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Fresh Bread Baking...

There for the Taking

When Nausika Lyubinsky and her brother, Chris Christou, decided to open a bakery on East Monroe Avenue, the neighbors were in for a big surprise.

For months, they would walk by trying to determine what was going on in the corner building, which was once home to an Avis Rental Car office and left vacant in more recent years. They watched as the once two-story building was gutted and transformed into an open space with new windows, new floor and fresh paint.

“We really had a lot of work to do,” said Lyubinsky.

Since last May, neighbors and passers-by are now pleasantly greeted by the fresh smell of baking bread as they go to and from work. Although the new bakery, Gold Crust Baking Co. Inc., is primarily a wholesale company, the owners decided to set up a small retail space. From 10 a.m.-8 p.m., customers can stop in and pick up whatever fresh bread is available for sale.

There are plenty of choices. The European-style breads include French bread, baguettes, Italian, Prairie white, Rustica, light rye, pumpernickel, whole wheat, cracked wheat, multigrain and sourdough. Rolls are made in several varieties: Kaiser, Kimalwic, Onion Bill, multigrain, egg, Ciabatta, Italian with sesame, whole wheat, cracked wheat, knot roll, Italian, light and dark rye and onion dill.

They make specialty items with names like Eppie, Texas toast, pumpernickel raisin, sourdough walnut, corn bread, raisin babka, semolina, brioche, panettone, onion rolls, almond crescent cookies and GCB biscotti. Don’t forget to ask about the focaccia, ciabatta and hallah.

Although not all items are available every day, there are plenty of items available on a day-to-day basis.

“People know to call ahead and ask questions like, ‘Is the brown bread ready?’” said Lyubinsky, who said that they have several regulars who stop in almost every day. She said that the best time to come for hot bread is after 4 p.m.

Kim Sheridan lives nearby and has been stopping by the bakery since before it even opened.

“They were so friendly — we would stop in and they would show us their ovens and give us samples [of their breads],” she said.

Sheridan continues to stop in about three times a week. Her favorite breads are the whole wheat, rustic and multigrain. Since she is from Buffalo, New York, she was excited to find that they were baking Kimalwic rolls, something native to that area.

“Now I can get them down here,” she said. Sheridan was pleased that Gold Crust had recently donated some breads for the upcoming NOVAM fund-raiser.

What works for the local customers also appeals to Gold Crust’s rapidly growing wholesale business — its bread and butter, so to speak.

Customers include Al’s Steak Shop, Belle View Country Club, Bob & Edith’s, Costco, Dean & Delucca, Evening Cafe, Jeffery’s Cafe, La Piazza, Stardust and Whitey’s.

For Carlo Pascarella, owner of La Piazza, the opening of Gold Crust meant that he could stop making weekly trips to New Jersey. Another transplanted Northerner, once he opened his restaurant, he continued to make weekly trips to New Jersey to get bread for his restaurant because he wasn’t happy with the bread products in the area. Once he found out about Gold Crust, he was able to get fresh bread delivered daily. Lyubinsky said that he’s the only customer to take “loose product,” which means that the bread is not wrapped.

Pascarella said, “Paul came to see me and couldn’t believe that we were going to New Jersey to get our bread. We worked with them a little on the bread, and we’ve been very happy with it.”

THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND THE OPENING of the bakery was the fact that ever since Lyubinsky and Christou moved here from New York several years ago, they discovered there was one thing that this area didn't have: good bread.

They would go to restaurants and were always very aware of what type of bread was being served.

Lyubinsky’s husband, Allan Lyubinsky, encouraged them, and they started running numbers and coming up with business plans. Their training stood them well: Christou has a degree in accounting, and Lyubinsky has a degree in public relations.

Their upbringing would also serve them well and was most likely the biggest reason for their ultimately opening a bakery. The brother and sister’s grandfather was a baker, who was sponsored by a baker when he came over from Europe. He worked for the baker before opening his own bakery. Their father and uncles helped run that bakery and then opened another one. The two eventually merged, and their father sold his interest to his brother about 15 years ago.

Although her father, Paul Christou, had retired and thought they were crazy for wanting to run a bakery, he and his wife, Maria Christou, agreed to come down and help. They left their lakeside home outside Syracuse, N.Y., and came down to help. The plan was to stay for a year. In May it will be a year, and there’s no sign of them packing up. Even if they do return to New York, Lyubinsky said that they will be back often.

“My mother loves this area, going to the museums and other attractions.”

Not that there’s much time for any of that. The four of them work every day, which is something that Lyubinsky’s father tried to remind her and her brother of when they first presented their plan to him.

“It’s such hard work. You don’t remember. You can never step away,” he said.

Lyubinsky’s response was, “Once you’re in the family business, you want it. My brother said that there were opportunities for us and that it was a growing area. It just felt right.”

Lyubinsky credits her father with the success of the business, which although it has been somewhat slower than anticipated, is still doing quite well.

“Without Dad, we would not be where we are now,” she said. When they first were setting up the business, one of the key elements was a 25-rack traveler oven, which was shipped down from New York in pieces and reassembled. It’s used to get that perfect crust that other ovens don’t seem to be able to produce.

It was hard to find experienced bakers in the area, so Lyubinsky’s father created a Styrofoam model of the oven and they would sit at her dining room table trying to determine the most efficient method. What they came up with seems to be working well, and they will continue to perfect what seems to be a good start.

Gold Crust Baking Co. Inc. is located at 501 E. Monroe Ave. Retail hours are Sunday-Friday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Customers should park on Leslie Avenue and walk to the front entrance on Monroe Avenue. Phone number is 703-549-0420.