Its latest usage – as the epicenter of a new iteration for Bootjack Wood Fired as a multi-faceted bakery – might be the closest to its original intent, says Bootjack owner Ged Robertson.
“Most people love the smell of fresh baked bread in their town,” he says. “Everything doesn’t have to be brought in from the outside. We have cooked everything from chickens, pizzas and whole pigs in it, but never a loaf of bread! Until last month. It was whispering to us the whole time.”
The “little house on the hill” comes full circle this week as Bootjack Wood Fired, the latest moniker for the business built around the renowned brick oven, shifts gears this week and reopens Thursday as a bakery, churning out a variety of loaves of bread, toast, pastries and a breakfast sandwich, as well as pastries and coffee from Four Barrel.
Eventually, Bootjack’s menu will grow to include pizzas, both square and round, as well as sandwiches, focaccia and salads.
Bootjack morphing into a bakery-driven model is very much a return to its roots, as famed baker Chad Robertson and his pastry chef wife, Elisabeth Prueitt, opened Bay Village Bakery in the space in 1999, before eventually opening the renowned Tartine Bakery in 2002 and winning a James Beard Award for outstanding national pastry chef in 2008.
Robertson later opened Small Shed Flatbreads there, eventually closing it in November 2014 before it became Todd Shoberg’s revered Molina restaurant. When Shoberg left in early 2016, Watershed chef Kyle Swain took over the kitchen at Molina, which closed there in 2017. In March 2018, the Moana Restaurant Group opened Pizza Molina, a casual, pizza-centric reincarnation of its predecessors, and Robertson and Swain reclaimed the helm in early 2019 after Pizza Molina closed.
“The pandemic made pizzas somewhat redundant at Watershed and Bootjack, and as everyone at home started making bread for their families, we as restaurant operators made a bakery,” Robertson says. “Kyle and I have been toying with adding a bakery in the morning at Bootjack for a long time but hadn’t had the time to put in the remodel. until the SIP. There were several bakeries that we were hopeful opening up on East Blithedale. And when they all seemed to all fall through, we went for it.”
The linchpin in making it happen was Esaryk, whose journey from Vancouver to Mill Valley makes him a unique fit for the new operation, Robertson says.
Born and raised on Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia, Esaryk studied philosophy and literature in college and was drawn to Zen Buddhism and meditation at the Victoria Shambhala Meditation Centre. Through the center, Esaryk learned about the acclaimed San Francisco Zen Center and its Green Gulch Farm. He decided to visit the center to experience that community and study Buddhism there, and ended up staying there for a few years, and then studied at the Tassajara Zen Center in Carmel Valley.
In his time at Green Gulch, Esaryk was a baker’s apprentice, learning everything he could about bread making, from procuring ingredients to the fermentation process, “doing it the old fashioned way with a sourdough starter,” he says.
In recent years, Esaryk would bump into Swain on occasion, with Swain popping into Pane Italiano Qualità, better known as PiQ, the Italian coffee shop and bakery in Berkeley where Esaryk was baking breads. The bakery was managed by Massimo Covello, formerly the executive chef at Piazza D’Angelo. After PiQ closed, Esaryk went back to making bread at Green Gulch.
When Robertson and Swain hatched the idea of shifting Bootjack’s focus, Esaryk was the perfect fit, Robertson says.
“Kyle and I are always looking to learn something new,” he says. “Cam has been a great teacher to us and in turn it feels good to support him. Having our own bakery gives Kyle and I a little more control over the other restaurant’s menus.”