Breaking Bread with Annie’s Bakery

It’s a known fact that a delicious sandwich cannot exist without delicious bread. A perfect sandwich needs to be nestled between two sturdy slices of sturdy bread in order to contain every mouthwatering ingredient. For Tupelo, we turn to our partners at Annie’s Bakery who have been providing our guests with the best darn bread in South.

We visited the Asheville, NC bakery, headed by Joe and Annie Ritota, to enjoy a home-cooked lunch of sandwiches, chicken salad and Annie’s famous pimento cheese (the best we’ve ever had!). You truly could taste the passion in their cooking and freshly baked bread, and we made sure to savor every bite. It was slightly difficult to not talk with our mouths full, but we were excited to break bread and get the scoop on what makes Annie’s so special.

From Italy to the Southern U.S.

Joe Ritota, co-founder of Annie's Bakery holding a loaf of bread

Joe Ritota, co-founder of Annie’s Bakery

While Annie’s Bakery began in 1998 in Greenville, the story actually begins in Italy at the turn of the 19th century. Joe inherited his craft from working in his family’s three Italian bakeries from at early age. Watching bread bake in his grandfather’s stone 12×12 foot oven and being mesmerized by the rise of the dough and the smell of the bread are some of his fondest memories. With bakers on both sides of the family (Joe’s father met his mother when he started working in her father’s bakery), Joe is keeping the tradition alive as a 4th generation baker.

In the late ’80s, Joe and his family made their way down South to Greenville, SC, where they opened Boiano Bakery, a large wholesale bakery that sold to local restaurants and grocery stores. Elsewhere in Greenville, Annie opened Annie’s Natural Cafe – a restaurant dedicated to serving slow food made with wholesome, organic ingredients. “I like people. I like feeding people and making a product that is full of integrity, taste and good flavor,” Annie said, a sentiment that connected them instantly.

The Dynamic Duo is Born

Overtime, the two developed a thriving partnership. Joe’s experience with rustic European style breads combined with Annie’s passion and reputation combined to deliver wholesome, all-natural ingredients and formed the birth of Annie’s Bakery. “I’m the baker, but Annie is the brains behind the whole operation,” Joe laughed.

Joe is able to do what he loves best: bake, create and play.  “We’re always trying new recipes and experimenting to make our product even better,” Joe said.  After all these years at the oven, Annie’s delicious line of breads has become quite diverse. There’s an Artisan Country Italian which has Joe written all over it. The Whole Wheat and Semolina Sesame-style breads are Annie’s favorites.  At Tupelo our favorite would have to be the buns! We worked directly with Annie’s to develop the perfect size, density and flavor for our burgers.

Annie's Bakery bread waiting to cool off

Bread fresh out of the oven at Annie’s Bakery.

Dedication to Sustainable Growth

Annie and Joe have a keen awareness of their carbon footprint and are adamant about improving it. Their efforts (using non-VCO paints, reclaimed building materials and solar power to heat all water) have even won then a Green Award. To eliminate waste and give back to the community, they give overages to homeless shelters, donations to a YMCA food pantry and stale bread to a local pig farmer.

Annie’s also partners with Jennifer Lapidus of Carolina Ground, a milling facility (located right in Annie’s Bakery!) that provides locally-grown flours for a conglomerate of Southern bakers. With these efforts put into place, the bakery is coming close to earning a non-GMO certification.

An Annie's employee slices bread.

An Annie’s employee slices bread.

Community Connection

Annie emphasized the love and appreciation they have for their team of 25 employees. “I want to make sure they’re happy, and we want to keep as much positivity and good energy flowing here,” she said. We can attest that the positivity and passion seeps into the breads and Annie’s Bakery.

“There’s just so much heart and caring behind restaurants in Asheville,” Annie said. “That’s why we like working with Tupelo Honey Cafe – they help maintain this Southern energy and keep our Southern traditions alive. ”
If you’re a North Carolina native, you can head to the nearest grocery (French Broad Co-Op, Ingles, Harris Teeter and more) to get a fresh loaf of Annie’s artisan bread. If you live elsewhere, head over to the Tupelo Honey nearest you to get one of our famous sandwiches (with Annie’s bread, of course!).