Pay What You Think It’s Worth: NY Baker Leaves His Bread in Hidden Cabinets for Anyone to Find
Bake good bread and they will come.
Chase Fox Harnett may have lucked into the perfect business model for a pandemic when his company, Hudson Oven, started selling bread out of a cabinet hidden in the woods. In business since 2017, Hudson Oven is based on a simple concept: No customer interaction. The money is left in the cabinet or sent via Venmo – hence no worry about social distancing. Then cabinet is left in a host of hidden spots across Westchester County, New York, where he lives.
The bread is delicious and artisan-made, but half of the fun is in the find. After hiding the cabinet, he posts on Instagram and sends an email to his customers sharing the location. When he returns to pick up the cabinet a few hours later, the dozens of loaves have all been taken.
Harnett currently offers only country loaf sourdough in the cabinet, though occasionally customers will find treats from his pastry chef girlfriend. His point of differentiation, he said, aside from his unusual way of selling, is that he uses local, freshly milled grains and also bakes his creations in a wood-fired oven.
Harnett got the bread bug after a semester abroad in Paris in 2016. “I had just been exposed to great food and culture in Europe and decided I wanted to try making bread,” he recounts. “My first attempt there was no yeast in it at all. I didn’t even really understand the concept of making bread. It was more like pancake batter and it came out as a brick.” His dad connected him with a local baker who taught him how to make sourdough, and he’s been at it ever since.
A former business student, he pivoted his major to environmental studies, transferred to a campus outside of New York City, and started working as a farmer at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, NY.
Harnett purchased a commercial, wood-fired oven from his mentor and started baking large batches of sourdough in his yard. It took too much work to heat the oven to bake a few loaves at a time, and he couldn’t eat it all himself, so he started delivering it to friends and family around town. When he decided it was too much driving, he hauled a cabinet out of his house, filled it with bread and left a sign that read, “Leave what you think it’s worth.” The cabinet drew crowds. That is, until the neighbors complained (they were gluten-free).
Ever resourceful, Harnett moved his oven into his garage and started leaving the cabinet in different places around town. He set up a website where customers could leave their email addresses and then receive a message with the location of the cabinet when it was full.
Since then, he’s hidden the cabinet all over the local area and finds the fun in securing a good spot. “When I’m driving around or walking my dog, I check out little nooks and crannies of the Hudson Valley. That’s a hobby of mine, so when I find a good one, I keep it logged in my head.”
Good spots have to have ample parking since the cabinet attracts a crowd, and Harnett’s favorites are the steep slopes and quirky, hard-to-find places that make people wonder how the cabinet got there at all. Neither rain nor snow has kept him from selling out.
Despite the lack of interaction with his clientele, Harnett feels intimately connected to his customers. He gets emails and messages on social media all the time with stories about how his bread reminds them of what they ate growing up.
“The amount of great feedback I’ve gotten from anybody who’s participated, even if they don’t get a loaf, is so inspiring,” he said. “So I just keep fueling the fire, no pun intended, and seeing where it goes.”
Harnett is exploring how to expand the cabinet model and wants to ramp up production to more days per week (he currently only bakes on the weekends.) He’s also been working on sourdough wood-fired croissants and other laminated pastries that he hopes to include in the cabinet soon. Additionally, he is an avid pizza maker who believes margherita pizza is the only type you need and makes his dough with ancient grains. Hudson Oven offers pizza parties anywhere they can drive the oven.
Eventually, Harnett says he would love to open a space where he can teach bread and pizza making and house a large mill and communal wood-fired oven for bakers to share, like they did in ancient cultures. For now, carb-loving foodies will just have to take their chances at a scavenger hunt to find Hudson Oven’s cabinet full of bread. Let us know if you find it!
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