Behind the Scenes at the BREAD Artisan Bakery

The simple joy of feeling the warm crunch of fresh bread betwixt your teeth is difficult to accurately describe. It is a sensory experience that you can either relish in the moment or later but you all know what I mean when I recall memories for you of crumbs on your fingers, the smell of dough, golden brown crusts, a hearty tearing sound, and the taste of comfort. In every culture too, there is a different type of bread consumed. We made an interesting visit a few weeks back to BREAD Artisan Bakery after running into founder and owner Jonnie Peckham on several occasions at several events. Located in Santa Ana in a commercial warehouse area, the bakery was in the full swing of things once we arrived in the evening - the prime time for preparing for the next day's fresh deliveries. Had we not known the address and seen the office light on amid the darkened warehouse buildings, we might have missed the bakery which had to undergo a build-out (and was still under some construction) to accommodate the special factors needed to make a bakery work including adding walls to create separated, enclosed rooms.

I know without a doubt that you have had some of Jonnie's bread before based on who her clientele is but I won't disclose that information too early. You'll just have to found out! Officially BREAD Artisan Bakery has been around since 2010 though bread-making is no new skill or industry for Jonnie whose father used to own a bakery as well. In 2008, Jonnie stepped in to help with increasing production and eventually created her own business feeding the bread-hungry people of Orange County. She found a space in San Juan Capistrano to sublet which was a fully equipped bakery but eventually made the move to Santa Ana. As she spoke, we started to see how obvious it was how dedicated she was to her bread, never settling or going public until she had come to the bread she wanted and was proud enough of to sell. Now, as she says, the biggest part of the job is keeping the product consistent as the company grows. As we walked around the grounds trying to stay out of the way as much as possible (her staff was all working hard to meet their 3AM deadline), she pointed out their recent addition of two bread ovens for a total of five double-racker ovens which each house full structured racks that rotated slowly when loaded inside.

Of course throughout our tour, we each donned hairnets but we must have missed the memo on putting on our whites. One step into the room where all of the dough was being mixed and formed showed how apparently out-of-place our attire was. BREAD employees were systematically and efficiently moving around the room finishing each task as we peered curiously into commercial-sized mixing bowls and sneaked looks around machinery. We stared at machines that constantly whir all day, turning and feeding dough around the clock, and tried to fully process what was going on in the brain of the room as workers mixed, cut, divided, shaped, and more. Producing 20,000-30,000 individual units per day is certainly the tall task but Jonnie credits that feat to her second-in-command (the head baker) who is able to keep every single recipe and worker on track whether or not he is physically present. As she told us, that's where bakeries fail and crack but Yonick keeps everyone and every thing on point. Not only are there thousands of units to make every day but there are hundreds of variations based on each client's proprietary needs seeing as everyone wants something a little unique to their businesses (for example, Pelican Hill uses rosemary on their square potato bread as opposed to others who may have it unadorned).
"They're all amazing. He's amazing. I don't know how he does it but it's where other bakeries fail. They crack without a strong head baker."
Outside of that room, we also learned a bit more about the differences in the styles of bread that they produce and how those are prepped for baking. Some require double fermentation to achieve their signature tastes such as sourdough and French baguettes; these have a bubbly exterior because after being shaped, they are put back into the refrigerator for a secondary fermentation that retards the bread in the cold (no rising!) and produces the crust. Particularly for artisan breads, a proof box is not used, unlike rolls and buns. They use a deck oven for those tasty, crunchy breads but the entire process does take a few days after the mother dough is first used. We found the techniques fascinating and also thought it was a bit clever seeing a large paint sprayer used for egg wash (but it frequently gunks up apparently!).

As aforementioned, the production has a 3AM deadline before their drivers start showing up. Packaging is done in a separate room where workers will pack them 6, 12, or 24 to a bag based on client. I wondered why there isn't a larger volume package in which to send off the products, and Jonnie pointed out that bread would easily crush if packed too tightly. I should have thought of that - guess I'm not going to package bread anytime soon! Another reason is that some orders are on a smaller scale. They can have orders as low as $40 or high as $3,000+ apparently. Sometimes clients, especially hotels like St. Regis, will purchase parbaked bread to keep in the freezer and those may go out by the caseload. The variety keeps the bakery happy though because it doesn't force them to put all their eggs in one basket; you'd want a variety of customer types for your clientele to ensure you are always busy.

Jonnie noted that a lot of the smaller clients are her own friends and smaller scale chefs whereas the bigger clients are hotels. Their biggest client? Surely you'll know them. It's Disneyland. That's right. I bet you got as giddy reading that as I did hearing it. Main Street Bakery, Carsland (garlic chive roll!), Carthay (Jonnie's proudest of this one as her country rustic bread is used as their table bread), Club 33, Adventureland, Fantasyland, New Orleans, you name it. You've probably had her bread there. She also enlightened us in knowing that Disneyland has strict rules about the type of food brought in including that there are no GMOs, trans fats, etc in their food so I guess we should all feel a little better knowing why prices are so high in the parks! After we discussed some of these clients, we discovered that the deck oven was being handled for lovely ciabatta sandwich squares so we had to go watch the process.

Another piece of equipment that we got a chance to preview was one I had seen before at other bakeries - their proof box. This, however, was another item Jonnie was proud of as it was the one piece of brand new equipment they bought for their move. If you are unaware, proof boxes keep doughs at constant temperature and humidity so that there are no variances due to weather changing. As aforementioned, artisan bread is not the type that goes into the proofbox but burger buns, which they do a lot of, are prime candidates for this controlled pampering.

I asked Jonnie how they determine what they make on a daily basis, and she noted their fax-or-call-in process. Orders taken from their wholesale clients must be received by their early afternoon cut-off time to even be considered for the next morning, so yes, there have been occasions where people don't get their orders because they didn't make the deadline. At the time of our visit, they were just selling to other businesses but in recent weeks, BREAD Artisan Bakery has announced their public sales. If you're curious yourself about their beautiful breads, you can catch them at 1943 E. Pomona St in Santa Ana on Thursday from 4pm-7pm and/or Saturday from 9am-noon. I'd highly recommend it.

We really appreciated BREAD Artisan Bakery's time and letting us in to tour the operations. We always love seeing more in-depth where food comes from and how it is produced before it hits the table; seeing how a bakery operates (and especially the TIMES they operate) is just one of the ways we can better understand our meals. Thank you to Jonnie, Vishal, and all the rest of the bakery staff for allowing us access into your world. The fresh ciabatta sandwich squares we got to munch on after the deck oven finished working its magic was oh-so-heavenly, and the loaves we took home to freeze found their ways into even our Thanksgiving stuffing! We're absolutely looking forward to more bread from Bread. Go check them out!

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.