Tucked away in the lush San Joaquin Valley in Rural Southern California lies a small and enchanting town by the name of Exeter. Awash with murals and bountiful culture this tiny hamlet is the birthplace of “The Bread Fair” a small baking company with a truly unique outlook. Deeming themselves “Bread Designers”, the baker/owner (Jennifer Harvey) and her crew are doing what? “Playing in the kitchen!”
How did all of this come about? In the summer of 2006 Jennifer had a wake-up call and decided that retiring in retail wasn’t in her original plans for what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. Quitting her retail job, she decided to go after doing what she loved- Cooking and Baking. Because she had an education in the food services in community college and in vocational school, she decided to try teaching cooking classes. Meanwhile she took up several part-time jobs, one of which was caring for an elderly couple who eventually passed away after 60yrs of wedded bliss, Louise of Alzheimer’s, Wesley a month later of a broken heart. After their family had gone through their home, they told Jennifer to take what she wanted. Well, she found a treasure- a 1950’s era Bread baking book with Louise’s hand written notes. Later at home while pouring over the antique pages carefully, Jennifer found a simple Whole Wheat Bread recipe. Deciding to make it more interesting, she added Blueberries, Cranberries, Sunflower seeds, Flax seeds, Whole Bran and Oat Bran. According to her room-mates, the bread was fantastic, and so Jennifer took some to a friend who owned a restaurant to get her opinion. Jennifer Davis, a staunch supporter of new enterprise and owner of Monet’s Wine Bar and Bistro, declared that the bread was amazing and needed to be sold. Still caught up in her idea of cooking classes, Jennifer Harvey just laughed and said “You’re crazy! That’s too much work!” Not giving up, Jennifer Davis pestered her again and again, saying “Will you be my bread fairy?”
A month later, life changed her plans as it has a way of doing; and after her room-mates all moved out and one of her part-time jobs ended for the summer, she realized it was time to try something new (she didn’t have enough clients for cooking classes) or be forced to go back into retail. With that fire under her she decided to give the bread idea a shot. Jennifer Davis said she could rent the kitchen on the Mondays, when it is closed. The first week she made fifteen loaves which sold all that day and the next. The following Monday she made thirty loaves with the same results. How? Jennifer took to the streets with her basket of bread samples and went business to business until she created a route. Forging ahead she continued to grow steadily. In January of 2010, she took a business course during which she won the Tulare County Economic Development Corporations’ Rising Entrepreneur for 2010, and with that award, steadily more and more publicity gained. In the beginning of May the city of Visalia (largest nearby city, pop 200,000) ran a huge piece in their food section of the local paper and also placed a headline regarding the article on the front page. Business doubled, and the need to grow to meet the demand kept increasing.
A year has passed from when she began, and Jennifer now has eight employees, a delivery van, and is baking from two different commercial kitchens on Mondays and currently is producing approximately 300 loaves in a day. Bursting at the seams and ready to find its own “home”; “the Bread Fair” is currently available in local farmer’s markets and with a small CSA by the name of “Family Farm Fresh” a local online farmers market that delivers fresh produce by the basket to the home-owners doorstep.
The Bread Fair is now producing 18 different varieties of bread with delicious names like “Apple Morning” “Tuscan Sunrise” and “Black Forest” which range in flavors from a chocolate bread to an Italian bread loaded with Sundried Tomatoes, Basil, Oregano, Garlic and Rosemary. Her varieties of sweet breads include an Almond Rum bread (The Almond Tree), an Orange bread (Orangey Goodness), a Lemon Bread (Sunshine), Chocolate bread (Black Forest), Apple Cinnamon Walnut bread (Apple Morning) and Raisin Cinnamon Walnut (Raisin a Ruckus). Currently, five local restaurants use her breads for various menu items. A unique opportunity also is available; Jennifer offers to design an exclusive bread for any restaurant or business that will express their signature style and tastes.
Many wonderful compliments have come her way via happy customers and restaurant owners. As an example, the local Exeter Whistle Stop Cafe makes a top-selling French toast using the Apple Morning bread. “This bread is amazing for our French toast. Everyone LOVES it!” praises owner Sherry Forcum.
“It’s the best in the world. I’m French and we know bread,” says Fred Imbert, executive chef of Monet’s.
With the foremost goal of creating the healthiest, most delicious bread available, Jennifer makes all loaves artisan-style by hand. “We have no cookie-cutter loaves” she states. Every loaf is created with the best ingredients available which include Bleach-free flour freshly milled locally (Lacey Milling Co.), Sweet cream unsalted Butter, Sea Salt, and Red Star Yeast. The local Farmers’ Market provides seasonal fresh herbs and fruits which are organic and used to flavor her breads (fresh blueberries are used in the Very Berry bread).
How does she feel about her current success? “Overjoyed and trying not to be overwhelmed!” She states. When asked what she’d say to other new entrepreneurs she replies: “My best advice to those who are starting a new business is to think outside the box and not give up” she says, and also the old adage; “You never know until you try”
More importantly to her, though, is that we all “Eat the best we can, and spend quality time with those we love.” Which is good advice for all of us, right?