspect of the retail section of the bakery is that it is not overstuffed with items.  Also unusual about his retail setup is having the breads displayed on open racks and on top of the main counter, not hidden behind glass displays.

“The bread ferments at room temperature,” he says. “This way, it gets more crust with more flavor.”

Topi has taken the product line further with new recipes and offers. His sourdough bread, with its substantial crust and heavenly interior, has become a customer favorite — although he whispers, somewhat sheepishly, “I don’t like sourdough” — while his croissants are marvels. Topi also hit upon the perfect recipe for monkey bread, creating a playful, Frank Gehry-complex circular design with an ingredient mix that refrains from the excess sweetness often drenching this baked goodie.

Creating these wonders is no mean feat. “The majority of our production takes place after 8 p.m.,” Topi says, adding that although he has upwards of eight staff members during peak output, he’s usually in the bakery well past 2 a.m. to ensure everything is ready for the coming day. Outside of the retail bakery, Wave Hill Breads offers its goods at wholesale to local restaurants, with retail locations including several Whole Foods stores in Westchester and Fairfield counties. 

Spring and summer are particularly busy for Topi. “During the summer, we are at 11 (farmers’) markets every Saturday,” he says.

Topi has made several connections at the farmers markets that have led him to lease one of his kitchens to local start-ups. One person who can be found at the stove during the week is North Pumiwat Shutsharawan, who sells a line of bone broths and Thai noodle soups.

“Without them and without the space, we wouldn’t be where we are,” Shutsharawan says. “It is too difficult to find a space to do what we’re doing, with hot liquids and cooling and having access to refrigerator and freezer space.”

For the near future, Topi is debating whether to reintroduce an on-site café that the original owners briefly had, and he is still experimenting with new recipes for product line expansion. But the idea of opening additional Wave Hill Breads locations has him slightly apprehensive.

“With too many, I am afraid of losing control of the quality,” he says. “I want to make sure the quality will stay the same. I want to make sure we have something special.”

For more, visit wavehillbreads.com.

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