Seasons by the Sea: Breadzilla Is Going Strong

Twenty years is an impressively long time for a food business to survive out here
Brad Thompson and Nancy Hollister started the Breadzilla bakery and gourmet shop in Wainscott on July 4, 1996, and have been attracting loyal fans ever since. Laura Donnelly

Twenty years ago, on the fourth of July, Breadzilla opened its doors. Well, it was about to open its doors, but the owners realized 20 minutes before that they forgot to get screen door handles. So Brad Thompson, co-owner, co-chef, and friendly ex-husband of Nancy Hollister, co-owner, co-chef, and friendly ex-wife, grabbed a drill and some nails and some forks and spoons he found in the basement and .created some bent utensil door handles. They remain in place today as just another quirky and charming element to this bakery and takeout shop.

Twenty years is an impressively long time for a food business to survive out here, and if it weren’t for the kindness of the previous owners of the building, Ms. Hollister doubts they would be here today. Henry and DorothyWalker of Walker’s Upholstery had faith in Nancy and Brad and waited patiently for them to secure financing to buy the building in Wainscott, tucked a few hundred feet off Route 27.

A first-time visitor to Breadzilla may be taken aback by the bustle, the clutter, the oft-crabby signage, but a closer look reveals a true knowledge of food, a curated selection of drinks, cheeses, sausage, obscure potato chips. The most impressive items are, naturally, the baked goods, the breads, sandwiches, pies, bagels, cakes, salads, soups, muffins, cookies, and more. The volume that comes out of the somewhat large but extremely cramped kitchen is remarkable. There is a smoker in one corner where Brad tends to fresh hams and turkey breasts. On a recent day, an industrial Hobart mixer was whipping up a raspberry mousse to fill a late-order graduation cake. Nancy was perched on a tiny stool by a “desk,” painstakingly filling out the handwritten menu that changes daily and must be finished and up online by 11:30 a.m.

In the time I spent with them in the kitchen on a busy weekend morning, I was given samples of the crispy chicken with “awesome sauce,” a pineapple, jalapeño, shallot, orange juice, garlic, and cilantro smooth salsa that is about to go on pineapple-marinated roast luau pork, some cake scraps with chocolate ganache, that aforementioned raspberry mousse, and some mulligatawny soup. All of it was insanely good.

When Breadzilla first opened it started with breads, muffins, scones, doughnuts, and coffee cake, later expanding to soups and stews and clam pies and sandwiches. Both Nancy and Brad have worked as fishermen and are marine biologists. Nancy had been at the long-defunct Plain and Fancy bakery in East Hampton before opening Breadzilla, and this is where she invented Breadzilla’s iconic Gruyere bread.

It is impossible to get a firm answer from either of them when you ask what their own favorite sandwiches are. “That’s the best thing about what we do,” said Brad. “We don’t have a set menu. If I had to do the exact same thing every day, I’d shoot myself!” He credits their mutual science background for their interest in experimentation. A great deal of research went into the formulas for the spice mixtures for chai, curries, bread batters, and blackening fish. All of the spices and rubs are made in house and fiddled with constantly.

They do concede that the Hippy Dippy sandwich is a favorite. This one is toasted honey wheat bread with cheddar, avocado, tomato, carrots, and sprouts with mustard-mayo sauce. (It was created and named on the day George Carlin died, after his Hippy Dippy Weatherman comedy routine.) The Spicy Tuna Jack (eight-grain bread with tuna salad, melted Monterey Jack cheese, and pickled jalapeños) is another favorite.

Like everyone in the restaurant and baking business, they work long, long days on their feet. For 13 years they would go into work at 2 a.m. together; now they swap the early shift on a weekly basis. Nancy credits their ability to get along with Brad’s daily yoga and her midmorning miles-long runs with her dingo dogs.

As much of the produce as possible is sourced locally: apples from the Milk Pail, tomatoes from Pike’s for their midsummer, spectacularly simple tomato with mayo, salt, and pepper on toasted white bread sandwich. The fish comes from Braun Seafood and the kielbasa from Cromer’s Market. Most of their breads are sourdough-based, coming from a “mother” named Penelope who has been kept alive since their opening. And where does the name “squishy bread” come from? Nancy mischievously replied that she just likes to hear the occasional, somewhat stuffy client say the word “squishy” when placing an order.

Breadzilla is definitely a family affair. There are beautiful, rustic wooden cutting boards with leather handles made by Nancy’s sister out on one front counter, and a glass case with silver and stone jewelry made by Brad’s brother. The wooden Breadzilla monster outside the entrance was carved by a friend, and the staff working for Brad and Nancy have been there almost as long as they have. 

Their clientele are loyal, both local and from afar, and they have their celebrity fans as well. Jimmy Fallon and his wife, Nancy, are frequent visitors, as is Julie Kavner of “The Simpsons.” And this being the Hamptons, of course they have baked the keys to a brand-new Porsche into a cake for some lucky guy or gal.

It would be nice to imagine that Nancy Hollister and Brad Thompson will be toasting their success this coming Fourth of July with a bottle of champagne and perhaps a slice of that glorious Gruyere bread. But they will instead be sitting in a lawyer’s office, working on a defense against a Japanese company called Toho Co. Ltd., creators of Godzilla. Apparently, the litigious lawyers of Toho do not like anyone using the letters “zilla,” and they seem to have just discovered recently that a charming little bakery in a small town is doing just that. The Breadzilla name is trademarked, but the situation is a time and money-consuming headache they could do without. After all, there are black-and-white cookies to be frosted, crazy sandwiches to be invented, and fresh cod to be blackened. 

Here’s hoping we get to enjoy Breadzilla’s amazing and quirky, fresh and original creations for another 20 years!

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