PITTSBURGH — In 2015, Nick Ambeliotis, founder of Mediterra Bakehouse in Pittsburgh, felt another calling, leading him to acquire a farm in Coolidge, AZ, to grow the bakery’s own heritage grains. A lofty venture but another sign he was committed to follow.
“We all thought he was crazy,” admitted Mike Ambeliotis, head of business operations and Nick’s son. But after about three years, the wheat fields flourished, and Whole Foods came calling. “They went nuts over it.”
Today, Mediterra enjoys the benefits of vertical integration, with 2023 looking like the best harvest yet.
“We’re a rare bakery that has a farmer on the payroll who’s doing everything down to checking the soil before the wheat is planted,” Mike said of the practice. “This means we can control the process all the way from seed to finished product.”
The primary crop is 150 acres of heritage Red Fife, what Nick calls the bakery’s “workhorse” grain used for many of Mediterra’s top-selling items. The bakery also grows heritage grains like Sonoran white used to make some signature dinner rolls, as well as a Blue Beard durum for other signature breads.
Wheat harvested in Arizona is cleaned and shipped back to the Pittsburgh bakery, where it’s milled on-site to be used fresh, going through nearly 3,000 lbs. of Red Fife a day. Aside from sourcing King Arthur for its bulk flour, Mediterra’s vertical integration approach has almost completely moved the operation away from commodity flour.
The action in Arizona didn’t stop with the wheat fields. Through a personal relationship with Geronda Ephraim, the late Greek Orthodox elder who founded St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ, and a close adviser to Nick, he received another sign.
“[Ephraim] told me, ‘You need to open a bakery in Phoenix,’” Nick recalled. “He said, ‘There are people here who are hungry, and you can feed them.’ So, I left Pittsburgh and started the bakery, and my sons took over the business at home.”
Operationally, the Coolidge bakery is smaller than Pittsburgh, but with proximity to the wheat fields, it has a wealth of resources to meet high demand in the area.
As the bakery flourishes, it also lives up to Ephraim’s prophetic wisdom. The business is solid, with retail sales and foodservice accounts throughout Arizona, and it’s providing needed food for people 200 miles south in the town of Nogales on the Mexico border.
As a man of faith, Nick is always open to divine whispers, but as the owner of a nimble bakery, the word “no” is absent from his vocabulary. That was the case when Mediterra opened and when the Arizona business started. To an extent, it’s still true today.
This story is adapted from the June | Q2 2023 issue of Craft to Crumb. Read the full mini-mag here.