Joey Gallo brushes the remaining flour of the outside of Jewish rye bread loaves at Walla Artisan Bakery. He’s learning Ben Manea’s recipes in hopes of continuing production of the popular breads. Steve Kidd/Western News

Video: Future brightens for Walla Artisan Bakery in Penticton

Protege learning the bread-making craft from master baker Benjamin Manea

The future has brightened for Walla Artisan Bakery and lovers of the fine breads produced there.

Since baker Benjamin Manea was diagnosed with ALS seven months ago, he has been searching for a way to keep the bakery open, as the disease slowly robs him of muscle control. A couple of weeks ago, he finally found a protege in the person of Joey Gallo.

Related: Life takes an unpredictable turn for well-known South Okanagan baker

“Joey has been with us the last four or five years, in the market on Saturdays and after the season helping us here,” said Manea. “A few weeks ago, he decided to join us part-time. About two weeks ago, we convinced, finally, Joey to switch from an engineering career to a full-time baker.”

This is a turnaround from the decision by Manea and his wife Sharon Weiner late last month that the time had come to close the doors permanently.

Related: Famed Penticton bakery makes final decision to close

Walla Artisan Bakery was established by Manea a decade ago after he moved to Penticton and couldn’t find any bread he liked. So he taught himself to bake.

Now, Walla draws people from around the Okanagan, and farther afield, in search of the bread he prepares from his own special recipes. Beyond praise for their flavour, Manea’s loaves of bread are fermented over a long period, helping break down the glutens to make the bread more easily digestible, and accessible to people requiring low gluten in their diets.

“It is a seven-day journey … from flour and water and salt to yeast and to baked bread,” said Manea.

Gallo said kitchens are a familiar place for him, growing up in Montreal where his family owned restaurants.

Baker Benjamin Manea (left) with his protege, Joey Gallo, behind the counter at Walla Artisan Bakery. Steve Kidd/Western News

”I went to the school of engineering because I was strong in the sciences and maths, and I just maybe thought let’s continue that, see where that leads,” said Gallo. “But my heart has always been in the kitchen.”

Engineering training still comes into play, with Manea’s recipes requiring attention to detail, time and patience.

“I get it. I see why it is like that. Every rise is precious, a lot goes into just one loaf of bread,” said Gallo. “I love bread, I was raised on bread. Ever since I was a little kid, my grandparents taking me to the local bakery, smelling that fresh bread.

“I enjoy Ben’s breads so much that I just want to continue making it, making it perfect. His bread is so flavourful.”

Manea said Joey recently asked how he was doing, learning to make bread.

“I told him actually I can’t tell, but the dough is going to tell you. It’s not from me, it’s going to come from your products,” said Manea.

With a protege in place to help carry on, Manea is again looking to the future, especially with growing demand for Walla’s loaves of bread.

“Eventually we will hire more staff here because there is demand for our bread in Vancouver. There is enough demand for 100 loaves a day in Vancouver alone,” said Manea.


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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