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Image: Beer Bread

Ottawa baker brings talents to new Saint John pizza restaurant

By Scott Pettigrew Jun 24, 2023 | 8:00 AM

Storied Ottawa cake and pastry wizard Michael Holland has made his way to Saint John, helping Rocky’s Sports Bar’s latest venture, Beer Bread, get off the ground.

The Ontario native got his start as the pastry chef at the Fredericton Crowne Plaza over a decade ago. But it was in Ottawa’s eclectic Hintonburg neighbourhood that Holland made a name for himself as a master bread baker and an innovative dessert deviser at his own business, Holland’s Cake and Shake.

“I was doing 150 to 200 sandwiches per day, with the bread fresh every day,” Holland recalls of his time at Cake and Shake. “I didn’t even really plan on doing sandwiches, but that’s what ended up being one of the more popular things.”

Giving the customer what they want was a lesson Holland learned quickly operating his own business. That left him room to have the freedom to try out new things and was what Holland loved the most about running Cake and Shake.

“I did stuff that no one else wanted to do, or would trust me to try at any other business,” he says. “But because I did it and people loved it, it was fun.”

Cake and Shake’s cutting-edge and ever-changing menu was a treat to explore for the many that stopped in. His personal-sized mini cakes ran the gamut from traditional fare to multi-layered masterpieces featuring layers of frosting, sweet cereals, and candy.

Holland, who is currently in the midst of obtaining his biotechnology degree, following a passion he’s had since childhood, is bringing that experience and expertise to his role at Beer Bread.

“Biotechnology is just the science of anything involving living organisms, so it could be bacteria or yeast,” Holland says. “I think being a chef for so long, especially a pastry chef, there’s obviously a lot of chemistry involved.”

He envisions a number of different spin-off opportunities from his interest in both food and biotech, especially at a place like Beer Bread, both of which involve working with yeast to make delicious gastronomic experiences.

“I worked at [renowned Ottawa brewery] Beyond the Pale for a summer, with quality control,” he recounts. “We would count the yeast to see how healthy the beer is…that’s also the kind of thing that I’m interested in, so I’d love to get into a brewery.”

But right now, Holland is laser-focused on getting the balance just right for the airy dough he’ll be using  at Beer Bread.

“I’m actually making a beer bread I made at [Cake and Shake], it’s just a bread made with actual beer,” he explains. “I’m going to be speaking with one of the local breweries and getting the spent grains”

“The beer bread is time-consuming to shape, so I used to only do it once a month,” he says of the early days at Cake and Shake. “And because I was around the corner from Beyond the Pale, they used to give me the beer and grains and they loved it,” he said. “I would give them sandwiches in return.”

Here in Saint John, Holland is looking forward to making new memories with the neighbouring business community and, of course, providing a great experience for the customers.

“It’s a 24 hour proof,” he says of his process for making the pizza dough. “It’s going to be authentic.”

The soon-to-be-opened Beer Bread will feature Detroit-style pizza, the base of which is an old-world, southern Italian-style bread similar to a fluffy focaccia baked in a deep, square pan.

“Detroit-style pizza is cheese first,” Beer Bread co-owner Moe Arsenault told Huddle earlier this spring. “Then your ingredients and then your sauce.”

Holland says Beer Bread will also be featuring a tavern-style pizza, with a thin, crispy crust “almost like a cracker”.

“It’s very old school, simple style,” he says.

As for being in Saint John, Holland says he sees a lot of potential in the city.

“Saint John is growing so fast, with the development on the waterfront,” he says. “The beer selection is crazy. They have better beers here than in Ontario.”

Alex Graham is a reporter with Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.


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