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story & photos by   HOWARD SEEMANN

Our DAILY Bread

A rundown of bread bakeries on the North Coast
by Gail Gourley

(Photo of Serge Scherbatskoy)A COPELAND LUMBER WORKER has been lifting more than boards and building materials since October.

Gabe Kelly, 22, has picked up intoxicating smells coming from his workplace neighbor on 11th Street in Arcata, and he's routinely acted on those fumes.

No, it's not the local brewery. Kelly has become a regular at Brio Breadworks, a new bakery on the North Coast that cranks out every day 500 pieces of the zesty European-style bread six days a week.

When the bread's in the oven, "I can definitely smell it," he said.

Kelly and fellow lumberyard workers occasionally offer to unload the Brio truck in exchange for a loaf or two. Kelly's favorite is the sourdough french, he said without hesitation.

When he gets one, Kelly said he can consume a loaf in an hour. But with the hard-working laborer's capacity to work it off and his youth, Kelly isn't concerned about Brio-induced weight gain.

Apparently, Kelly isn't alone in his new addiction.

The Eureka Co-op Manager Alan Workman said his customers buy up the store's entire 90-loaf allocation each day, in particular the olive loaf "sells like crazy," Workman added.

Although the Co-op is a popular baker of bread in its own right (see separate story), the 5th Street market modified its bread display to give Brio, the new kid on the bakery block, more room.

What's the secret? "Just the flavor," Workman said. "It has something no (other bread) has."

Brio is the brainchild of owner-manager Serge Scherbatskoy. As is obvious by his surname, Scherbatskoy is not Italian. But he had 15 of his friends compete to come up with a name for his bread factory.

"Brio sounds nice; it's easy to pronounce," he said of the winner during an interview in between telephone and walk-in interruptions. The floor was covered with a thin layer of flour dust.

Scherbatskoy, who is in his "very, very late 40s," has a master's degree in fine arts from San Francisco State University. But he's also made a study of baking bread.

"I studied with some French experts in the Bay Area, and I observed the process extensively in major bakeries," he said. There are quite a few places where you can learn.

Scherbatskoy said there's no mystery about sourdough. Even the recipe for the essential ingredient, the starter, can be found in professional reference works. But he said some bakeries attracted by shortcuts use vinegar to create the "sour" in sourdough.

"What's most important is the oven," he said of the device that is the size of a car.

The oven, unique to Humboldt County, is constructed to mimic an old-fashioned brick oven.

"In the old brick ovens, you built a fire and got it real hot. Then you'd sweep out the ashes, seal up the chimney and bake the bread directly on the bricks," he said. While that would work for a family, it doesn't work for commercial bakeries because of lack of temperature control and the need to rebuild the fire each time.

In Brio's gas oven the bread bakes on a ceramic surface in sealed chambers that are injected with steam to create the crunchy crust.

"Steam is only part of it," Scherbatskoy said. "The oven has a huge thermal mass. The temperature doesn't vary much."

The gas oven, made near Verona, Italy, by a firm named Tibiletti, "cost as much as a small house in Eureka," he added. The company even sent over an installer to see that it was done right.

The oven runs between 425· and 460· and are never turned off. It can handle 200 loaves in its four ovens at one time. But he also said the secret of making good bread is following the 14 steps without fail. "Everything has to be right," Scherbatskoy said. "You have to be a perfectionist."

The baking process is "very fast paced. Those who can't keep up don't last." The sourdoughs go through two rises, each with two turns of the loaf, in the 24 hours from start to entering the oven.

He calls sourdough an "artisan" bread, with the baking of it "sort of a movement," and something like a brew pub. Most towns now have a bakery providing such "artisan" bread, he said.

(Photo of David Miller removing bread from oven)

Materials used also are important. Scherbatskoy uses "only the best ingredients. If you don't start out with the best, you won't get the best."

The "best" includes mostly organic ingredients because "there are no residues of chemicals that could affect the sourdough."

(A team of three Americans led by a Sonoma baker took first place in the World Cup of Baking competition in Paris, France, last month. Craig Ponsford was coach of the U.S. baking team. He's also baker at his family-owned Artisan Bakers in Sonoma.)

One theory about making sourdough was rejected by Scherbatskoy: According to some experts, metal bowls are verboten. He says stainless steel bowls which he uses are OK.

Until the early 1900s, all bread was sourdough, Scherbatskoy said. The introduction of natural yeast made other methods of baking possible.

And it's basically a very simple bread, he said just flour, water and salt.

Before coming to Arcata Scherbatskoy ran the North Fork Café, an "upscale modern California- cuisine" restaurant in Covelo, for three years. California cuisine is a mix of French, Italian, Asian and Mexican items.

"We were too expensive for Covelo," he said. "We had 35 customers; we needed 350."

He works from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week. Assisting in the bread-making operation is his fiancée, Renee Menge, also formerly of San Francisco, plus about a dozen employees. She's in charge of distribution and personnel. His first employee shows up at

4 a.m. "which is not too bad for a bakery, actually."

Why Arcata? He and Renee wanted to be close to her relatives, including a sister, Yvonne Thompson, and two nieces, Laura and Ellen. And this market was ready for artisan-style bread.

"People just wanted good bread," he said.

One of those "people" is Phil Ricord, owner of Wildberries Marketplace on G Street in Arcata.

"It's the best bread of its type between San Francisco and Portland," he said. "It's taken off like a rocket."

Wildberries sells more than 100 loaves a day. Ricord said, "We can sell all they can make. It's the hottest new item we've had."

Price is apparently not a deterrent. "People will pay any price for a product that meets their need."

Brio produces 16 different breads every day but Sunday, with 11 of them sourdough. The bread can be found at four locations in Arcata and two in Eureka. The Oklahoma native hopes to have it in Trinidad this summer.

Prices range from $3.35 for one-pound loaves of Levain Walnut, Whole Wheat Walnut or Whole Wheat Raisin while a 4-oz. Ladybug roll is 60 cents.

Scherbatskoy admitted his prices might be a bit high, especially to restaurants who "think they can do it themselves."

"Handmade bread is more expensive. Sourdough can't be mass produced and it can't be shipped very far," he said. The bread is delivered fresh each day and the leftovers are taken back for feeding the homeless.

News Editor Susan Wood contributed to this report.

Serge Scherbatskoy next to the oven.
David Miller removes loaves of freshly-baked from from the oven.


Our DAILY Bread

From investment companies to family-owned shops, from whole grain to sourdough, breaking bread on the North Coast offers a pleasing array of possibilities. You can almost smell the yeast just thinking about it. Here's the rundown.

North Coast Bakery
Founded: Started with the Co-op in mid-1970s.
Owners: The bakery is a division of the member-owned Co-op.
Loaves/day baked: 600 to 2,000
Specialty/best known for: Whole grain breads.
Philosophy: To produce quality affordable bakery products with an emphasis on whole grain and organically grown ingredients, made from scratch with nothing artificial, according to Helene Rouvier, bakery manager.
Distribution: Local delivery from Trinidad to Fieldbrook to south Eureka. Also sent via UPS to individuals or stores throughout the country, and shipped frozen through Mountain People's Warehouse.

Bakery: Fluhrer Bakery

Founded: 1898, as Log Cabin Bakery.
Owners: A Southern California investment group.
Loaves/day baked: 20,000 including rolls and buns.
Specialty/best known for: Humboldt Bay Sourdough, Garlic Sourdough and Cracked Wheat Sourdough.
Philosophy: "Our customer is anybody and everybody," said Kerry R. Glavich, company president. Customers includes institutions, restaurants and retail establishments.
Distribution: From Brookings to Leggett, and east to Redding, Chico, Yuba City and Marysville. Also has contract with Pelican Bay State Prison.

Bakery: Eureka Baking Co.

Founded: 1988
Owners: Dolores Vellutini, Vincent Vellutini, Joseph Vellutini, Andrea Pedley.
Loaves/day baked: 500
Specialty/best known for: Sourdough bread.
Philosophy: The slogan on the bread bags, "From our family to you," describes this family-owned and operated business, said owner Andrea Pedley.
Distribution: Mostly at Eureka Baking Co. locations; ceased distributing to grocery stores about three years ago, but remains in a few grocery stores that want the product and pick it up.

Bakery: Ramone's Bakery and Cafe

Founded: Began in 1981 as Ramone's Opera Alley Cafe; first bakery opened in 1986.
Owners: Berit Meyer and Brian Ferguson
Loaves/day baked: 270
Specialty/best known for: Old World Sourdough.
Philosophy: "We want to use the best ingredients we can and make a product that people really enjoy and that we enjoy making," said owner Berit Meyer, adding that the bread is made by hand with all natural ingredients.
Distribution: At Ramone's locations and select grocery stores in Eureka and Arcata.

Bakery: Wildflower Bakery

Founded: 1987; took over Sunburst Bakery in 1997 and moved from Wildflower Café to Foodworks Culinary Center in Arcata.
Owners: Conny Pena and Eric Nyman.
Loaves/day baked: 60-80
Specialty/best known for: Onion Herb Rolls.
Philosophy: Owner Conny Pena described the breads as all organic. She added that the bakery's philosophy has always been about working with people with special dietary needs and health issues by baking some wheat-free and sugarless products.
Distribution: Grocery stores in Eureka, Arcata and Southern Humboldt.

--  Gail Gourley

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