Bread forms a bond that cannot be easily broken. Even while working as a travel writer for a Birmingham based regional magazine, Joe Rada, aka “Bakery Boy,” retained his childhood love for the work and lifestyle of a baker. When his journalism job came to an end late last year, Rada, a former baker himself, barely hesitated before deciding to turn his love for all things baked into a blogging project.
Three months ago, he put wheels to pavement, going north to New York, down through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, braking to sample bread in as many local bakeries as possible. The result, bakeryboyblog.wordpress.com, is a steadily growing compilation of his sweet stories from the road.
Rada likes to highlight the history of each bakery as well as pointing out each location’s well-known and most-loved items. “What I’m learning,” he says of his bakery visits, “is to keep my ears and eyes open like a good journalist. Everybody’s got a story and they’re all different. I’m not trying to fit square pegs into round holes anymore. I like getting the human-interest elements of people’s stories into these blog posts, because that’s what I think is missing in a lot of other informational websites.”
Donning both baker and journalist hats, Rada takes his time to get the right ingredients for a good story. “Inevitably, once we start talking,” he says, “I’m there for two or three hours and I’m sampling goodies, and I’m touring the back work area of the bake shop. I’m meeting the parents or the children that work there, and it turns into a little reunion. I’ve made a lot of good friends just by walking into bakeries, telling them about my blog project, and asking if I can look around.”
Rada has visited and photographed more than sixty bakeries since he set out a few months ago and figures he has visited over a thousand over the years. “My plan has been focused on traveling widely and on finding a good variety,” he says. “But, there’s a lot of good bakeries here in the Birmingham area and I plan on writing about all of them.” Rada’s first local coverage was of Savage’s in Homewood. The blog entry tells the story of the ownership and divulges Rada’s favorite local treat: their signature meltaways.
The newly launched Bakery Boy Blog site contains reviews of his tasty travels, with many more to come, he says. Alongside them are personal essays, reviews of baking books and products and current bakery-relevant news. “I’d like to make a career out of this,” he says. “It’s kind of a side-project-dream-come-true.”
At this point, it’s a high-position hobby, and a long-time interest. Rada grew up in West Virginia in a bakery his family still owns called the Dutchess. Many a memory is wrapped up in the things he learned and experienced helping his parents and grandparents run the operation. “I learned geometry by helping my father deliver wedding cakes up steep hills,” he remembers. “I learned about conservation—how to get the most out of raw materials—by helping my grandmother make strawberry pies without wasting any of the red when cutting off the green.”
Though the business still exists under his brother’s ownership, it was Rada’s alternative ambitions that led him away from home to pursue work as a writer. “When I first went to college, I thought I would get a business degree and then go back to the family business,” he says. “I did get a business degree, but, in school, I also started enjoying political science, and English and philosophy and the humanities. That led me into writing.”
Given the freedom to chase his interests, Rada left the nest. Out in the Pacific Northwest, he earned a master’s degree in English, while working in a bakery on the side. In the late eighties, several newspaper reporting jobs and a few cities later, Rada landed in Birmingham for a travel-writing job that was “too good to pass up.” For more than two decades, his career took him all over the map, to cover stories of life in the South.
Wherever he went on assignments, he made sure to seek out a bakery or two. For years, that unknowing preliminary research was laying the foundation for his latest undertaking. “I didn’t know that I was going to write about them. It was just a habit, it was a hobby,” he says.
Well, the habits of youth have become the bread and butter of today. “With the Bakery Boy Blog, I’m combining my interests in writing and baking by writing about baking,” Rada says. “It is hard to find journalism work now, so I figure this is the time to try my bakery blog idea.”
Check out stories of Joe Rada’s bakery-related travels at bakeryboyblog.wordpress.com.
Cory Bordonaro writes about food and other topics for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.