by Sean Krause
Pick a townie—any townie—and ask them what drives them nuts about Oxford retail, and they’ll more than likely roll their eyes and commence their list of Uptown grievances. No bookstore. No Thai restaurant. No Target. And no bakery.
So when a little bird whispered in this townie’s ear that a classically trained baker was churning out wild yeast loafs—and delivering around Oxford—let’s just say that I dropped my Kofenya cup and ran, not walked, to meet her.
Her name is Kim Coffey. And it turns out, she’s not just a baker: she’s a missionary for bread.
On baking day Kim rises at 3:30am. She mills her own whole wheat (“The mill sounds like a jet engine” she laughs). And she sources as much of her ingredients from local farms, including the hard, red winter wheat grown by Morning Sun Organic Farm in Preble County.
We can thank Kroger for turning Kim into a bread baker. One day, Kim and her sister-in-law found themselves staring at a loaf of wheat bread, sliced and wrapped in plastic, that had been resting on the counter for a month or so. “It still looked and tasted exactly the same as the day we bought it,” recalls Kim. “We looked at each other and thought ‘A loaf of bread wasn’t meant to exist this long.’
Next they wondered: “What in the world are we ingesting?” (The short answer, of course is a big doughy whopping of preservatives.)
And that turned into a question: “Why can’t we make our own bread?”
A townie journeys to San Francisco—learns the true meaning of bread.
Thus began Kim’s journey. It would take her from Oxford to San Francisco and back. It would mean converting her home kitchen into a flour-dusted bake house. It would mean taking the leap from commercial yeasts (think Red Star yeast packets) to wild yeasts that create the tangy breads known as sourdoughs.
In San Francisco Kim enrolled in a weeklong class at the San Francisco Baking Institute. There, she learned the science, the math and the patience of bread baking. During her crash course on wild yeast sourdoughs, she baked 20 loaves a day. “The class was meant for professional bakers,” she laughs. “I was definitely not a professional baker. I didn’t even know how to shape a boule or batard.” Yet, she not only kept up, she learned something more than just the art of baking bread.
Each day after class she’d walk several miles and one train ride back to her accomodations in the Mission District. Not one to let her 20 loaves go to waste, she’d carry as many loaves as she could with her. “I’d have baguettes sticking out of my backpack,” she recalls. “And I would just hand them out to random strangers.”
And that’s when it hit her—how bread builds community.
“You wouldn’t believe how people let their defenses down,” she says. One such stranger was so taken aback by Kim’s gift that he confided to her about his former life as homeless man and how he put his life back on track. Kim Coffey glows when she recounts this story.
“I love bread because it breaks down barriers,” she says.
Kim has brought home this idea of building community through bread. On her website, www.breadandwood.com, she expands on this notion of the spiritual side of baking bread:
“Bread is a gatherer of people as it brings joy in the process of both being made and being shared. It is not meant to be a quick and easy task but instead takes time and effort; that time allows for beauty and flavor.”
Back here in Oxford, Kim is battling with the winter chills that are wrecking havoc on her bread proofing. She wheels a bread rack stacked with freshly kneaded loaves into her guest room, turns up the heat and lets her boules and batards slowly rise.
Making Bread. Making Friends. And Making the Rounds.
At present, she receives email orders for around 30-35 loaves a week (along with about 45 muffins), with a short-term goal of baking 50 loaves. She figures that she maxes out around 100. And she does it all out of her home kitchen. “I have to say my husband is awfully forgiving about the flour covering everything,” she laughs.
Wednesdays and Fridays are baking days. She rises at 3:30 am, kneads, folds, and moves loaves in and out of her ovens. Then she loads up her car, and starts delivering. And here is where the communal side of bread kicks in. “When I make deliveries, people like to invite me into their homes,” she says. “I’ll often sit with them and have tea.”
For Kim, bread is the key to building her community. At Church, the congregation uses her bread for Sunday services. She’s pondering a stall at the Uptown Farmer’s Market “because that’s where people gather in Oxford, “ she says.
Building a business one loaf at a time.
As a businesswoman, Kim’s open to all possibilities. “I’d love to have storefront where people can come get their bread.” But that might be a ways off. Or at least in College Corner. For now, maybe a bread truck or at least a regular spot somewhere in Oxford where she can sell her bread from the back of her car.
“What I’d really love to do is build a bakehouse somewhere outside the city limits,” she says. “A place out on the land with a wood-fired oven.”
For now, Kim is working hard to grow the business, make new connections, and find new healthy, local sources for her ingredients (she just found a maple syrup guy in Dayton). She’s investing her profits back into baking gear and supplies.
“I didn’t get into this for the money, she says. “I care about the health of my customers. I would rather drop my price and know that someone is eating a loaf of healthy, fresh bread.”
If she learned one thing from her time in San Francisco, it was this simple fact: “Bread is not a money maker,” she says. One of her favorite quotes comes from on of her baking instructors: “Bakers don’t make bread for the money. They make it because they love it. And they make everything else—from cookies to muffins to scones—so then can make bread.”
My fellow townies, you have got to taste Kim’s bread. It’s the real deal. Or should I say the real dough. It’s crusty, has an unbelievable texture, and couldn’t be made from simpler, more honest ingredients. A sampling of her breads include whole wheat, Vermont sourdough, multi-grain and the tantalizing chocolate cranberry black forest delight! Now it’s time for Oxford to share the love.
Kim bakes (and delivers) on Wednesdays and Fridays. Her breads cost between $5 to $6. You need your orders in via email by Monday 8am. And with a maximum capacity for 100 loaves, you better get on the email list quick. Slots are filling up quicker than yeast rises. Visit www.breadandwood.com to learn more.