As opposed to being a film director, as a bread baker you get all the babes.
Just kidding. I wanted a major change in my life. After fifteen years of making films, I wanted to explore and exercise another part of my brain. As opposed to “light projected on a sheet” — which is the essence of filmmaking — I wanted to create something substantial. I wanted to work with something I could touch, hold and shape with my hands. Making a film is so ethereal. Bread making is tangible and basic. After all these generations, I believe that bread has become part of our genetic make up as humans.
Q: Why did you choose San Diego to open Bread & Cie.?
When I decided to leave the film business, I had to make two choices: What to do, and where to do it. Once I knew what, I looked around the country to find the best possible where. Originally, I focused on the east coast, but a friend who had worked in San Diego recommended it, and when I came down to take a serious look, the decision was obvious.
Here was an affluent, educated, coastal city with the best climate in the world, growing technology firms, a sizable military community, both active and retired, people who have traveled all over the world and developed a taste for all the best food, and it just wasn’t available to them.
We literally could not get good bread in a restaurant! This was 1994, and back then I could clearly see that right here was a tremendous appetite for just what I wanted to offer, and it just wasn’t being offered. So my wife and baby and I packed up and moved to Point Loma, rented a house, leased a vacated bank building in Hillcrest, bought an oven in France, shipped it over, set it up, and started baking bread.
Things have changed in San Diego, as you can see.
Q: What year did you open Bread and Cie?
We opened in December 1994, although our opening was preceded by three years of active practice, location hunting and planning.
Q: How many loaves of bread would you say you sell a year?
We produce about 10,000 pounds of bread a day and that comes out to be nearly five million individually hand-shaped loaves a year.
Q: What was your wife’s background? Any professional cooking or baking?
Opening Bread & Cie. was an entirely new phase of our professional lives that had nothing to do with what we had done previously. It was a leap of faith for both of us, since my background was making films and my wife’s background involved fundraising for nonprofit charitable organizations. We chose San Diego because we had just started our family and we were living in Los Angeles. As parents, we agreed that we did not want to raise our daughter in L.A. We explored all the possibilities throughout the United States, and decided upon San Diego because it seemed like a great community in which to raise children, and it was on the brink of establishing itself as a noteworthy food community. Until we opened our business, the extent of our experience in the food industry had all been done on the “eating” side — being consumers and lovers of good food, rather than being the creators of good food.
Q: How did you learn to bake bread?
Originally, from my mother and grandmother. I studied at all four of their knees. Also, for the ten years I went to the Cannes Film Festival, whenever I was stuck watching a lousy film, I would duck out the back door of the theatre and meander down to a little boulangerie, where I would talk and work with the baker. These little side-trips were the basis for some of the recipes we still use at Bread & Cie.
Q: What is the best part of being in the bakery business?
In a city where everyone is separated from each other, driving around in their individual little metal boxes, I believe that by creating Bread & Cie. Café, we’ve created a place where people come together. It was extremely important to my wife and me that Bread & Cie. be an anchor and neighborhood touchstone in our community, not a shopping center identity-less joint. I remember in the days after the 9/11 tragedy, our café was jammed. It was unusual because I came to find out that most restaurants in town were dead. I listened to what people were talking about. They’d come to Bread & Cie. to be together, to re-establish a sense of common purpose and community, to digest the terrible events that shook us all, to be with other people, to be together in a place that was familiar. I’m glad that our bakery provides that for our community.
I used to please people with my films, but pleasing people with food — with something that sustains life, especially something as basic as bread — is infinitely more gratifying. Also, as the owners, we receive instant gratification from our customers… they sample a new loaf, or a new customer comes in and we see their pleasure and appreciation right away. It’s a kind of visceral appreciation and gratitude we get back. I also enjoy the fact that people seem to have an emotional connection to our type of bread. Bread & Cie. was the first to bring the hard crust, moist interior, European-style breads to San Diego. People try our bread and say things like “the last time I had a baguette like this, I’d just met this wonderful woman in Paris” or “My wonderful German grandmother used to make a dark multigrain bread like this for me when I was a little girl”. Our breads elicit memories, like the madeleine in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, and creates an immediate emotional attachment.
Q: What is the one thing that keeps you up at night?
I’m the only restaurateur who can give you a literal answer to this question: My work keeps me up at night. Baking is done at night so it’s not unusual for me to be kept up with one logistical or quality problem or just a question from one of our nightshift staff. Because I had the brilliant idea of having both a wholesale and retail café and bakery, Bread & Cie. is open 24 hours a day; seven days a week; 365 days a year so I can get a work call anytime day or night.