W hen Charles Negaro began baking bread, his goals boiled down to this: “I wanted to make something I was proud of.”
So he named Chabaso Bakery after his children: Charlie, Abagail and Sophia—Ch-Aba-So. Almost twenty years on, the children are now adults (Charlie is even the bakery’s chief of operations), and Negaro’s emphasis on pride hasn’t yet wavered. The proof is in the delicious product, though Chabaso’s tried to meet a high standard in more ways than bread. “We are really good to the people who work for us, and we want to be concerned citizens in the community.”
Locals may have first encountered Chabaso bread—from the crusty, slightly salty Olive Oil Ciabatta to the honey-sweetened 100% Whole Wheat sandwich bread—at Atticus Bookstore, a popular New Haven book retailer and eatery opened by Negaro in 1976. Atticus is where the Chabaso journey began; after establishing the cafe portion of the business in 1981 (which nowadays serves a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads, quiches and baked goods), Negaro needed a quality bread to serve. Finally, during the 1990s, with inspiration from artisanal techniques he’d encountered while traveling in Europe, he took matters into his own hands.
At first, Chabaso was sold only at Atticus, either accompanying menu items or available for stand-alone purchase at the counter. But the bread caught on, and soon the operation was expanding, delivering baguettes, ciabattas, rolls, loaves, boules and “Stix” (a miniature version of favorite recipes) from its bakery facility on James Street to grocery and specialty stores throughout Connecticut, then in New York and New Jersey.
Growth continues today, says Negaro, with the goods now sold far up and down the east coast, including in Massachusetts, Maine and mid-Atlantic states. “We’ve been the number-one bestselling artisan brand in the New England states,” he says, noting that Chabaso has the capacity to make up to 10,000 pounds of bread on busy days.
For fans, Chabaso bread is a mainstay of the dinner table, with its chewy crust and soft interior due in part to air bubbles trapped during the hearth-baking process. In multi-grain and specialty varieties, like the Cranberry Pecan Loaf or Raisin Grains Ciabatta, fresh oats, seeds and fruit add texture and flavor. The back-to-basics Rustic White or Rye bread bookending your sandwich is just as much the star as the filling, whatever it might be. The Classic Baguette and Ciabatta are excellent bases for cheese and salami boards, or simply dipped in tasty olive oil, but are also delicious on their own, which is why it’s hard not to tear off a chunk or two and nibble away on the drive home from the store such asthe Elm City Market, or the local Stop & Shop.
Saying that Chabaso and Negaro, who’s 73 and lives in East Rock, are “involved in the community” is putting it lightly. The bakery commonly sponsors events around town. You’ll see its branded bags in the hands of hundreds of hungry runners at road races throughout the year, providing carb-boosting loaves as post-race giveaways. It also sends excess bread to the Connecticut Food Bank, and is happy to oblige with donations to various fund-raisers. “We give bread to anybody who asks for it,” Negaro says.
On at least one occasion, the bakery didn’t give food but instead donated land. New Haven Farms, a nonprofit that now presides over seven small urban farms in the eastern half of the city, got its start on a patch of earth behind the bakery. Negaro even sits on NHF’s board.
He says Chabaso isn’t done adding to its record of positive community impact. For instance, someday he wants to amp up the bakery’s environmental sustainability by using flour from grains grown closer to home than the midwest, where the current supply comes from.
It’s another extension of that fundamental Chabaso pride—the kind of pride the rest of us are all too happy to keep swallowing.
360 James St, New Haven (map)
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Written by Cara McDonough. Photographed by Dan Mims.