The Scoop: In 2013, Hewn Bread brought organic heritage bread to Evanston, Illinois, and locals ate it up. Since then, the bakery has expanded to offer pastries, sandwiches, and soups on its artisan menu. Couples can pick up fresh-baked bread at Hewn Bread to add extra flavor to their lunches at home or to picnic dates on Lake Michigan. The bakery sees a lot of casual dates and friends stopping by, and it accepts pre-orders for specialty breads and pastries to celebrate special occasions.
Ellen King started baking bread after the birth of her son. She is a classically trained chef with a degree from the Seattle Culinary Academy, and she favors old-fashioned bread-baking recipes that incorporate nutritious flours and artisanal techniques.
While living in Evanston, Illinois, Ellen baked bread in her home kitchen while her son went to Montessori school. As grocery bills added up, she realized she needed to devise a way to pay for her bread-baking habit. So she started selling her bread to the other parents at her son’s school. Eventually, she began organizing doorstep deliveries, which she made around town with her son strapped into a burley on the back of her bike.
That was how Ellen met Julie Matthei, a fellow bread lover and Montessori parent.
“There weren’t a lot of bakery bread options in the Midwest in 2010. When I tasted her bread, I was like, ‘What’s this?’ Ellen called it the Underground Bread Club,” Julie said.
Julie convinced Ellen that she should open her own bread shop instead of peddling her wares around town. They opened the shop together. Ellen was the master baker, while Julie acted as her Director of Business Operations.
“My professional background is as a high school guidance counselor, but we decided to make a go of it!” Julie said with a laugh.
The two women poured their savings into a bread shop they called Hewn. The name recalls the old-fashioned, handcrafted labor that goes into every item on the shelf. Everything at Hewn is made in-house, from scratch, every day.
Hewn has been open for eight years now, and Ellen and Julie have gone from business partners to married partners.
“We are together professionally and personally,” Julie said. “We’re both moms, and we care about the people who work with us.”
A Bakery Focused on Heritage Breads
All Hewn bread is naturally leavened, meaning the dough undergoes a fermentation process that causes it to rise. This is achieved by a sourdough starter that Ellen devised years ago. The bakers said they feed and maintain the starter, and then they knead the dough every 30 minutes over a four-hour period. The dough is then hand-shaped and placed into banneton baskets to rest overnight. By morning, the dough is ready to bake.
Each organic loaf is also made with locally sourced stone-milled flour. The bakery also uses dairy and produce from local farms, and the breads have no preservatives, chemicals, or additives. What’s more, the bread dough is worked and shaped by hand by the expert bakers. Customers can see and taste the care that goes into every loaf.
The bakery’s most popular menu item is the Country Loaf, which comes in traditional and blonde varieties. The loaf is made up of 80% Glenn wheat flour and 20% Rouge de Bordeaux flours. Julie said this classic bread can go with just about every home-cooked meal a person can imagine.
Hewn bakes the Country Loaf on a daily basis to meet demand. It also churns out baguettes for sandwiches or to be eaten alone with olive oil or butter.
“Baguettes are popular,” Julie said. “We do those every day as well, and people really like them.”
Hewn offers a different specialty loaf every day of the week to keep things interesting. The daily bread offerings include the Roasted Heirloom Potato and the Rosemary Bread. For these loaves, the bakers add potatoes and rosemary to the Country Loaf base to give it a different flavor.
Julie said the Parmesan and Garlic Country Loaf goes well with pasta dishes, so couples planning an Italian date night at home should consider getting this loaf.
Take These Delicious Items Home or On a Picnic Date
Over the years, Hewn has expanded its menu beyond just bread. If a couple wants to build a lunch date, they can order sandwiches and soups from the bakery. Pastries are also on hand for those wanting a sweet treat. In addition, Hewn now has an espresso bar where people get their caffeine fix for the day.
On Fridays, the bakery sells pan pizzas and challah on a first-come, first-served basis. These items get rave reviews from young people in particular. The culinary team can be creative and often mix things up to surprise and delight regulars.
“We’re an independently-owned business, so we don’t have investors breathing down our neck about what they think is most important,” Julie told us.
Hewn has a pastry team to lead the creation of croissants and other goodies. The croissants range from sweet chocolatey desserts to savory meat-and-cheese lunch snacks. And all of these pastries regularly sell out by the end of the day, said Julie. Couples will find lots of tempting items, including brownies, brioche, and monkey bread, that will go perfectly on a lunch date.
“We have a lot of pastries. I can’t believe how many we make and sell now. I was looking at a picture of our first day when we opened eight years ago, and we only had like 25 pastries available!” Julie said with a laugh.
Couples often shop at Hewn for supplies for a picnic date or a special dinner celebration. Some bring sandwiches to take on the train to Ravinia, a popular summer music festival in the Chicago area. Others pick up breads or pastries for a day trip to the beaches of Lake Michigan.
“What a lot of people like to do is take our bread, and they’ll go to the beach and have a picnic or gather with a group by the lake,” said Julie.
Since Hewn opened in 2013, the bakery has attracted a devoted client base of Evanstonians. The bakery’s clients tick every box in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender identity.
“The one common thread customers have is that they like supporting independent businesses, and they’re looking for something real. There’s nothing wrong with chains, but people like finding something that’s only in their town,” Julie told us.
Hewn Bread: A One-of-a-Kind Experience in Evanston
Hewn is a local bakery that started with two moms and a dream. Ellen and Julie’s commitment to quality can be seen in the diversity of the team and the work that goes into its baked goods.
“We’re not an ego-driven business. It’s a more collegial atmosphere,” Julie said.
Hewn took a major hit during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, its loyal clients kept putting in orders, and the bakers pivoted to offer grocery staples, including eggs and milk, to go with their breads. The small bakery instituted strict cleanliness and health protocols to keep both the customers and the staff members safe. As a result, many locals felt safer shopping here than they did at their usual chain grocery store. Week after week, customers told Julie how grateful they were to the bakery for keeping their kitchen stocked with goodies.
As the pandemic wanes, Julie and Ellen said they are excited about hiring new team members and seeing customers return. They plan to offer more unique selections for holiday pre-orders. After all, the blueberry crumble they made for Fathers’ Day and the strawberry rhubarb pie they baked for Mothers’ Day were both big hits in the community.
Hewn has a growing wholesale business that delivers fresh bread and pastries to nearly 70 restaurants, cafes, small groceries, and hotels.
If a couple wants to add a flavorful bread or pastry to their date, they will have many options at Hewn.
“We have something for everyone. If you want something sweet, you can get it, but if you like savory, you can find that as well,” Julie told us.