June 24th, 2024

Meet the couple behind McMinnville’s new pop-up bakery

A smiling couple with aprons on stand with their arms around each others' backs.  A restaurant is behind them with a glass window.  You can see an array of baked goods.
Haley and Brendan Byer in front of Thistle Restaurant. Photo by Emily Teel.

Haley and Brendan Byer connected over bubbling crocks of flour and water teeming with wild yeasts. The couple met at a Napa restaurant where they were both cooking, and they nerded out about sourdough. 

“We were both infatuated with Nancy Silverton, and La Brea [Bakery],” said Brendan. It was like “oh, you have a starter? What’s its name?” 

“When we first started dating,” Haley recalls, “we only really had time to see each other at like two a.m.”, once Brendan finished with the dinner shift and before she headed to work, “so we’d bake bread together.” 

They now share four different sourdough starters; the two that they each started, and two more developed over the course of their relationship and carried to Oregon when they moved here from California in 2022. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the restaurant industry, Brendan was cooking at SingleThread, a three Michelin star restaurant in Healdsburg, California, and Hayley was the head baker at a wood-fired sourdough bakery called Della Fattoria in Petaluma.

During the pandemic, with the restaurants closed, they converted their garage into a bakery and launched Deer Park Bread Project making long-fermented sourdough breads of heirloom grains and legumes and selling them through a home delivery subscription model, and eventually at farmer’s markets. 

They were about to sign a lease to open a bigger bakery, said Brendan, until they were invited to join the opening team at ōkta

They packed up their starters, their dogs, and the rest of their life, and spent a year and a half at the ambitious restaurant, where Brendan was the Chef de Cuisine and Haley was the Head Baker. Now, they’re introducing themselves to McMinnville with an innovative pop-up of their own. 

Their business is called Alea (pronounced AHH-lee-uh), a name they say is inspired by the Basque word for grain. On Sunday mornings you can find them taking over the kitchen at Thistle where, from nine until noon, or until sold out, they offer walk-up window service. 

There’s an unexpected twist to everything they do that speaks to their background in fine dining. 

On a recent Sunday their bagels were studded with goma, nutty toasted Japanese sesame seeds. The coffee cake was streaked with winey haskap berries, and instead of a standard omelet, Brendan was making tender nori-filled spirals of Japanese tamago with pickled mushrooms. Expect a variety of wholesome breads made with local grains from Cairnspring and Camas Mills, and innovative breakfast sandwiches.  Alea is also popping up for dinner service in Portland at Cafe Olli and Arden. 

The pop-ups are a proving ground, a way for the Byers to build community and test concepts to eventually launch a restaurant of their own. 

Between breakfast, private events, and their dinner pop-ups, they’re hustling but, says Haley, “it’s worth hustling for, because we have our whole heart in it.” 

Emily Teel writes about cooking and dining and develops recipes on behalf of national brands. Mom to a toddler, she’s also an avid gardener and loves to forage for mushrooms in berries in the Pacific Northwest.