Since opening on Ludlow Street in fall 2020, Mel the Bakery from Nora Allen has received accolades for emphasizing freshly milled flour, heirloom grain, and pastries like its sourdough croissants. The bakery, in a 370-square feet space, was by any account, tiny, which led to lines and quick sell-outs.
Even still, Allen landed a semifinalist nod for Outstanding Baker, the first time the James Beard Awards introduced the category. So when Mel the Bakery announced it was closing in April this year – the building was being sold – her many fans wondered where she’d land.
Turns out, she turned her sights upstate: As of this weekend, Mel the Bakery opens at 324 Warren Street, across from Hudson’s historic opera house.
The original Mel “was like a pair of shoes you loved but if your foot grew….” says Allen. “We reached our capacity pretty close into it.” With just a stool or two to its pie-shaped storefront, the space felt especially New York. She made magic out of miche and miche out of magic.
In Hudson, Allen has a spacious 3,200 square feet to spread her elbows in, with seating for at least 35 (there’s additional outdoor seating at the neighboring Pocket Park). The experience at the new Mel is more leisurely: Order at the counter, and stay for a while to sip on a latte from the espresso machine.
For anyone following Hudson’s culinary scene over the last few years, the move may not come as a surprise. In fact, two more New York City restaurant owners are currently working to open in Hudson, adding to the already-swelling number of popular chefs that moved upstate for one reason or another.
For Allen, Hudson was kind of happenstance — she had looked all over New York City at several storefronts, trying to figure out what made the most sense and what, realistically, she could afford on her own. Meanwhile, she had become friends with the owner of Breadfolks, a bakery on Hudson’s main strip, that announced it was closing.
Allen took a leap of faith this time without partners — to take over the former bakery and purchase its equipment. The turnkey operation meant she could save a lot of cash while honoring the space’s legacy.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store in here because there’s just such great equipment,” says Allen, looking around her new home of Mel the Bakery in Hudson. (Mel’s name references mjöl, the Danish word for flour.)
Allen’s output always outsized her footprint. Among other upgrades, she now has two 60-quart, one 40-quart, and a 20-quart mixer; at Mel on Ludlow Street, there was just one lone mixer.
Still, “it was such a privilege to be able to open a bakery in such a special space,” she says, “and do the kind of baking that I was proud of.”
On a recent visit at the new Mel in Hudson, Allen was teetering with the idea of 11 breads on an opening menu. “I know it’s way too much,” she says. Since then, she’s “reigned it in.” Expect breads like einkorn poppyseed miche, Max’s buckwheat porridge loaf (referring to Max Blachman-Gentile, whom she worked with at the Standard), tomato pie, and rugbrød. The black sesame seed striped loaf, inspired by Beetlejuice, will occasionally make an appearance.
For pastries, there’s a ham-and-cheese croissant (“with a whisper of grainy Dijon”), cinnamon rolls, savory and sweet danish, the poppy seeded tebirkes, pistachio almond twice-baked pastry, rye chocolate chip cookies, and more.
She has tinkered a bit with her croissant recipes but for the most part, everything has remained the same.
“To start, I’m really throwing a lot out there to see what people are responding to,” she says.
When it comes to ingredients, supporting local, small farms remains her priority: Farmer Ground flour, from Trumansburg, New York, is the main mill she’s working with at the moment.
“I actually worked with a lot of farms directly, but not as many as I wanted to,” says Allen of the Ludlow Street bakery. “Because a lot of times the best way for us to work with a farm directly is freight for flour or grains. And freight means you have to have the ability to hold, for example, 2000 pounds of flour, which is a lot for a small bakery in Manhattan.”
On her grocery store shelves, there are items like flaky salt from Syracuse Salt Co., Wild Hive Grain Project polenta, and Hudson Harvest honey. She’s working on building out a “breaducation wall”: offering bread bannetons and pocket baker guides by Andrew Janjigian of the Wordloaf Substack. Eventually, she might sell or give out her dehydrated sourdough starter. There’s even nostalgic Saf-Instant yeast.
“I really want to empower people to make whatever type of bread they want to. All bread is valid!!!” she writes later. But it wouldn’t be a move for Mel without representing her old Manhattan neighbors: tinned fish comes from the Cervo’s team.
Continuing her community-first approach while finding other ways to make money without compromising on wages or quality, she plans to host events like a “queer lasagna night,” dinner parties raising funds for Hudson Valley food justice organizations, baker meet-ups, and other pop-ups. Mel the Bakery will apply for a liquor license.
Before even opening, Allen has already gotten local inquiries about wholesale, something she did a bit with Mel in the city, but she’s starting slow, letting the dough set.
“We want to lean into whatever market we fill a gap in while staying true to ourselves,” she says.
Mel the Bakery is opening on Saturday, December 16, and Sunday, December 17, from 9:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. To start, the bakery will be open on weekends only, with expanded hours to follow.