In a string of old commercial shopfronts on Alma St, San Pedro there is an artisan bakery producing specialty breads that flies under the radar of the foodie press, opens to the public just a few hours each Friday and ships to customers across the Western states.
The Baltic Bakery, operating since 1975, produces 4 types of bread.
The ingredient list is small: White rye flour, wheat flour, water, whole rye, whole wheat, salt, cornmeal and yeast. Made from scratch using traditional techniques, hand rolled and hearth baked, the loaves are simple and healthy with a comforting texture and flavor…..moist and satisfying and a little chewy . They contain no sugar or fats.
In a bread phobic time they are as close to perfect as it gets!
The large kitchen is simple. An industrial size Hobart machine mixes the starter, metal racks line the long wall and are filled with rounds rising overnight, a narrow steaming room adjoins the 10 ft oven and one of the owners, Stephanie, cuts, weighs and shapes the rolls on a small table.
Co owner Stephanie Powell, a New Yorker who came to Los Angeles to work in fashion, always had an interest in baking, and she eventually transitioned from designing high fashion to the restaurant industry. It was in her role as Manager of the much loved Red Lion Tavern in Silverlake, one of LA’s most famous German Restaurants and Beer Gardens, that she first encountered the delicious breads from Baltic Bakery.
Fast forward 4 years and she now partners with Rolf Pfannerer( son of the original master baker, Rudy Pfannerer) and food entrepreneur Aidas Mattis at the helm of a quietly revitalized Baltic.
Spending time watching the bread being made, I’m reminded of those documentaries on noodle makers who use a minuscule pallete of ingredients to produce a beautiful simple food, but spend a life time perfecting their technique. There is a rhythmic calm to the bread production in this bakery. She shared that just 3 weeks ago, a switch in the steam room changed the size of the air bubbles and she and Rolf had to tweak the process, reworking and reinforcing to achieve the same result.
Stephanie is developing a range of pretzels and researching and sourcing a completely organic range of Baltic breads .
An older customer demographic of Europeans has sustained the bakery until now, but with concerns about gluten and an expanding desire for organic products there is a need to switch it up a bit .
So an expansion is slowly underway but without sacrificing the traditions, techniques and reputation of the 40 year old bakery.
Customers start arriving at 8.30 on Fridays to be sure to get one of the 80 loaves of bread that will sell out by the time they close. They come from all over the Southland, and most have roots in the old world.
On line and wholesale customers complete the mix with the Baltic shipping to San Francisco, Texas and delivering locally to Santa Monica, San Diego and close by to Alpine Village…mostly European delis and small independent supermarkets.
My favorite customer story is the guy from Texas who drives to San Pedro twice a year to fill his car with breads!
And favorite plan? A thoughtful and beautiful idea underway where a local Church will use the specially baked, “in the neighborhood”, Baltic Bakery bread instead of commercial wafers for the communion.
Staff of Life indeed.