There is something about French bread.
The crispness of the crust as you rip off a section for immediate consumption when it is fresh out of the oven, releasing a plume of fragrant steam from the silken interior. The bread is so fresh and wholesome that even without butter, it melts on your tongue. When one dreams of good bread, it is almost always French.
Unhappily, for those of us without the good fortune to be born in France, we usually have to make due with mediocre bread, store-bought and bland, and hope that we are served something marginally better at cafes and restaurants. In some places, ‘French bread’ is classified as a amorphous blob with the texture of warm play dough.
Not so at Lyon Bakery, a commercial bakery based out of a massive industrial kitchen in Maryland that began in Washington DC and now services as far north as Baltimore, east to Annapolis, west to Middleburgh and south to Richmond, Virginia. The leading wholesale bakery in the area makes hand formed breads that are all natural with no artificial additives or preservatives and distributes them to delis, CSAs, restaurants, hotels, catering companies, private schools and country clubs. The bakery produces over twenty different loaves in a variety of shapes and sizes, from classics such as the French brioche and sourdough, to holiday additions like the Pain Levain Wreath, and our favorite, dark wheat and honey.
Their bread is so delicious, in fact, that people have been known to impersonate restaurant personnel in an attempt to place orders with the wholesale department. One man, first tasting the bread at a local restaurant, was so enamored that he became a regular at the restaurant just to eat Lyon Bakery’s fresh creations. Luckily for him, and the multitudes of other gluten-lovers, Lyon Bakery also sells its wares at a kiosk in Union Market!
An operation that makes hand formed, preservative-free bread nearly everyday of the year is bound to be a large-scale operation and, when we took a tour this spring we discovered just how much work goes into the art of artisan bread at Lyon Bakery.
Lyon Bakery produces a whopping 30 to 50 000 pounds of dough a day.
60 bakers under the careful instruction of two Master Bakers, mix, proof, knead, rest, bake, cool and package this dough until it is ready to be transported to a variety of distributers. Each batch of dough is begun two days prior to its delivery time, ensuring proper preparation while maintaining the kind of freshness Lyon Bakery is known for.
The sales team is constantly reaching out to new venues, fielding orders and inquiries, and expanding Lyon Bakery’s reach across the area. Their move into Richmond was facilitated by four months of seven meetings a day with a two hour drive there and back. But the hardest part, Danielle, Lyon Bakery’s most seasoned sales person noted, is explaining how impossible it is to take orders after the cut-off time of 3:30pm. Maintaining the efficiency and timeline of a commercial kitchen that produces 30 to 50 000 pounds of dough a day is a delicate and tricky balancing act that Lyon Bakery has perfected over its 15 years of existence.
But all of this, the man power and the sales people, the quantity and the quality, does not ensure that the resultant bread is as fine as its true French brethren. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about French bread that Lyon Bakery has taped into: passion.
Alan Hakimi was a seasoned business person when he decided to open Lyon Bakery in 2002 with two associates and friends. The choice to just focus on bread was an easy one, it gave them the focus and dedication to perfect the art of making artisan bread. Each person we spoke to – from the receptionist to Danielle, to Alan Hakimi himself – was passioned about Lyon Bakery and what they were doing there. One of the founder’s sisters in the accountant, a brother opened a sister pizza dough company, many of the bakers are related and the general atmosphere of Lyon Bakery is that of a – very large – family kitchen, where people are passionate about their food, take care of each other and enjoy themselves. It is this quality that makes Lyon Bakery both an amazingly successful business and a provider of bread that dreams are made of.