It’s 6:30 a.m. in Richmond, Virginia, and in Sub Rosa’s small corner storefront in the historic Church Hill neighborhood, something magical is happening. Evin Dogu ’02 is pulling the first batch of pastries for the day out of the big wood-fired oven. What was just lumps of dough minutes ago is now golden, fragrant, layered and crispy.
The cafe has the heavenly smell of sugar and bread and coffee. Dogu takes a deep breath. This is the calm before the storm — at 7, customers will begin pouring into the bakery for their breakfast. The few cafe tables will quickly fill with people enjoying a fig and manchego croissant or a slice of quiche with their morning latte. The peaceful bakery will become filled with voices talking and laughing, the sound of the espresso machine, the clink of cups and forks.
For now, Dogu turns back to the hot brick oven to put in the next round of pastries, followed by the first of many loaves of bread. Her day started at 4:30 a.m. and won’t end until late in the evening. She owns this business with her brother, Evrim, and they have 12 employees, but the siblings are a constant part of the day-to-day operations. It’s long hours, but it’s worth it.
“The energy coming from the customers is so motivating,” she says. “They are here because they want something tangible to eat, to drink, to take home. We’ve become a part of people’s lives.”
Sub Rosa makes five types of loaf breads (including light and whole rye, polenta and a rotating grain option) and two types of Pide flatbread (topped with either olive oil, sesame, and nigella seeds or rosemary and sea salt). Their sourdough breads are naturally leavened — risen with the naturally occurring yeasts in the air — and all their breads use organic and regional grains. Their pastries vary by the day and include all manner of sweet and savory treats.
Everything they make is baked in the 7.5-foot-deep, 8-foot-tall oven, which has two connected levels where fires are built each night. Then, in the morning, the ashes are raked out and the baking can begin. The temperature is different on each level and cools throughout the day, ready to bake different types of delicious foodstuffs. Each night, the doughs are mixed to rise to bake the next day.