The warm scent of grains and baking bread wafts through the grey-tiled hallways of an industrial sized bakery, where around 12 crew members busily prepare pans for baking and buckets of milled grain for fermenting, however, this is not your ordinary bakery.
Mario Repetto, who turned 71 this week and will celebrate 17 years in the baking business next year, is the owner of Grindstone Bakery in Rohnert Park, a gluten free, organic bread maker that uses the age-old tradition of stone milling to create healthier alternatives to wheat made bread and cookies.
While Repetto wasn’t the original founder of the bakery, which was started by a family friend in a small garage in Santa Rosa in 1999, the jovial, bright-eyed baker said that he has been surrounded by bread, wheat and flour mills for his whole life.
“My father had been involved as a business partner in a flour mill… and my father got involved in the business of making flour out of mostly wheat and other grains, so he spent all his life there… so I grew up going to the mill and going to see him,” Repetto said. “Somehow the connection with the production of bread was in my mind since I was born.”
This connection with bread making began in the small town of Rosario in Argentina, where Repetto’s family immigrated to from Italy. The sleepy port town, which is around 185 miles from the capital of Buenos Aires, is historically known for wheat and soy and agricultural production, along with the entirety of the country, according to Repetto.
“The country is a very large exporter of food, of wheat and corn and soy,” Repetto explained, animatedly talking with his hands.
Being surrounded by flour and food exports was what initially taught and inspired Repetto about the baking world he said,” ...They had to have a bakery there (in Rosario), for the testing of the different flours, with wheat and barley, so I would learn about bread making from that experience.
However, according to Repetto, he originally did not want to be a baker and was instead intrigued by science and had aspirations to become a chemist.
Repetto, with his meticulously groomed white mustache and friendly smile, said he had a bit of a rebellious phase and against his father’s wishes, went to study biochemistry and photosynthesis (the process that plants undergo to synthesize carbon dioxide and water to make food), at the University of Buenos Aires.
“I studied chemistry and decided that I wanted to be a scientist, so I said goodbye. My father wanted me to work at the mill and be the chemist for the mill and I said this is boring… I’m not going to spend my life testing gluten content in the flour,” Repetto said.
Yet, his endeavors to study chemistry got sidetracked and Repetto could not finish his Ph.D. at the University due to political unrest that was occurring at the time in the country. But he met his wife Darlene and moved to California, the little garage bakery with only a few brick ovens fell into his hands and his love for bread making resurfaced.
“When I came I learned the bakery was open for changing hands and it was music to my ears,” Repetto said.
According to him, the goal of the bakery is to preserve ancient bread-making techniques and to create healthier options for the community.
“It was started with all of the traditional elements of an ancient bakery, because in ancient times there was no flour, there was no yeast, the bakers had to actually grind their grains and had to have a wood fire brick oven,” Repetto said. “So the bakery was originally created to reproduce, exactly and faithfully, how bread was made 2,000 years ago. And this was the original concept that we’ve continued through the years, to stay away from hybridized grains like wheat… and use all of the layers of the grain to get the oils from the antioxidants that keep you young.”
This is where Grindstone’s unique and healthy concept comes in, where instead of using “hybridized wheat,” grains like spelt, rye and barley are used instead, and according to grindstonebakery.com all the breads are “certified organic… made with whole grains/seeds and authentic sourdough (no yeast), vegan, GMO-free and sugar-free.”
Repetto said all of these mindful bread making elements are used to combat dietary restrictions that people may have to gluten and yeast and to just provide bread that is good for the body.
“Many people today are suffering health problems because of the way we have transformed our diet, wheat isn’t wheat basically. So we stay away from those grains that are harmful to our bodies, like high content of gluten,” Repetto explained.
The bakery currently makes 12 different types of bread (each mixed by hand), all ranging from gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread to banana barley bread and according to Repetto, he and his team make 3,000 loaves each week, which are distributed to local health-food stores, such as Whole-Foods and Oliver’s in Cotati and are shipped nationwide to customers who order bread online.
However, Repetto said people from the RP community also come to the bakery in the morning to buy freshly made bread in person.
For Repetto, the most rewarding aspect about the bakery is being able to connect with the community via the bakery.
“First, the relationship with the customers is the most important thing and I have never before in my life been thanked for doing something, so you connect with so many people that either call you or visit you and thank you for what you are doing, so it’s a very nice feeling. The bread is one thing, but all the human connection parts of it are so rewarding,” Repetto said.
When asked if baking is a good blend of doing what he loves the most… experimenting with fermenting cultures, science and baking bread, he answered with a resounding “yes,” saying his career for the past 17 years “has been magical.”
“It’s a magical blend of having an inquisitive mind and developing your own fermentation cultures,” he said, his laugh lines crinkling as he smiled. “At old age I am able to be a baker at what I refused to be 50 years ago, life is full of surprises.”