The aromas wafting around The Big Sky Bread Bakery and Cafe in Brandywine Hundred make you think you’ve wandered into a Norman Rockwell painting. Oven-crisp breads. Bubbling soups. Fresh-brewed coffee.
The names on orders at this artisanal bakery read like a who’s who in Delaware, and the lunch crowd looks like a J.Crew catalog come to life. But a van also pulls up every evening to take 60 to 100 pounds of owner Patrick O’Neill’s handcrafted breads to some of Delaware’s poorest citizens.
We pick up at least two very large bags of big, crusty breads every night,” Nathalie Thomas, food service manager at the Sunday Breakfast Mission in Wilmington. “They don’t save it for the next day like some places. The make it fresh every day, so he gives it to us.”
O’Neill, a Culinary Institute of America grad, was a personal chef on mega-millionaire Meshulam Riklis’ jet when Riklis, 54, was married to actress Pia Zadora, 23. It was more adventure than job. He met DiMaggio and Merv, and he plated his veal and peppers for Sinatra.
After stints at Winterthur, Kennedy Center, Longwood Gardens and a St. Thomas resort, O’Neill opened Big Sky Bread about 11 years ago with an emphasis on health.
At first, the European breads he loved from his childhood in the Woodside section of Queens were the centerpiece of his business, flanked by other handmade loaves with names like Alpine Whole Wheat Sunflower. Then, bread was blacklisted.