Regulars at the Starkville Community Market on Saturdays know that shoppers who want fresh-baked Starkville sourdough bread better arrive early. That’s because the authentic baked concoctions of DeRego’s Bread go fast! Late-comers looking for freshness to make a summertime BLT might only find a few tasty samples left at DeRego’s market tent. The popularity of founder and master baker, Troy DeRego’s boulés and loaves are not only a testament to his baking acumen, but also to the customer base he’s developed over the years as a vendor at the farmer’s market. Establishing that customer base helped put DeRego in a position to open his brick-and-mortar bakery on Main Street last year.
When you talk to the staff of the Starkville Main Street Association, the managing organization of the Starkville Community Market, they say that’s how it’s supposed to work. “Our hope has always been that the Starkville Community Market would serve as an incubator for food-based businesses,” says Jennifer Gregory, SMSA manager and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. In the case of DeRego’s Breads, the process worked like clockwork, supporting another added business to the Downtown Starkville community.
Troy DeRego began his bakery as a cottage food business during the 2013 Starkville Community Market season, offering artisan baked breads made with traditional techniques. By 2015, he had fine-tuned his products and garnered enough of a following to move into a storefront at the west end of Main Street. During those two years focusing on sales at the market, Troy says he was able to “test out the idea,” fine-tune his process, and build loyal following. “I would never have gotten my operation off the ground without the Starkville Community Market,” Troy continues.
Although the Market has been a huge outlet for DeRego’s passion, Troy is quick to tell you that in his business, it’s really all about the bread. Troy has developed a strong commitment to authentic and traditional baking methods that is part of what makes his bakery unique. During trips to the Portuguese bakeries found during visits to his grandparents in Massachusetts, Troy’s love and passion for those traditions began, and he has developed them studying at the San Fransisco Baking Institute and through workshops with many of his bread making heroes. He is a member of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, and has devoted his business to reviving many of the old artisan baking traditions and bringing the concept of the neighborhood bakery to Starkville.
As DeRego’s develops new products, Troy says their focus always begins with the traditional slow fermented whole grain breads. “We first look to the classics, such as baguettes, croissants, sourdough, and so on,” Troy says. “Then we make them our own with the addition of simple local products.” That local element continues to drive the bakery’s mission, but it’s not always easy.
“We have become such a culture of convenience buying food from all over the world at the super market and shopping online for gourmet items,” Troy comments. “Much of the local food culture of the past has already been lost forever.” Troy hopes that through his corner bakery concept, some of that local food culture can be reclaimed. He sees a resurgence in a demand for local foods, and says that more people are now recognizing the benefits of restoring this local food culture.
“When I opened my bakery I searched for sources of local wheat and was shocked by how few producers there are regionally,” Troy says. Much of the wheat grown in Mississippi is exported overseas and used to make noodles and other products. However, DeRego’s still finds southern sources for their grains, and Troy says he hopes one day there will be more of an interest in growing it in the Starkville area. Troy believes that local connection is invaluable not only for what goes on the table, but for the community as a whole. “Connecting with local foods comes with a sense of pride and community, but that is because fresh tastes better and is better for you.”
Troy says it’s amazing to see his passions come to life each day at the store, and to have the opportunity to interact with customers more than just on Saturdays at the Market. His days are a whirlwind of activity covering the entire baking process. “A typical day actually begins several days earlier as we prepare sourdough starters and doughs that will rest for days in the refrigerator,” Troy explains. “At the crack of dawn the oven is fired up and the work begins. All of our products take many steps to complete, some spread out over several days, so scheduling is a huge challenge. In the first few hours of the day I am mixing starter for tomorrow’s sourdough, laminating croissants for two days from now, shaping this morning’s baguettes, and prepping pizza toppings for lunch.”
Still, DeRego wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, the traditional processes are the heart of the business and the foundation for much of his baking creativity. During it’s first year in business, DeRego’s Breads has continued to experiment with new baked products and ideas to attract the local market. Troy began a “Pizza Wednesday” tradition that is gaining a great following, and the pizza offerings are usually a surprise. Troy says he visits the mid-week Starkville Community Market on Tuesdays to purchase local ingredients he can put together in unusual combinations for Wednesday’s menu.
In addition to new products like pizza and various pastries, DeRego’s also offers a Bread Subscription program where customers can reserve a weekly loaf of bread for pickup. The loaves are baker’s choice, so it’s a great way to experience Troy’s creativity.
DeRego’s still has a tent at the Saturday Starkville Community Market this season. Troy still uses it as a way to connect with his customers, try out new products, and give locals an opportunity to shake the hand that kneads their bread. A year into the launch of Starkville’s first community supported artisan bread bakery, however, locals don’t have to be first in line on Saturday to get a slice of Starkville’s revitalized food culture.