The origin story of Mediterra Bakehouse


PITTSBURGH — Some people believe in signs. Others simply believe in strategy, execution and dogged determination. Nick Ambeliotis, founder of Mediterra Bakehouse in Pittsburgh, lives by both.

This artisan bakery is a family affair, founded by Nick and owned and operated by his sons: Mike, head of business operations; Anthony, head of production; and Niko, also head of production; with three cafe locations led by his daughter, Nicole Ambeliotis McLean.

Family bakeries can be rather peculiar, often having longevity as deep as their bloodlines. Typically, second-generation bakers are born into the business, but for Mediterra, the opposite was true. It was born into the Ambeliotis family.

Though his career was rooted in food, Nick didn’t set out to be a baker. After helping transform his father’s local grocery store into a high-end food shop, he later experienced opportunities, pivots and chance encounters, including procuring foods from around the world for Euro Foods USA.

But after spending most of the ’90s with some of the top French culinary experts in Paris, his love for fine foods parlayed into a desire to learn the art of breadmaking. It was a unique formula: two parts professional development and elder guidance, and one part quiet nudge. He put them together … and saw a sign.

With an appreciation for good bread and a deep sense of determination, Nick spent six months learning from marquee artisan bakeries around the country, including Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, MI; Sage Bakehouse in Santa Fe, NM; and Acme Bread Company in San Francisco, soaking up as much knowledge as he possibly could.

“I remember visiting a Jewish baker on Coney Island because I loved his rye,” he recalled. “I begged him to teach me how to make it.”

Before long, it was a new millennium … and the dawn of Mediterra Bakehouse.

“I sold my home and used the money to buy equipment,” Nick said. “And I started baking, one loaf at a time.”

Before there were customers, there was Mediterra Bakehouse bread.

Nick started Mediterra with about 15 recipes, including Mt. Athos, a sourdough made with germ-restored wheat; pan au levain; ciabatta; paesano; rustic Italian and an 8-grain loaf before branching out with olive farm, chocolate cherry, cranberry pecan and more.

With a leap of faith, he loaded his bread into the hatch of a Subaru Outback and returned to the contacts, customers and acquaintances he’d made during his career in food. He asked them all one simple question: “Will you buy my bread?”

Armed with his premium quality product and relentless sales acumen, Nick eventually picked up accounts for Whole Foods and West Side Market in markets as far as Cleveland and Columbus, OH, while the breads gained local visibility at Pittsburgh farmers markets, where they’re still sold today.

“I’d bake all day, go home in the afternoon, and then at around 10 at night drive to Columbus — for one account,” he said. “I just didn’t want to let my customer down because I knew I had something.”

Mediterra started one loaf at a time, and it grew one customer at a time. Today, products can be found in retailers around the ­country, including fresh and flash-frozen breads sold in Whole Foods and other retailers as well as foodservice customers through broadline distributors.

But this is more than just a bakery.

This story is from the June | Q2 2023 issue of Craft to Crumb. Read the full mini-mag here.

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