Chattanooga bakery Niedlov's named among Southern Living favorites for 2021

Staff Photo by Shawn Paik/Chattanooga Times Free Press - July 29, 2013, Niedlov's Bakery sign on Main Street.

When the pandemic hit, Niedlov's bakery owners Erik and Lauren Zilen were determined not to close their doors, and they didn't. But they didn't question themselves about their direction going forward. In fact, Erik Zilen admits that the two lost their way, only to be reminded by their staff about who they are and what their mission was and should remain.

"We decided if we go down, we are going down baking bread," he said with a laugh.

"Honestly, when everything hit, we never closed, but there was so much noise of talk of pivoting and adapting and for two weeks, we were floundering. But, at some point, we asked the staff, 'What is our role? Why are we here?'

"They said, 'We produce bread. We are not nurses or medical advisers. We make bread.'"

It was a clear and poignant reminder of their original mission to make bread as a way to benefit the community, and others have noticed. Niedlov's was recently named one of the South's Best Bakeries 2021 by Southern Living and noted for its bread-making skills, but also because "Giving back to the community is a guiding principle at Niedlov's and they do that in a number of ways, from donating bread and pastries to health care workers, food kitchens and local farmers, hiring people who are rejoining the workforce after incarceration, and setting up a fund for those experienced barriers to employment."

Niedlov's was joined by other bakeries in Virginia, Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere in the South.

Zilen said in the past year, Niedlov's has provided almost 200 sandwiches and 7,000 loaves of bread to the Community Kitchen and 3,000 cinnamon rolls to healthcare workers. It also reduces the cost of many of its items for customers in order to increase business and keep people working.

"This is our craft and what we do," he said. "We always have been a part of the community. It's part of who we are and it represents our core values."

He said being mentioned by Southern Living is a tribute to his staff.

"It doesn't feel like a prize, if that makes sense. We've just been focused on surviving, but this means a lot because it means a lot for our staff because it shows how our team has fought and struggled to survive."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com at 423-757-6354.