Baker Matt Swint talks about a tough year for wholesale bakeries.

Matt Swint doesn’t mince words about how COVID-19 affected his wholesale baking business: “I got slaughtered.” Beloved by local chefs for its focaccia and ciabatta, Matija Breads went from 20 active customers a month to four when Ohio’s dine-in ban took effect. 

Matija (named for Swint’s Italian grandfather) has survived in part because of its size. “If I had been a larger [business] and lost all my customers at once, I don’t know what I would have done. [Being small] makes you extremely nimble,” Swint says. 

The pandemic’s silver lining was that it allowed Swint to take a breath and look critically at his business, which runs out of a commissary kitchen. Since its inception, Matija had remained hyper-focused on a small menu of Italian breads. “I realized a lot of people want brioche and … seeded rolls. It’s OK to be the guy that makes rolls, which I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be Dan the Baker [see Page 40]. I wanted to be the guy that makes all the pretty loaves,” he says. Swint still makes beautiful breads, but he has expanded his offerings to better cater to his clients’ needs. (He now makes rolls.) 

Meet some of the Central Ohioans who baked their way through 2020.

In recent months, Matija has staged a comeback. “I picked up Ray Ray’s [Hog Pit]. To be honest, that saved the company,” Swint says. He also signed up three of the city’s newest restaurants: Cleaver, Rye River Social and Emmett’s Café. 

Swint is sure about one thing: There is plenty of room in Columbus for other bakers like him. “You can’t have enough [bread] bakers in this city,” he says. “The more the merrier. … We need to have something that combats all the doughnuts and pie places.” 

Look for Matija Breads on local menus at Katalina’s, Sassafras Bakery, Rye River Social and Emmett’s Café, among others.