Aaron Quint is now baking bread in the kitchen of Rough Draft Bar & Books, the combination bookstore and drinking establishment on John and Crown streets, believed to be the only street corner in America with four original Dutch stone houses (There’s evidence of bread-cooling shelves in the cellar of the county-owned Persen House across Green Street). Last Thursday Quint baked his first batch of bread at Rough Draft in his dedicated electric Rofco oven. Made with heat-resistant refractory ceramic brick that can withstand prolonged high-heat conditions, the Rofco utilizes the ancient principle of the wood oven.
What goes around comes around. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, jambless Dutch fireplaces — open fireplaces built against a thick brick wall with a chimney above them — were very common in the Hudson Valley. Used for both heating and cooking, they were the heart of the Dutch houses, the place where the family gathered to stay warm, keep a pot of soup going, throw in vegetables and bake bread. Newly baked bread cooled on nearby stone shelves.
Quint handed me a piece of one of the first dark loaves to come out of his new oven. Still quite warm, it had a blackened crust. It tasted great to me. But what do I know?
The baker judged his first work more harshly. “Okay, they came out burnt as all hell,” he wrote in his blog, Kingston Bread Lab, the next day. “Still very edible, though!” Under a picture on his Twitter feed was an even harsher verdict: “This burnt-ass ugly football-shaped loaf was part of the first batch of loaves baked in my new @kingstonbread kitchen.” The next day he conceded the second batch had come out “almost perfect.”
The bagels he made on Sunday for the denizens of Rough Draft had character, though far from the character familiar to the Lower East Side.
Rough Draft is located a couple of buildings down John Street from Quint’s historic stone Green Street home. His commute from home to bakery consists of a walk of a couple of hundred feet.
“In my mind, there was the dream of having my own space that I could make into a food lab, but realistically I was thinking I would have to rent time at a shared kitchen space,” he explained on a January 28 blog post. “Somehow, though the most amazing serendipity, Amanda and Anthony [Stromoski] opened Rough Draft around the corner from me. Not only have they created my favorite place to hang out and become friends, we were able to work out an arrangement where we both can invest in building out their kitchen to become a home for Kingston Bread Lab.”
In late January Quint set up his workbench in the space. He installed a spiral mixer, racks and a new banneton, and bought a whole shipment of organic flour. “Once the baking gets into swing I’ll be able to take on new weekly shares and we’ll be doing at least monthly Saturday toast labs, if not more,” he said. “I’ll also be opening up to some weekly wholesale for other shops and restaurants that are interested in the area.”
The Kingston Bread Lab (“Real Bread in the Hudson Valley since 2017”) is a community-supported micro-bakery. Its weekly bread share requires pre-payment for a number of weeks of bread (four, eight or twelve). The member picks up bread every Saturday in Uptown Kingston; from now on the pickup point will be Rough Draft rather than Quint’s back door. With the new production setup in place, Quint’s operation can accommodate new shareholders. Google the Kingston Bread Lab.
If I were to assemble a list of creative technology-minded characters who have settled in Ulster County in recent years, Quint’s name would be one of the first to come to mind. His skills are multiple. Not only is he a bright guy, a dedicated web developer and manager, and a good writer and teacher, but he also bakes a mean loaf of bread.
All this breadmaking activity, Quint’s current consuming passion, represents a fraction of his professional life. The week before last, the bread took a back shelf when he flew out to the San Francisco headquarters of Heroku, the Salesforce subsidiary which provides a multi-language cloud application platform for developers to deploy, scale and manage their applications. At Heroku, Quint serves as full-time engineering manager for a superdistributed worldwide team of software developers. He sees his job as enhancing communications among members of his team.
Over the 13 years since he graduated college with a major in art history and studio art, Quint has developed formidable professional connections. “I’m lucky,” he said. “I have a network.”
He has held a wide variety of development jobs and consultancies, starting as webmaster of an E-commerce site for a Massachusetts retail store, working at several innovative small startups on coding and design. In 2010, he became chief technology officer at the New York City-based Paperless Post, which grew exponentially in the four and a half years he held the job there. For a year after that, as Chief Scientist for the firm he focused on larger and more in-depth development projects. For the past nine years, he’s also been Chief Scientist of his own consulting firm, Quirkey.
Deciding to extricate themselves from New York City, his family bought their home in Kingston. “I bought a house,” he said. “I’m stuck.” Right now, he doesn’t seem at all unhappy to be stuck.
In his personal development, Quint said he has been learning to deal with his anger. In a blogpost, he said he had developed a new ability to tap into “what I’m actually feeling,” to express himself in a more constructive way. His evolution has involved understanding the frustration and not letting it hurt the people around him. The end result hasn’t yet been perfect, he conceded, but it was infinitely better than his previous “raw and clouded emotions.” It’s something he said he’s still working on every day.
The handful of tech professionals I’ve been talking with recently tell me the labor pool in the Hudson Valley for what they do is very thin. It’s difficult for them to find the people with the right skills to work with them on their projects, they say.
It’s a different picture in the largest American cities, where a critical mass of clusters of firms with up-to-date knowledge and talent are located near each other, and where intermediate services for these firms are readily available (“network effects”). In urban economics, the term “agglomeration” is used to describe the concentration of usually disparate resources in neighborhoods. Software developers know who to seek out when they need high-skill knowledge.
These economic advantages largely outweigh what are called the “negative externalities”: the high rents, the stratospheric costs of energy and transportation, and the uncomfortable lifestyle choices that come with living in a crowded, polluted, inhospitable and occasionally dangerous environment.
The Hudson Valley is home to great educational institutions, we are told. And that’s true. But neither a college degree nor graduation from a coding bootcamp seem to be tickets to finding the next step in the career ladder. People with the degree of experience and specialization available in large cities just aren’t here — or if they are here, they’re geographically scattered. Will an app developer in Hudson find the right coder in Yonkers?
Events-oriented institutions like the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup and the Catskills Conf, both of which Aaron Quint has been involved with, and capital seed funds like the Hudson Valley Startup Fund have generated enormous enthusiasm and attracted a lot of people to the local tech community. Though helpful, these efforts haven’t yet been sufficient to make the region competitive in terms of attracting a critical mass of tech firms. “It’s hard,” Quint told me. “Dennis [Crowley of Foursquare and the Kingston Stockade Football Club] is trying.”
One possibility, offered Quint, might be to persuade a few entire tech teams — say three companies with five people each, or a dozen companies with three people each — to relocate to Ulster County, train a few local interns, and scale up from there. (As Anula Courtis of Genex Consulting is doing.)
Tech teams are not the be-all or end-all, however. “I don’t want it to be Tech City,” Quint said. He’d be pleased if the new economy attracted creative clusters of film people, design folks, visual artists or woodworkers (“a tactile thing, like breadmaking”). Or all of them.