Breaking Bread

words: Dwain Hebda
images: courtesy Harvest Moon Bakery

Sarah and Aaron Mastropaolo, a brother and sister duo, grew up happily with their two older sisters in a vine-covered house in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Their family is Italian, the kind of loud, passionate, in each other’s business stereotype you’ve long heard about. If trouble came to any one of them the rest of the family would jump in to save the day.


As kids, their home was the gathering place, in part because of the food, and both their parents cooked, their dishes calling cards for the neighborhood.


“And our friends came over all the time,” Aaron says.


Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 3.24.21 PMOne of those friends was Desirae, the now-wife of Aaron and the best friend of Sarah. “My mom was actually their mom’s midwife,” Desirae says.
“We moved to the West Coast after that but when I was sixteen, we came back to Fort Smith, and Mom took me around to introduce me to some of her friends, and that’s when my path crossed with Aaron and Sarah.”


“I remember Desirae had blue hair, and I was this homeschooled kid, and I thought she was so cool!” Sarah says.


The two girls became inseparable, and Aaron, just two years older than Desirae, saw what drew his sister to this free-spirited girl. He later dated Desirae, and when she was twenty-one, they married.


Life took predictable turns after that. Sarah spent fourteen years as a manager of a local Chick-fil-A, where she learned the importance of customer service. Aaron eventually landed in the IT department at a successful company.


What never changed was the feelings all three had about food and the role it played in the Mastropaolo family.


Which led them to consider opening their own bakery. They knew they didn’t have the capital for a big operation, but they could start a delivery service. Two years ago, after much prayer and planning, they started Harvest Moon Bakery.


“I started making pies and cakes when I was eight or so,” Sarah says. “And I had been selling my pies and pastries as a sideline business for a long time. Desirae and I had been to France—her mother’s from France—and I’d experienced croissants and French bread, and I loved the Old World feel of it. They buy bread knowing it will last only five days because it’s not been made with preservatives. Every morning, people line up at bakeries for pastries. It’s just a lovely way to live.”


Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 3.24.45 PMDesirae smiles as Sarah speaks. “We wanted to create something like that here. And while we didn’t yet have a brick-and-mortar store, we knew that we could deliver our goods to customers and get to know them.”


Aaron says, “And I have a love of bread making. We’d been to San Francisco, where sourdough is king. The famous Tartine Bakery there is small, but customers will wait there for as long as it takes.


“Sourdough is another Old World invention, having been around for millennia. And I was making these crusty, delicious loaves of bread, really artisan breads, and it was amazing to me.”


Many of us are familiar with sourdough starter that’s made from a fermented mixture of flour and water. Flour naturally contains yeast, and the starter pulls additional yeast from the air as it’s fermenting. There’s a theory that the yeast in San Francisco is particularly wonderful, which is why their bread is world-famous.


While Aaron acknowledges that, he also thinks the air in Fort Smith has its own merits, and there are other things, such as timing and the quality of ingredients, that determine the finished product. “Fort Smith sourdough is pretty spectacular,” he says.


Aaron’s a member of a local brew club, and he says the chemistry he learned there helped when he started breadmaking. His glasses have slipped a bit and he rights them before saying, “Also, after sixteen years in IT, it’s nice to have this opportunity to do something with my hands.”


The conversation turns to the complexity of baking, to the things that go in it that can’t be put on a recipe card. “In the past, we’ve overbooked ourselves at times, stressing to get all the baking done and the butter just isn’t happy; the outcome isn’t nearly as good,” Sarah says. “We don’t do that anymore.”


Desirae is watching her best friend and sister-in-law, her eyes bright. “We have people who are regulars, signing up on our website for weekly deliveries in Fort Smith, and when we deliver, you can see their faces light up. Who doesn’t like to have food brought to them? We had a booth at the River Valley Artisan Market downtown in Fort Smith, and we’d have samples. People would taste our macarons or pies or bread and they would tell us what they tasted was nostalgia.”


Sarah’s hair is braided, and her fingers touch the cord of hair above her ear, “We call that the taste of tradition. You’re tasting real food, everything from scratch. I made blueberry pies recently, and the blueberries were ones Desirae and I and our kids (they each have two) picked from my dad’s farm. I think people like knowing where their food comes from.”


Right now, Harvest Moon Bakery is getting ready for Thanksgiving. They’ll be offering apple, pecan, and pumpkin pies, artisan breads and rolls, including their Heavenly Challah Bread, and croissants. In the midst of all that baking, they’ll be gearing up for their own family dinner. “We do Thanksgiving big,” Sarah says. “Sometimes we even have a turkey cookoff, to see who cooks the best turkey.”


While Thanksgiving is taking up much of their energy, they’re also working on a retail space at 115 North Tenth Street in downtown Fort Smith, where Tammy’s Tamales used to be. Early next year, they hope to open their brick-and-mortar bakery and serve breakfast and lunch.


“We’ve been working on it for a while,” Aaron says. “But we’re being careful, doing this as debt free as possible. And we want to give back, to help this community.”


They have several ideas on how to do that, from giving away any leftover inventory at the end of the day to letting customers donate a nominal fee that would be used to buy ingredients for bread they would have available for would-be customers who would not have the money to pay.


“We never set out to get rich,” Desirae says. “We want to support our families, of course, and we want to be a part of this community we love. We’ve all traveled a lot, and every time we come back to Fort Smith, we say, ‘Now we’re home.’”


Sarah says, “It goes back to that Old World feel, where things aren’t as hurried, and people know one another. You know your baker. You line up outside a bakery and wait for not just the food but the experience, and the food is affordable. I can imagine the smell of fresh-baked bread, or my apple pies, rolling out the door and onto Garrison Avenue. I can’t wait.”


The three speak again of all that praying that led them here. Everything seems to have worked out in its own perfect time. It must have been providence, they agree. The divine is at work, they believe, in every loaf of bread, in every pie and every croissant. That’s what keeps them baking. That’s what keeps them dreaming of what’s still to come.

To learn more about the bakery, visit Harvest Moon Bakery or find them on Facebook.

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