Buoyed by the pandemic-driven demand for bread and baked goods, Queens-based bakers Christine Yen and Joe DeMato have translated their success from weekend bake sales into a brick-and-mortar store at 43-18 25th Avenue, at 44th Street, in Astoria.
The new shop — called Bench Flour Bakers — is waiting for a final round of inspections before the doors open, but customer favorites including the milk bread and sourdough loaves, and savory baked goods like pesto and asiago buttermilk biscuits, will all be on the menu at the permanent location.
The new shop has been a couple of years in the making, and Yen and DeMato initially planned to debut their bakery in March or April this year. The pandemic put an end to those dreams, and the duo was unsure they’d ever be able to open at all. In late March, Yen and DeMato decided to experiment with weekend bake sales. That first weekend, about 10 customers came by to pick up the sourdough loaves and milk bread, Yen says. By the following weekend, more than 80 customers had enquired about the bread.
“We’ve been one of the luckier ones that our business really took off during the pandemic and we didn’t know how it would go,” says Yen. “We did not expect this response at all, and it’s really, honestly been getting us through these tough times.”
Yen — who previously worked as the head baker at the Tribeca location of hit Brooklyn bakery Baked — branched out on her own to start Bench Flour Bakers in 2017. That same year, DeMato — who ran popular Astoria food truck Breakfast Shack — contacted her in search of a local baker who could make bread and desserts for his truck. While Yen was selling her own baked goods at markets in Queens, she was also collaborating with DeMato on weekend brunches and Lunar New Year specials that were sold at the food truck.
Eventually the duo became co-owners in each others’ businesses and signed a lease in December 2018, to open a permanent spot for Yen’s bakery business. The duo was slowly building up the business before the pandemic, and DeMato permanently shut his food truck in January this year to focus on the bakery. But the pandemic forced the duo to rethink their opening plans.
Over the past few months, Yen and DeMato have been posting a menu on Bench Flour Bakers’ Instagram page on Mondays, announcing the following weekend’s options. Operating out of a commissary kitchen, they bring their goods for pick-up in front of the soon-to-open shop.
Items can be picked up in person from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Yen and DeMato also carry out deliveries in parts of Queens on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings, though there’s a $20 minimum on those orders.
While they wait for the final inspections on their bakery to wrap up, they’re also working to spruce up the store by building a counter and shelves, painting chairs, tables and walls. And of course, running their weekend bakes.
“It’s really heartwarming to be part of this community, because a lot of people do go out of their way just to support us, and I feel very humbled and very, very grateful for the neighborhood,” says Yen. “We’re just so excited to open the storefront to welcome everyone in.”