BY HEATHER MARLÉNE ZADIG
Devoted fans of local cottage bakers Rick and Tyes Cook will finally have a physical storefront to visit this month. As of press time, Manifest Bread was on the verge of holding the grand opening of its new brick-and-mortar bakery and café in the historic Riverdale Park Town Center, offering everything from rustic sourdough loaves to sweet pastries, sandwiches and even cocktails.
“You can get a whole bottle of wine; you can get champagne on a Wednesday — whatever you want,” Rick Cook told the Hyattsville Life & Times. He noted that they’re aiming to achieve more of a European café vibe than a party atmosphere. “In Spain and Italy and France, it’s nothing to see an adult at noon having a bitters and soda or having a quick beer, so we wanted to offer that full experience.”
But the main event at Manifest is the bread, of course, and the difference between their bread and the supermarket stuff is, well, just about everything, according to fans.
“It’s just a pleasant way to get bread,” said Manifest customer and Hyattsville resident Andrew Marder, adding that there is definitely a community and connection aspect that makes the experience so compelling. Marder came across the cottage bakers in March 2021 through the OurHyattsville Instagram account and quickly became a loyal patron.
“I had a timer set on Thursday at 10 a.m.,” Marder recalled — the time needed to put in his order before the popular bakes sold out each week. The chocolate babkas were a family favorite as well as the standard loaves, he said, noting that getting baked goods from a craftsman who’s also a neighbor, rather than from an anonymous corporation, is particularly appealing.
That local, artisanal spirit is infused in the Manifest ethos right down to the molecular level. To start with, at least 50% of the flour going into Manifest’s products is hand-milled in-house from regionally sourced grain.
“I think [the flour] definitely sets us apart,” Cook said. “And that’s a real commitment, because it’s a huge undertaking that isn’t necessary. You do not have to make your own flour to make good bread.” On the other hand, the freshness of the grain oils and nuance of the flavor profiles are undeniably improved, he added.
Even the mill itself was crafted by bakers, for bakers, he said, rather than in a factory.
So why such a huge commitment to handmade, artisanal quality equipment and ingredients?
Cook highlighted the local maker zeitgeist prevalent among many craftspeople in the area — the cups and plates are handcrafted as well, sourced from local potters at Material Things, based in North Brentwood. But he also touched on being a child of the 1980s, when daily dinners were utilitarian and convenient rather than necessarily delicious — or even good.
“The only time I had bones in a bird was at Thanksgiving,” he said.
A veteran of the D.C. restaurant industry, including the well-known 2 Amys pizzeria, Cook said his interests in baking were initially geared towards a future restaurant he and his wife, Tyes, had long dreamed of opening. The realities of commercial rent in the District made that dream unlikely, he said, and similarly high housing prices drove the couple to purchase a home outside D.C. in nearby Cottage City.
Then COVID-19 hit.
“Everything was closing around us,” said Cook, referring to 2 Amys, “and I ordered a few hundred pounds of grain and flour, and then just went home knowing that we were about to be closed for a little while.”
Like many Americans during the shutdown, Cook and his wife filled their ample time at home with baking bread, but with so much quality product accumulating, they started offering delivery, and demand took off exponentially.
“It doubled over and over, until we were completely out of control — staying up three days straight packing and delivering.” That’s how the couple knew there was perhaps an untapped, sustainable market for their business.
Cook credits his mentor, Peter Pastan of 2 Amys, with generously teaching him the basics of milling flour and how to bake exceptional bread. Cook also said he gleans inspiration from fellow cottage bakers all over the country whom he’s connected with on Instagram, many of whom began as home bakers. But the engine behind the whole operation, Cook said, is Tyes.
“She does everything — and I mean, everything. It’s insane.”
The Riverdale Park bakery, located at 6208 Rhode Island Avenue, will be open six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday, with a space catering to both adults and families, a demographic the Cooks are very much a part of now as parents of a 3-year-old and a baby.
Ultimately, Cook said, the quality of their baking is perhaps best demonstrated by their plain, standard loaf — just an unpretentious basic country loaf with no seasonings on the outside, no fillers on the inside.
“She’s straightforward,” he explained. “There’s nothing to hide behind. There’s no chocolate. There’s no extra almonds. Just naked bread.”