By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Oct 06, 2021 at 11:06 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

’Tis Dining Month, the tastiest time of year! This means we’re dishing up fun and fascinating food content throughout October. Dig in, Milwaukee!

Things are ramping up for the 3rd Street Market Hall, which is slated to open soon at 275 W. Wisconsin Ave. And the list of food vendors coming to the new food hall is growing more and more compelling by the day.

Among the players for the new Downtown vendor is Amano Pan, a new concept which will be introduced by bread baker Edgar Cuarezma and his wife Aemi Kato-Cuarezma.

The concept, which will feature expertly baked naturally leavened (sourdough) breads, vegetable-based sourdough pizza and a shortlist of other complementary items, will debut as one of the four hawker stall tenants which will share a commissary kitchen with Dairyland Old Fashioned Hamburgers & Frozen Custard and Mid-Way Bakery

Amano Pan will complement the ever-growing group of tenants that includes Middle East Side, Hot Dish Pantry, Strega (fresh pasta and desserts), Brew City Apparel, Anytime Arepas, MaKE Waves, The Greenhouse and Supernova Coffee & Doughnuts.  

Amano Pan logo on wood
Photo: Amano Pan

Art meets science

Cuarezma, originally from Miami Florida, began his career as an artist. After earning his degree in illustration in California, he moved to Chicago, where he lived for four years, hosting gallery shows and working in picture framing to make ends meet. 

In an unexpected turn, he found himself in San Francisco. He’d flown out with a friend with no plans to stay; but as he made connections in the city and began reflecting on his career, he decided he needed a change.

“So I hit the reset button,” he says, noting that his personal sea change began with a simple loaf of bread. “I made one loaf… and then I started to wonder if I could make it better.”

Amano Pan bread
Photo: Amano Pan

His curiosity swirled him down a baking rabbit hole as he read books, researched and dove into perfecting the art of breads leavened with wild yeast. As his journey progressed, he found work at Arizmendi, a worker-owned cooperative specializing in pastries, artisan breads and gourmet pizza. It was a place that not only synced up with his values, but which allowed him to hone his craft in a meaningful way.

While living in San Francisco, Kato-Cuarezma, who he’d known since high school, flew out to visit from New York, where she’d been working. Romance bloomed. But as the costs of living in the Bay area became untenable, the couple moved briefly to Seattle.

“While we were living there, I got an email from one of the folks from Arizmendi, who asked if we were interested in assisting them in opening a co-op in San Sebastian, Spain,” says Cuarezma, noting that the opportunity was too good to pass up. 

So he and his wife moved to the Basque Region of Spain, where they lived and worked until their visas expired.

“At that point,” he says, “I knew that I wanted to start my own bakery. But I also knew that we had to find a place to live where the cost of living was manageable.”

For a time, they moved back to Miami. But, just as they were growing frustrated by their prospects, the couple got a call from one of Kato-Cuarezma’s sisters, who lived in Wisconsin and suggested they might have better luck in the Midwest.

Cuarezma took a job making pastries for Troubadour Bakery, 2301 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., where he was clear about his intentions.

“When I took the job,” he says. “They asked me where I wanted to be in five years, and I told them: either heading up your bread program or owning my own business.”

The birth of Amano Pan

When the pandemic hit and Cuarezma was furloughed, he again focused on making bread at home. But this time, he says, it was an exercise in self care.

“I did it for the enjoyment of it,” he says. “I wanted to have fun again, not worrying about bread as a business. It was for myself, not for anyone else.”

He made so much bread that he says they began giving it away. Eventually, he decided to sell loaves under the name Amano, a multi-faceted word which is both a surname in Japanese that means “heaven” and a term derived from the Latin word for “to love” which translates in the Romance languages (both Spanish and Italian) as "to make by hand.” 

“Over time, we started calling it Amano Pan, and the name stuck,” he says, “I like it because it pulls together the Spanish language I grew up with as well as my interest in both Japanese culture and aesthetic.” 

Eventually, Cuarezma says, he returned to work at Troubadour, where he was put in charge of the bread program. But he continued to pursue his interest in launching the Amano Pan brand. So, he reached out to Jesus Gonzalez to see if he could use Zocalo Food Park as a drop-off point for the breads ordered by his customers. Gonzalez proposed something better: a series of pop-ups at the food park. 

The pop-ups went well, he says, but ultimately, his side hustle posed a conflict of interest with his day job. So Cuarezma says he began the hunt for a commercial kitchen where he could bake bread. The journey connected him with Chef Kurt Fogle, who expressed an interest in the business and asked if he’d be interested in launching his business at the  3rd Street Market Hall. 

Amano Pan baguette
Photo: Amano Pan

On the menu

Amano Pan will specialize in naturally leavened breads, including the popular all-purpose loaves that Cuarezma calls simply “Amano Pan,” as well as items like baguettes, miche and boules made with ingredients like heritage Einkorn flour and spent grains.

Cuarezma says that selling his bread is not just about creating a beautiful product. It’s about using as many local products as possible, including flours from Meadowlark Organics in Ridgeway, Wisconsin.

“We are taking a look at what bread should be, what food should be,” he says. “We want people to know where all of our ingredients come from: local farmers who aren’t subsidized by government money. And, while it’s very important to us to make great bread, we also want to sell it for an affordable price. It needs to be accessible.”

Amano pizzas will feature a thinner (but not crackery thin) sourdough crust topped “all the way to the edges” with seasonal vegetables and Wisconsin cheeses. Guests can expect basic cheese pizzas along with a selected pizza of the day that showcases local, seasonal produce.

Cuarezma says that, beyond the breads and doughs, the menu is a collaboration with his wife, Aemi.  “She has an amazing palate,” he says, “And is really great at combining flavors.”

Her influence will come into play as they finalize numerous additional dishes for the menu, including breakfast items like Amano Tostadas, an item which shouldn’t be mistaken for the crisp, corn-based Mexican-style tostadas prevalent here in Milwaukee. 

In fact, Cuarezma says that, having grown up in Florida, he was unaware of Mexican-style tostadas. In fact, in Miami, the word “tostada” simply means “toast.”

Therefore, Amano Tostadas are slices of toasted house bread spread with guests’ choice of spreads: butters flavored with citrus, herbs de provence or lavender honey; local jams, roasted garlic or tomato jam.

Guests could pair that with a cup of coffee made from locally roasted beans, a cup of seasonal tea or a cup of hot or iced pinolillo, a Nicaraguan drink made from toasted corn, chocolate (which will be sourced from Tabal Chocolate in Wauwatosa) and spices. 

The drink would go swimmingly with other Amano Pan offerings, including cookies and pan dulce (sweet breads), including Cuarezma’s interpretation of picos, triangular Nicaraguan pastries filled with cheese, anko (Japanese red bean paste) or a combination of cheese and honey.

Amano Pan picos
Photo: Amano Pan

Cuarezma says he's also engaging in development of a taiyaki fish fry – a dish inspired by the traditional Japanese cake filled with red bean paste – featuring a thin waffle-like rye-based dough filled with fish fry components and molded into the shape of a “tai” (red sunbeam fish).

The hand-held fish fry could contain ensalada de repollo, a Nicaraguan cabbage slaw; or with the slaw served alongside.

Taiyaki fish fry
Photo: Amano Pan

Eventually, he says, they will also introduce savory filled brioche (a treat that’s much like a doughnut, but filled with savory items like pimiento jam or minced meat).

Most importantly, Cuarezma says that he wants Amano Pan’s mission to be evident in how the business operates.

“Amano Pan is committed to both social and economic justice,” he says. “And we want that to be reflected in how we treat customers and employees, as well as how we interact with other businesses. We want to support and help to uplift those who are traditionally marginalized.”

Head over to @amano_pan on Instagram for more of what Cuarezma is baking up.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.