If you already think the notion of European-inspired artisan bread sounds romantic, prepare to remain pleased by this story: Midwestern Ballerina moves to Boston to dance, gets injured, starts baking. People go crazy for her bread. The former ballerina becomes a full-time baker and business-owner. Business becomes known as Clear Flour Bread. Clear Flour grows, wholesale orders come in, success happens. So much so that she needs to hire a driver to help her keep up with her orders. Driver starts the job. And next? Driver becomes more than just a driver, he becomes baker’s husband! And co-owner! The lovebirds, whose names are Christy and Abe, still co-own the business, over 30 years later.
“Keep in mind that they started this all at the very beginning of the artisan bread movement in America – I mean this was the late 70s – people were used to cutting the crusts off of their sandwiches! Wonderbread commercials were playing on TV!”, Carrie Diana, Clear Flour’s Manager tells me as the butterflies I get from hearing the above story about how the owners met are still in my stomach (I’m a sucker for a good love story). But back to the bread: in the late 70s and early 80s, American artisan bread was a much different scene than it is today. In that, well, there really just wasn’t a scene yet at all.
Co-owners Christy Timon and Abe Faber were a gutsy pair to try and introduce artisan bread to a city that didn’t already know its value, but the risk was worth the reward; Clear Flour Bread has more than a couple converts. A cult-like following that lines up around the block on a regular basis to regularly indulge in the bakery’s 49 different breads and 100-plus pastry offerings, including daily breads (Ancienne French baguettes, Rosemary Focaccia, Rustic Italian, Seeded 7 Grain, and more), as well as its rotating weekly and seasonal specials.
“We try to be ethnically conscious of what the neighborhood grew up with, with different Jewish, German, Polish, Irish, and Russian specials and more, especially for different holidays,” Carrie continues. And it’s not uncommon for someone to tell them their version of a Fruit Cake or Kulich tastes just like it did when they were a child in Europe. I have the good fortune to live in Brookline this summer, in an apartment that is down the street from Clear Flour, so I have been especially looking forward to this visit.
As Diana and I get the chance to visit behind-the-scenes at Clear Flour on a 90-something degree day, a couple things stand out to me immediately. First, that while it is even hotter by the oven than it is outside, the staff is all smiles, seems genuinely friendly and in good spirits. As music plays and skylights let natural light pour into the kitchen, Venetian Olive bread dough is being mixed in one corner as other loaves are being prepped for the oven, and croissant dough is rolled out. Second, though Clear Flour is a 24/7 business with 30 employees and daily wholesale deliveries along with a storefront, the space is, well, not that big. I am more than impressed with the amount of organization and attention to detail put into each corner of the two back rooms.
Clearly (no pun intended!), an efficient system is in place, and seems to be working well! Carrie shows me their Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and I realize just how detail-oriented and thoughtful she and the owners really must be. Everything is noted for each order and each day of operation, down to what the weather was like on that day. Of these observations, Carrie says that “organization here is a collaboration. It’s not our goal to be shipping cross-country. We wanna keep it local. We want to know how it’s going at each place we supply. Baking is not a blue collar job, and there is definitely a lot of art and science involved in our business.”
Third, I can easily tell that the employees here are in good spirits because of how much Carrie and the co-owners care about them. There is a definite love to the spaces the staff work in and a definite camaraderie between them all. It’s great to see, though I guess it doesn’t surprise me that much, seeing as this is a business built on love after all! “Abe and Christy are very adamant about quality of life for their staff,” Carrie says, adding in how much she herself enjoys working at Clear Flour. “No one day is the same. It’s very rewarding.”
It is also becoming obvious that Abe and Christy are still as passionate as can be about their products. “Christy is still jazzed about pastry items, still doing R & D on the floor most days of the week”, Carrie continues, also telling me that “Abe was the former Vice President of the Bread Bakers Guild of America for twelve years!” The guild is a nation-wide non-profit that helps organize events and supports “craft scratch” baking like that of Clear Flour. Abe helped organize envy-inducing meet-up events that have names such as “WheatStalk”, and recently received the Guild’s highest award, the Professor Raymond Calvel Award, for his extensive involvement.
By the end of the visit, I leave Clear Flour feeling even luckier to live near this bakery, which is not only a place where delicious things are created, but also place where a positive, progressive, and passionate spirit is tangibly present. The first time I heard the name of the bakery, I couldn’t help but instantly think of the mantra from my favorite television show, Friday Night Lights, where the show’s football coach would bellow out, “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” before each game, as genuine looks of determination and spirit showed in each teammate’s expression as they echoed the motto back to him. Now, this is not what Clear Flour was named after, but after visiting, I can’t help but continue to draw out the association. Every staff member I was fortunate to meet and hear about truly did sound like a spirited, hardworking member of a definite team, one that is behind an operation that runs nonstop; someone is always at Clear Flour working: 24 hours a day, rain or shine, every day of the year (besides Christmas and Thanksgiving – fair enough).
Rebecca Rosenthal, Boston, MA, Summer 2012 Food Warrior