Ruta Smith

Michael Zentner is spending his time baking while on furlough from Charleston Grill. But, the chef de cuisine isn’t dabbling in basic, no-knead recipes like the rest of us. With his wife Courtney, the couple is using their sabbatical to open The Drifter, a bread-making company serving the Charleston area.

“During this quarantine time, we started to get creative with something Mike knew a lot about,” Courtney says. “We started cooking bread for our neighbors in Wagener Terrace. We decided to put the idea in the ‘I Live in Wagener Terrace’ Facebook group, and we had 30 orders for bread in the first week. In the couple weeks since then, we’ve had over 250 orders.”

The influx of orders led to a 60-day lease at KTCHeN, the North Charleston commissary kitchen shared by a handful of local food trucks and caterers.

Although this isn’t exactly where he pictured himself, Michael Zentner said it’s the continuation of a passion for bread he developed while working at the Knob Hill Inn in Sunrise, Idaho, in 2006.

“I started a bread program where I would make nine breads per week,” Michael says. “In the years since, I worked at places where I baked my own brioche and focaccia. I always kind of stuck my nose in there and tried to learn as much as I could. I love pasta and I feel like that’s very similar to making bread,” he says.

The Drifter has given him an outlet to attempt even more experimentation. “We’re going to offer specialty breads weekly that will change like the menu of a restaurant would,” says Courtney. “Right now, all of our orders are coming in through Instagram, Facebook, or email through our website, so we’ve been able to make real relationships with our customers. We are trying to listen to what they are looking for.”

The Zentners’ current offerings include Italian white bread, sourdough batard, garlic rosemary focaccia, and a whole wheat loaf seeded with flax, sunflower, and chia. Each bread is made with organic flour, mixed by hand (gloved, of course).

Right now, the Zentners are focused solely on making bread, but they hope to expand the concept.

“I work in design and creative consulting, and Mike and I have always wanted to collaborate professionally,” Courtney says. “From the beginning, we wanted to offer workshops given the draw of Charleston for large groups of people. Whether it’s us coming into your home to cook bread or a whole meal, we had the idea to cater to smaller groups of people in an intimate way.”

Such an expansion may be on hold as they work out initial kinks and wait for COVID-19 cases to decrease, but Michael hopes it’s a possibility down the road. “I want to be able to do tons of different things and not be held back. Consulting, dinner parties, teaching. The whole premise of The Drifter is built on the ability to be nimble.”

So, what happens when the Charleston Grill reopens? The Zentners aren’t thinking that far just yet, given the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.

“The real question is what if this pandemic keeps us out of work until the end of the year?” Michael asks. “I have to take care of my family. Our lease [at KTCHeN] is for 60 days, so we are just taking it day by day. It’s great to have something to take our minds off of what’s going on around us.”

To order bread from The Drifter, message @thedrifterchs on Instagram or visit thedrifterchs.com.