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Austin’s Moontower: A Subscription Bakery Founded By Yam Tolan

“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” -  Julia Child

Yam Tolan

Austin, Texas, is home to the first Whole Foods Market, which was launched in 1980 and founded by John Mackey and Renee Lawson Hardy.  What could they see that others couldn’t way back when our parents lived in tumultuous times, with gas crises and inflation? John and Renee built a community market for Austin residents to buy foods free of chemicals and responsibly farmed meats with a sustainability stamp - long before we launched grading systems and checked labels. Their mission of responsible sourcing and environmental stewardship are core principles that most of us use when purchasing food products today.  As I explore “foragers and farmers” among us, I think identifying those community heroes is essential to the story. I stumbled upon one in Austin - Yam Tolan, Founder of Moontower Bakery, a photography instructor at Austin Community College. He built something special for his community and shares his organic artisan bread, steeped in organic flour and milled products. 

Moontower Bakery

Moontower Bakery - French Country

A Sunday New York Times article on “No Knead Bread” by Jim Lahey inspired Yam back in 2006. From there, he began experimenting with fermentation, developing his culture and perfecting the art of making bread from scratch. That hobby of baking bread and sharing it with friends drew interest from a broader Austin community. As time passed, his friends asked him to bake small batches, and they offered to buy it weekly. COVID-19 changed how we shop and support local artisans and positively changed the Tolan family's lives. 

Sourdough - Moontower Bakery

Yam is an artist and college educator by trade, a photographer, and a baking professional. His first inspiration was in high school, where he learned catering. Baking became an outlet for Yam during COVID, and he taught himself bulk fermentation while scaling up his bread-baking techniques and offerings while working with milling companies and farmers to source products for his creations. His cottage bakery grew up and into his garage, where he built a cottage kitchen called Moontower Bakery. We’ll get to the genesis for the name shortly.  He spends time proofing his bread, baking baguettes, country French-style,  and other sweet treats for weekly pick-ups. 

Long fermented pizza dough - Moontower

When choosing his bakery equipment, Yam was thoughtful, and he bought a Hoshizaki, Two Section Reach-In Refrigerator, which he uses for proofing. The Pico Artisan ovens are scaled-down versions of sizeable commercial kitchen models designed for restaurants. The ovens are ideal for the volume of a subscription bakery. He uses his dough sheeter to prepare croissants, alleviating some of the manual labor of his one-person program. He purchases milled grains and flour from Barton Springs Mill in Dripping Springs, Texas, and Central Milling in Logan, Utah.

Moontower Bakery

Moonlight Towers 

By April 2020, Yam built a social media following of nearly 30,000 people throughout nationally and internationally. He knew it was time to create a business name and set up shop with an official brand. The inspiration for his name came from a 1993 movie called ‘Dazed and Confused’ which brought out the backstory of some 13 surviving moonlight towers - sodium vapor lights used in Austin from the 1950s through the 1990s.  These “Moonlight Towers” symbolize the American streetlight, shining over and illuminating cities nationwide. By the beginning of 1994, Austin had dismantled all but 13 of these towers, and it was celebrated at the “Moonlight Tower” festival in 1995. Yam named his company Moontower Baker, after those Austin-based towers, sharing light and illuminating a beautiful city under a harvest moon. 

Moontower Bakery

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