Around 12:30 p.m. on a sunny Thursday this week, LexObserver pulled into a parking lot on Marrett Road excited to check out the new bakery in town whose reputation for delicious baguettes precedes it. At Bread Obsession, which opened its Lexington retail location this Wednesday and theoretically serves bread, pastries and locally roasted Karma Coffee from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., a telltale paper sign hung in the door. “Sold out for the day!” was scrawled in black marker, along with cheerful encouragement to return Friday for the goods. The heady aroma of baking bread spoke for itself.
It turns out Bread Obsession had sold out well over an hour ago, as they had on opening day Wednesday: “People just come and come and come and come,” co-owner Joan Forman said, flour smeared on her hands. Back in the kitchen, a handful of bakers were hard at work hand-shaping blocks of dough into rings for the next day’s bagels. This is the day’s final task, Forman explained.
When LexObserver arrived, the building landlord, Charlie Minasian, was dropping off a plant to congratulate the owners on their new space and runaway early success. At least half a dozen prospective customers approached in search of bread within 10 minutes. Bread Obsession will be open from 8 a.m. to noon “until further notice as we ramp up our production to meet your demand,” they announced Thursday.
Varda Haimo started Bread Obsession out of her home in 2013, and recruited fellow bread enthusiast Forman to join her as the business grew. They set up a commercial kitchen in Waltham, and spent about six years there, expanding to sell bread to stores, restaurants and farms in 15 towns. But they outgrew that space, too, and spent two years looking for a new location.
So how did Bread Obsession come to Lexington? This is something of a homecoming for the woman-owned business; the owners are both Lexingtonians, and already had a loaf called the ‘Lexington sourdough.’ But in a way, the Town has Select Board member Joe Pato to thank for the new arrival: When the owners were searching for a new space, Forman consulted Pato late last summer, who suggested Minasian, their now-landlord. “I went to the Lexington phone book and looked him up, because I didn’t know his business name,” Forman recalled.
They were enchanted by the current space, which is triple the size of their previous location in Waltham and endowed with natural light, high kitchen ceilings and now, newly painted mauve walls – almost an art gallery for bread. Forman pointed out an “antique French baker’s rack” of wrought iron and brass along one wall. “We care a lot about giving the bread an appropriate context,” she said.
For Bread Obsession, open Wednesday through Saturday, most days start at 5 a.m. – except for Saturdays, when they begin at 4.
Sourdough is Bread Obsession’s specialty. Their baking process takes three days; they make the starter on day one, the dough the next day, which “sits in the refrigerator and does an overnight bulk ferment, and develops flavor” – and on day three, they shape and bake the bread. While most bagel makers would let bagels sit and proof before baking, these ferment in the fridge overnight as well, Forman said, “because it makes them taste better.” Baguettes are by far the most popular item at Bread Obsession, Forman said.
Like all sourdoughs, their bread is “created by whatever is in the air locally.” The ‘Lexington sourdough’ is “kind of… an ode to” the San Francisco sourdough, Forman said. “Everybody that sticks their fingers in it adds some kind of microorganism” – so the bread is literally “a combination of all the bakers that are baking the bread.”
This collaborative creation process is connected to Bread Obsession’s identity as a woman-owned business, Forman said. “The food industry can be a tough place – and not all that, I would say, nice,” she said. “We’ve been in enough kitchens where we see people be pretty head-down and look a little intimidated.” But she and Haimo “really believe in working as a team” and “training people – cultivating experience over time.” That means they’ve “hired people with the right stuff who didn’t necessarily have the experience, but then who grew with us, and became excellent bakers.”
Forman pointed out several bakers scattered throughout the room who had learned on the job: “Mike! And Ikeu! And Rina, and Sarah!”
Everyone said hello. “We’re talking about how we’ve trained you guys,” Forman explained. Mike, distinguished by a winter hat with a red pom pom, laughed. “Oh, yeah – I was terrified of ovens before,” he said.
All these bakers have the right stuff, according to Forman: “Good hand skills, attention to detail, a love of food, an understanding of our philosophy…that’s really important to us.” When it comes to the bread itself, “we’re highly protocol driven – so we have lots of systems, lots of procedures that we follow in order to ensure consistency,” she said, pointing to a rack of nearly identical (tantalizing) Cinnamon Swirl loaves as evidence. “We don’t have one bread that’s big and one that’s small…We have a standard, and we want to adhere to it.”
Almost the entire staff came over from Waltham, and even helped with the move. During the pandemic, “our main focus was to stay in business and keep our employees whole,” Forman said. She and Haimo “cut back dramatically on how much we worked to give our employees as many hours as we could.”
“Part of being women is we have, I would say, a nurturing approach to our employees – to building a kind of camaraderie and sense of shared purpose within the business,” Forman said.
The team has six bakers in total right now – and are looking to hire more. “We’re really interested in training people who have the right stuff,” Forman reiterated – who are not just diligent and meticulous, but “who love to do it,” she said, pointing to the bakers shaping bagels. “They care about…that it looks like a good bagel.”
Forman said the Lexington community has been “marvelous” and “patient as we ramp up.” Though “we are selling out initially…we will be ramping up.”
“As residents ourselves, it’s very gratifying” to feel so welcomed, Forman said.
“We’re all about flavor, the nutritional value of what we make, high-quality ingredients, and just real care and attention to every single thing that we make,” Forman said. “It’s really, in a lot of ways, our obsession.”