A familiar face — behind a mask, of course — has returned to Rustica.

He's Steve Horton, and he founded the top-performing Minneapolis bakery in 2004. After a five-year absence — Horton sold the bakery to his longtime friend (and Dogwood Coffee co-founder) Greg Hoyt in 2015 — Horton has returned to his former workplace.

"I brought him in to run the whole business," said Hoyt. "We've known each other for 25 years, and we got to talking about what Rustica could look like, post-COVID-19."

"Larger" would be one word to describe that appearance. Rustica opened the doors on its Southdale location Monday.

The operation in the Edina shopping mall features the same menu currently being offered at the Rustica mother ship: breads, breakfast pastries, cookies, a small array of desserts (éclairs, cream puffs, banana bread, bouchon) and a few grab-and-go sandwiches, as well as a full line of espresso, pour-over and drip coffees. The Southdale coffee bar also includes a few tap lines, featuring beverages from Northstar Kombucha, Jinx Tea and Dogwood Coffee cold brew.

The interior's original 60-seat setup has been reconfigured for a maximum capacity of 20, and there will be outdoor seating for 16.

The bakery/cafe is located just outside the exterior entrance to the mall's food court, and is part of the new Lifetime complex that replaced the former longtime home of J.C. Penney. (The Southdale location was originally scheduled to open in March, but the coronavirus pandemic intervened).

Opening hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., daily.

"Eventually, those hours will get expanded quite a bit, as we gain an understanding of what customers want," said Horton. "The goal is to create a dessert program geared toward an evening business. We're still figuring out what customers want from a savory perspective, and we'll give them a different experience from what they'd get if they went into the mall."

In mid-March, Horton returned to the Rustica kitchen he built in 2009 (that was five years after relocating from the bakery's original — and much smaller — facility at 46th and Bryant in south Minneapolis). Rustica had temporarily halted operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the place was quiet. But not for long.

"I was sitting at home, feeling rather useless, and looking at what Alma and the Bachelor Farmer and Chowgirls and other places were doing with volunteers," he said.

A collaboration quickly developed: Horton and a few friends provided the labor and expertise, Hoyt made the Rustica kitchen available and Doran Companies, the building's landlord, footed the bill for the ingredients. The result? Over the course of several weeks, more than 3,000 loaves of bread were baked and donated to Loaves & Fishes, the free meal program.

During those weeks, Horton and Hoyt began talking about the future.

"On the day we closed for a COVID pause — it was March 18 — we knew that if we were going to come back as a business that would survive and ultimately thrive, it was important to approach the business as a startup," said Hoyt. "And if that startup is a bakery, the best person to be at the helm would be Steve Horton. Steve has started two successful bakeries, and this restart is his third."

The second bakery that Hoyt mentioned is of course Baker's Field Flour & Bread, the remarkable operation that Horton created in 2016 with Food Building owner Kieran Folliard. Horton departed in March.

The facility mills its own flours, produced from locally raised grains, and then channels them into impressive breads and sweets that are sold in the adjacent restaurant, Kieran's Kitchen Northeast, as well as through a network of local co-ops and at the Mill City Farmers Market. The flours are also sold at co-ops and Kowalski's Markets, and are available in a now-booming online sales operation.

"Steve was my partner in this, and I'm eternally grateful to him for getting it established," said Folliard. "When he left, he said, 'I feel confident in the team here to continue to lead it, and when I sat down and talked with Wes Gardner and Hannah Rogal — who have been with us from the beginning — I felt confident, too. They have been tremendous leaders ever since."

Home bakers, purchasing flour in bulk through the Baker's Field website, have pushed Folliard and his nine-person staff to increase production capacity. A second stone mill is set to arrive in mid-August.

"Those online sales were something we didn't have before COVID-19," said Folliard. "Now we're shipping packaged products out twice a week. We believe this is sustainable in the long term. Baker's Field has never done better."

Down the road, Horton hopes to channel his Baker's Field experience into Rustica.

"My heart is still with local grains and local flours, and my long-term goal is to incorporate that into Rustica," he said. "Not just sourcing locally produced flour, but also moving toward sourcing Rustica's own signature flours."