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Laguna Beach

 Volume 14, Issue 52  |  July 1, 2022


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Love in every loaf: Jonnie LoFranco lives her father’s dream through BREAD Artisan Bakery

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

To most people, the idiom “bread is the staff of life,” couldn’t be truer. Bread is the ultimate comfort food, harkening back to family meals, the smell of a fresh-from-the-oven loaf and the ritual of sitting around the table. 

“We were a big foodie family. My father [Bob Peckham] loved cooking and always had a pot of something going on the stove,” said Laguna resident Jonnie LoFranco, founder of BREAD Artisan Baker. “He instilled that love in me, and he always wanted to own a bakery and bring authentic old-world artisan bread to Southern California. The three things that are important to me now are family, food and travel.” Inspired by her father, LoFranco adores the entire process of preparing meals – from the food shopping at farmers’ markets to the preparation and serving.

Founded in 2010, the authenticity of each bakery item can be credited to the meticulous nature of her business partner since 2011, Frenchman Yannick Guegan, a lifelong professional baker. How LoFranco and Guegan met is just one of the many coincidences that led LoFranco to her business and eventually, her baker. However, first she moved cross-country a few times before her family settled in Laguna.

love in close up

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Jonnie LoFranco 

Originally from Rhode Island, the family moved to Newport Beach due to Peckham’s job in the computer industry with Honeywell. LoFranco, who has three older sisters, Robin, Tori and Polly, was born in Hoag Hospital and attended pre-school in Newport Beach until the family relocated to New Jersey in another work-related move. 

“My parents loved the ocean and the beach, so when we moved back out here again when I was in first grade, my mom (Judy) wanted to live in Laguna. They used to visit here when they lived in Newport,” LoFranco said. “I went through the Laguna school system.”

After graduating from Laguna Beach High School, LoFranco attended University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), earned her degree in economics and lived in Los Angeles most of her life. “I had a career in advertising, music production,” she said. 

The business of baking

LoFranco’s father opened his bakery-cafe, Breads & Spreads, in Mission Viejo in 1995. When Peckham passed away in 2001, LoFranco ended her career in Los Angeles to carry on the family business. 

“I needed to establish a stable business to support myself,” she said. “I moved back here when I got divorced. I had two little kids to support [daughters Luisa and Estella] who were then 5 and 8 years old. I started to tend to the family business and I worked in that business for a while. Then in 2010, BREAD Artisan Bakery, Inc. was born.”

With no space or staff, LoFranco reached out to the Brown Bag Sandwich Company who had a large facility in San Juan Capistrano. “I sublet part of it, used their staff and supplied bread to a theme park and gathered more business,” she said. “Then they decided not to sublet.”

This was the first of many happenstances that led LoFranco to her bakery space and eventually to Guegan.

love in Focaccia

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Focaccia, one of the products at the Laguna Farmers’ Market

“So many things happen when doors are opened,” LoFranco said. “I then moved to my current space and a few months later, a Brown Bag baker introduced me to his baker, who had worked for him for 14-15 years. It was Yannick. This is only his second job in the U.S.”

In another twist of fate, LoFranco had recently eaten at Selanne Steak Tavern, and after sampling their bread, commented, “I need to find the person who made this bread.” Turned out that it was Guegan. 

In 2011 when LoFranco met Guegan, they recognized their shared passion for creating a unique and superior product – in other words, delicious, hand-made artisan bread. He is now her business partner. 

Guegan has spent decades baking. He found his true calling back in 1984, attending an after-school apprenticeship at a small bakery in Milizac, France. He then dedicated 10 years to learning every aspect of the bread business, from the art of the kitchen to challenges of wholesale and retail. By 1994, he was ready to bring his skill and irresistible French charm to Southern California. Today his enthusiasm for the art of bread making is as alive and inspired as it was 30 years ago.

BREAD Artisan Bakery is housed in 11,000 square feet, they have a staff of 70 people and use nine delivery vehicles. “We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said LoFranco. “We service 150 customers a day and begin loading for deliveries between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. We deliver as far away as Los Angeles and to Claremont campuses. Once the vehicles take off, we start the baking process all over again. I want to get bread to the public and ensure its quality, so we bake it fresh every day.”

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Products from BREAD Artisan Bakery are featured in two Irvine Ranch Market locations, Balboa Island and Costa Mesa, which sell their bread and use it in their delis for sandwiches. Locally, their breads are in the Butchery, Mercado, Summer’s Table, Selanne Steak Tavern and Sapphire, just to name a few. Montage Resort has been a customer since the beginning.

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Always a line at the Laguna Farmers’ Market booth

With 150 customers, it’s not surprising that they have two tons of flour delivered every 10 days. They use Levian liquid starter that’s been alive 15-20 years and also use local suppliers for eggs and olives. Their flour comes from Central Milling, as well as a mill in Paris. In addition, they order from Washington State University Bread Lab, which studies heritage grains and alternative grains. WSU Bread Lab is developing agronomically sensible and economically viable grain crops, creating diverse and decentralized food systems, and engaging a global community of people in a conversation about what they eat and how it’s produced.

“Because it’s handmade, the difficulty is in keeping the bread consistent,” LoFranco said. 

As described on their website, “Our sourdough is our signature and our pride, using a centuries-old tradition of organically leavening the bread with a flour and water culture. We allow longer fermentation times to fully develop the flavor and texture. It’s certainly not the easiest or fastest method, and whether you call us obsessive artisans or gluttons for punishment, we believe the result is worth the wait. The result is a bread with a thick, chewy crust and a moist, dense crumb.”

Their breads include:

Levain: Pain de Campagne, Sourdough, Pain de Seigle, Harvest Bread, Multigrain, Pistachio, Raisin, Walnut, Olive & Thyme, Honey Whole Wheat Bran
Spelt, Quinoa and Orange.

Preferment: Ciabatta, Traditional Baguette, Multi-Seed Baguette, Country French, Polenta Bread, Petit Pain Caramelized Onion, Petit Pain Olive & Thyme, Rustique Garlic & Herb Knots and Dinner Rolls.

Méthode en Direct: Brioche, Potato, Pretzel, Focaccia, Rustic Grissini, Lavosh, Squaw and Soft Wheat.

love in alai and bill

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Alai Landa and Bill Hackler at the Laguna Farmers’ Market

As one might imagine, with all that baking, things don’t always run smoothly. “Our biggest fiasco was when the sprinklers were installed – the temperature wasn’t set right and the oven temps made them go off. We had to throw away a lot of soaked bread,” LoFranco said.

Laguna Farmers’ Market

As many locals already know, BREAD Artisan Bakery has had a booth at our Farmers’ Market for two years. “They reached out to me,” LoFranco said. 

“I love manning the booth. We have a lot of regulars who come every week, although during the summer, many go on vacation. Eighty-five to 90% of our business is locals. It’s fun, and I love the social part of it, but now Peter Acheson and Alai Landa have taken over handling the booth. I still man it sometimes and my niece Sophie DeGroote does as well.”

love in Bill serving

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Bill Hackler waiting on customers at the Laguna Farmers’ Market

The variety changes each week and the booth stocks such items as multigrain sandwich loaves, artisan loafs, brioche and hoagie buns and dinner rolls. 

“I’ve gotten better at determining how much we sell every week at the market,” LoFranco admitted. “I calculate it each week, although there may be leftovers. We donate quite a bit to the Friendship Shelter and I deal with Food Finders, which sources leftover food. They find charities and pick up the products.”

She also gives back to the community in other ways. Her sister Robin is part of “Set Her Free,” an organization that rescues young girls and provides them with an education. LoFranco visited the facility in Kenya, and also went to Uganda and Zanzibar. “Every Thanksgiving holiday season, we donate a portion of our proceeds to this cause,” she said.

Farmers’ Market is a generational event for LoFranco, who has fond memories of visiting there as a child. “When we were kids, we’d come to the Farmers’ Market with dad and then eat at Anastasia.”

The COVID effect

“During COVID, along with a few other projects, being at the Farmers’ Market helped us stay afloat,” LoFranco said. “We also supplied breads to restaurants for take-out. I had to lay off almost half of my employees, but we hired them back. At the time, I even delivered some orders.” 

LoFranco feels that COVID was a reset. “We came back better people. Customers understood the difficulties with the supply chain and the employee situation. It was a pleasant surprise to see the humanity in the community.” 

Introduction of pastries

Who knows pastries better than the French? 

“Yannick recently introduced pastries, which re-inspired him,” LoFranco said. “Customers love them. He’s making Feuillette – both fruit and savory – cinnamon rolls and Kouignamann, which is a specialty.” It originates from Brittany and is a round multi-layered cake, originally made with bread dough, containing layers of butter and sugar, similar in fashion to puff pastry with a cracked sugar topping, and is specific to that area.

love in pastry trays

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Pastries at the Laguna Farmers’ Market

LoFranco speaks French and took it in school for six years from teachers Madame Wise and Mr. Pique. Her knowledge of the language has come full circle, since her head baker is French and many of the local chefs are French as well.

“I went to Bordeaux in 2019 to visit my former private French teacher,” she said. LoFranco and her daughters love to travel. After a friend convinced her it was possible as a single mother, they found a way. As a result, Luisa wants to study abroad.

Although LoFranco maintains a successful business, her biggest accomplishment is her daughters. Luisa, who is 18, attends University of Oregon and 21-year-old Estella goes to Irvine Valley College. 

“I’m very proud of my daughters,” LoFranco said. “I worked quite a bit and struggled in their early years, but we all learned a lot. It made us strong.”

LoFranco savors every aspect of BREAD Artisan Bakery. “I love working with creative people – musicians, artists, chefs and bakers,” she said. “I’m very grateful for being in Laguna and the privilege of going to UCLA. I don’t take it for granted. I’m also thankful for my business. My motto is keep walking your path, respect people and treat them with kindness. It’s Karma. When you do the right thing, things fall into line. I’m living my dad’s dream and I know he would be really proud of me.”

For more information about BREAD Artisan Bakery, go to www.breadab.com.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

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Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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