Baked into the Community

Baked into the Community

Small State Provisions is more than a bakery. By Alex…

June 6, 2022 / Featured Articles

Small State Provisions is more than a bakery.

By Alex Dueben

 

“I’ve been baking and cooking my entire life,” Kevin Masse explained as we sat outside of his bakery Small State Provisions in West Hartford’s Gastropark. “The first time I cooked dinner for my family I was twelve. I’ve baked with my parents and my grandparents. But it wasn’t until we moved to Connecticut that I really got into sourdough.”

The Gastropark is a food truck park with indoor seating and event space along with a bar, a branch of Perkatory Coffee and the 213-square foot micro bakery Small State. And while for many the bakery has been an essential part of the Gastropark, it marks a change of pace for Masse.

Sourdough became popular among home bakers during the pandemic, who know how difficult baking without yeast can be. It takes skill and patience to spend two days making bread—let alone more than four hundred loaves a week as Masse and his team do. It was only after he moved to Connecticut and met local cookbook author and Terry Walters that Masse started working with sourdough.

As far as why he ended up in Connecticut, “He got a faculty job here,” Masse said of his husband Michael, who he met thirteen years ago and is now an Associate Professor at Trinity College.

“We came here and saw Trinity and had lunch at Bricco in West Hartford Center with some of the faculty. It took us two-and-a-half-hours to get back to New York,” Masse said. “We’ve been here in the Hartford area for almost six years now, and we just love it here.”

“I think what drew me to Kevin is his love of connecting people. And his love of how food brings people together,” said Sarah Leathers. The Founder and CEO of Healing Meals, which provides meals to families in health crisis and empowers youth, she’s known Masse for years, first as a volunteer and now a board member of the organization.

The two met because of Masse’s previous job, where he had been in contact with Leathers’ sister. “She said, you live in West Hartford? You need to talk to my sister Sarah,” Masse said. “We went back and forth for probably a year before we actually met in person,” Leathers said, “and then as soon as we met, Kevin started to get involved with us as a volunteer.”

Leathers talked about the work that Masse has done as a board member, citing him as instrumental in making connections and creating relationships with sponsors, but what’s impressed her most is how he works with student volunteers.

“We say all the time that we want our youth to be exactly who they’re supposed to be in the world. And bring that into our kitchen. So, you have kids of all different personalities and struggles that they’re bringing with them. To be cooking alongside these kids and producing something, but also honoring who each of those kids are and bringing your love of cooking along with it, is so multi-layered,” Leathers said. “That role as an adult mentor is multi-layered as well, and [Kevin] just brings his very best energy into everything that he does.”

The way that Masse talks about it, he clearly shares Leathers’ values, but he there’s an added dimension for him in the work. “As a high schooler—and especially as a gay high schooler—I didn’t have anywhere that I could go. Not that they just cater to queer teens at Healing Meals. It’s for all teens. It’s a very safe space,” Masse said.

“You take kids out of high school, and all the high school politics are set aside. Kids that may not be friends in the classroom develop friendships. To see these kids come out of their shells is really incredible. And they learn the art of cooking at the same time. It’s been something that I’ve just loved.”

When West Hartford legalized cottage businesses in 2019, Masse was one of the first people who signed up to bake bread out of his home. After months of slowly building a customer base through word of mouth, the pandemic hit.

“Once we were all locked down, I decided it would be very easy for me to bake every single day and to donate all of the proceeds to Healing Meals,” Masse said. “So, the first two months of the pandemic I kind of went into baking mania. We did all deliveries, so it was completely touchless. Everything was done through Venmo. And one of our customers was Tate Norden.”

Norden has been operating the food truck and catering business Iron & Grain, which works with a lot of local businesses, but Norden had more in mind than buying more bread. “It became very apparent that this guy had a special product, Norden said. “As I was working on the Gastropark, I approached him about opening up a micro bakery within the Gastropark.”

Talking with Norden and Masse, it’s easy to see how the two share many of the same principles. “The mission statement of the Gastropark is to let food unite, empower, and celebrate our community,” Norden said.

“He said, you should come down and check out what I’m doing because I think there might be a potential fit for you,” Masse said. “I hadn’t really started to think about the next step yet, but there’s a cap on how much you can do out of your house with a cottage bakery. This was the next evolution. It was a small enough space where I felt I could make it work, but not so big that I was going completely out on a limb.”

I spent part of a morning behind the counter at the bakery, which is a very small space, though Masse and three employees make it work. There’s a precision to how Masse works. Sitting down with him or watching him stamp bags with the bakery names, check and rotate bread, talk with customers, there’s no nervous energy. He cites measurements from memory, talks about the delivery schedule and talks about his day off between explaining procedures and answering questions from me.

The bakery is known for its bread, and while Masse said that his granola was something people have been saying that he should sell, he did not plan for the volume of cookies and scones and other baked goods when he envisioned the bakery. “We asked, what can we sell to complement the coffee shop next door? They don’t sell baked goods, and we don’t sell coffee so we don’t step on each other’s toes, but we sell things that are very complementary. Our roots will always stay in bread. That’s my first and foremost focus but we’ve had a lot of fun with different scones and cakes.”

I mentioned to Masse that I know many people who follow him on social media because they may love his baked goods, but they love his posts about his dogs and running. “I’m not sharing every single moment with people, but I want them to have an understanding of who I am,” he said, clearly delighted.

“This has been a great community,” Masse said. “As an out gay man who’s married, to be able to own a business and be completely who we are has been great. I’ve never once felt, ‘oh God, I’ve got to tone it down,’ or change the way that we interact with people because of our circumstances. That’s been really phenomenal.”

It’s the community he talks about most in our conversation. Greeting customers he knows by name—and their regular order. Describing seeing people getting to know each other while they sit with their dogs drinking coffee and eating scones animates him in a way that even baking does not.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kevin, not just as a baker but the way he operates his small business,” Norden said. “We want this place to be a collaborative space that’s all about supporting small business and bringing people together from all different types of walks of life.”

I let Masse go to prepare for lunch. He also still makes all the deliveries to customers in West Hartford himself, but I couldn’t let him go without asking about the name of his business. “I don’t even know. I just thought of it and thought this could be a really interesting name for a bakery.

“I wanted it to be encompassing of the provisions that we have because it’s more than just bread and baked goods. We sell jams and nut butters and olive oil. I wanted it to encompass the state of Connecticut. I feel like people that live in Connecticut are very attached to Connecticut.

“I wanted it to be all encompassing.”

 

Most Popular

Videos

The Connecticut VOICE Honors

September 17, 2022, Foxwoods Resort Casino

Get Tickets!


Find Out More!

×