The Mysterious Case of the Sloth and the Bakery

Alléz artisan bakery embraces high-end craft bread and cute oxymorons

click to enlarge Thomas McKenna is the master baker behind OTR’s new Alléz Bakery. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Thomas McKenna is the master baker behind OTR’s new Alléz Bakery.
sloth, a bakery and a bike. Can you guess what they have in common? If you said they all have something to do with Over-the-Rhine’s newest artisan bread spot, Alléz Bakery, you’d be correct. Also, you should buy a lottery ticket. 

The white-tile and natural wood storefront at 1208 Main St. opened March 14 right in the hub of the action (located next door to Macaron Bar and down the street from craft cocktail bar Japp’s). 

Alléz owner and Walnut Hills resident Thomas McKenna graduated from the New England Culinary Institute before diving into Cincinnati’s food industry, securing baking gigs at both Blue Oven Bakery and Dutch’s, the latter of which now carries bread from Alléz. 

Today, McKenna and his single employee are a small but mighty team, preparing and baking heaps of sourdough, ciabatta and rye on a three-deck Polin oven — an Italian import that dominates the front of house.

Stacked on a wood shelf beside the register you’ll find traditional breads with added flair, i.e. the cherry and sunflower sourdough loaf, which will be available on select Saturdays. 

“With the sourdoughs I like to put a lot of stuff in it. I want to put more fruit, more seeds, more interesting flavors in there,” McKenna says. “I’m definitely not inventing anything — it’s the bread that I want to eat.” 

For those looking to pop in for a bite, store hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

While the current menu focuses on a few choice breads, the bakery is looking to expand to lunch sandwiches, which will be served with a seltzer and a bag of chips. Those looking for a lunch spot in Over-the-Rhine can look to Alléz as soon as mid-April. And a license to offer beer and wine is in the works.

The crust of the bread found at Alléz works as a balance of aesthetics and functionality; parallel score marks in the sourdough crust are reminiscent of the patterns raked into the sand of Feng Shui gardens, though they also serve a purpose — allowing the baker to better control the loaf as it expands. 

“I want it to look pretty, absolutely, but you have to get the oven spring out of it,” McKenna says. “A lot of it is personal preference.”

Creating nutritionally conscious food and educating the public on the food choices they make is a pillar in the Alléz business model. Chemicals are never utilized in the baking process, and their products are made using natural preservatives. 

“Educating people is important, telling people why that’s important, so they don’t assume that all bread is the same,” McKenna says. 

An avid cyclist, McKenna’s love for baking stems from a personal gravitation toward adventure. 

“It’s kind of like cycling in the sense that you can keep going over the same route. If you live in an area you can kind of do the same route and get faster and faster, and you can learn the turns,” he says, adding that factors like rain or wind can alter each experience. 

“Bread is a similar concept where you can do the same recipe over and over but every variable is going to change,” he continues. “The air temperature, the air humidity, the temperature of the water.” 

This lack of control is a welcomed challenge for McKenna. While there may be signs along the way as to whether or not you did things correctly, he says that once everything is mixed and shaped, the only control the baker has is time. 

“You won’t know until the loaf comes out of the oven,” McKenna says. 

Trust is at the forefront of Alléz’s day-to-day — trust that each batch will turn out, and in the businesses and individuals that help, and continue to help, make Alléz successful. 

Much of the work leading up to Alléz’s opening was done locally. McKenna enlisted Over-the-Rhine’s Lucca Laser Workshop to create store signage, while Covington’s Handzy Shop + Studio designed the brand logo. McKenna hired his own brother-in-law as contractor for the space. 

“I do a lot of stuff on instinct and trust in other people,” McKenna says. “I trust a lot of people, a lot of people have come through for me.”

Why, you might ask, is a sloth the logo? Aside from being cute, the leisurely creature also ties into the store’s namesake, “Alléz.” 

A French phrase commonly yelled by spectators when a group of cyclists pass during a race, McKenna refers to it as a call of encouragement. 

“The sloth is the slowest climber and ‘Alléz’ is what you shout at the fastest climber, so you’re cheering them on to go really, really fast racing. It’s just a visual form of oxymoron.”

Alléz Bakery

GO: 1208 Main St., Over-the-Rhine; CALL: 513-381-6700; INTERNET: allezbakery.comHOURS: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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