The earliest evidence of people using fire to cook food is from the Neanderthal/Homo Sapiens Complex 75,000 years ago. Flour and water Flatbreads baked on a fire-heated rock have been a staple for much of humanity for the past 5,000 years. In Mexico it’s the tortilla; for the Scots it is oatcake; in India, chapatti; in China they call it po bin; the Amerindians made johnnycake; the Norwegians, flattbrod; in Ethiopia, injera; in Israel, matzoh. The grains may be different but the cooking is remarkably the same. Developed independently in various places throughout the world as a solution to the problem of cooking raw flour and water, FLATBREAD united, for the first time, the nutritive value of grain with the pure joys of the palate.
American Flatbread began as a gift to friends and a leap of faith. It probably began in Gladys Ford’s kitchen, where her grandson George watched as she cooked with a wood fire.
One summer night, George built his first primitive wood fired oven of field stone from his land. He guessed it wouldn’t be capable of baking a loaf of bread so he attempted to make a flatbread. The original stone oven raised more questions than it answered: would it get hot enough? would the bread stick? would the food taste good?
To everyone’s surprise, it worked, and the bread was good.
Larger ovens followed. In 1987, a ten-ton oven was built on the outdoor patio at Tucker Hill Lodge, and we baked under the stars. The following year, a new oven was built which incorportated ideas from the traditional clay ovens of rural Quebec, most notably the earthen dome signature to American Flatbread ovens today.
By 1990, loyal flatbread fans lined up to enjoy their own meal of pure ingredients transformed by rock, clay, and fire. To accommodate American Flatbread’s increasing popularity, we built our current bakery at Lareau Farm in Waitsfield, VT. The first night of operation, 110 people showed up; soon after, the restaurant offered two nights of service.
One evening, when all the dining orders had been filled, George baked some extra flatbreads in the empty oven and offered them in our local grocery store. These par-baked frozen flatbreads sold out in a day! Tom Mehueron phoned George asking for more, and in early 1990, our wholesale operation was born. For many years, the Lareau Farm bakery operated as a hybrid bakery in this way; we produced frozen flatbreads Monday-Thursday, and offered public dining every Friday and Saturday evening. In order to bring Flatbread and George’s philosophy to more homes across the country, we teamed up with Rustic Crust in 2010. Read more about our frozen flatbreads.
In 1998, American Flatbread founder George Schenk was approached by flatbread fan Jay Gould with a proposal. Jay wanted to bring this food to his community in Amesbury, Mass. In an effort to realize his dream of sharing good food, George entered into a licensing agreement with Jay Gould and Flatbread Co. was born. George taught Jay how to build the oven and shared our recipes. Over the years, Gould and Flatbread Co. successfully opened and operated 6 Flatbread Co. restaurants under the American Flatbread license. In 2007, American Flatbread and Flatbread Co. agreed that they no longer shared the same vision for the future, and the relationship was officially terminated.
In 2002, with the Frozen Flatbread booming, American Flatbread opened an additional hybrid-model bakery in Middlebury, VT, which operated as a production bakery Monday-Thursday and open for public dining Friday and Saturday evenings. The Middlebury Flatbread now welcomes guests for oven-side dining Tuesday-Saturday. In 2011, Middlebury Flatbread Restaurant Manager Danielle Boyce and her husband Steve bought the Middlebury Flatbread thereby becoming franchisees of American Flatbread. We are excited about their enthusiasm and commitment to the Middlebury community!
From 2003 to 2008, American Flatbread baked and distributed frozen flatbread pizzas out of a licensed California bakery in addition to our Waitsfield and Middlebury, Vermont bakeries. Read more about our frozen flatbreads.
In 2005, Paul Sayler and Rob Downey, developers of American Flatbread’s Middlebury location, moved on to an opportunity to bring American Flatbread to Burlington, Vermont. This location offers oven-side dining, lunch and dinner, 7 days/week and is a fine brewery, to boot!
In 2006, AFC took over ownership of the Inn at Lareau Farm which has become a hub of community activity. Along with the special events that we offer here, we are also able to bring our traveling oven to you!
American Flatbread is a return to bread’s roots. We have reached back to the very beginning of bread baking and used the same artisan methods: simple, wholesome ingredients shaped by hands of thoughtful caring people, baked in a primitive wood-fired earthen oven.
The nature of the bread we eat — from the way the grain is grown, harvested, milled, mixed, and baked to how it is administered and policed; from how it is hoarded or shared to whether its production enriches or enslaves — will shape our own nature and the destiny of our culture.