LOS ANGELES — Some things take time — like love, fine wine or a loaf of artisan bread. And some people, like the folks at Los Angeles-based La Brea Bakery, might say the three have quite a bit in common. In the early 1990s, La Brea Bakery was a small retail shop selling its signature sourdough baguettes and other artisan breads. Nearly three decades later, the bakery still takes at least 24 hours to produce each loaf. Only now, La Brea Bakery can make as many as 1 million lbs of them by the end of the week.
Under Aryzta ownership since 2001, La Brea Bakery has gone from handcrafting artisan breads to producing par-baked and fully baked products — ranging from sourdough baguettes to rolls, flatbreads, English muffins, sweet goods and more — for in-store bakeries and food service outlets nationwide and internationally. In 1998, to support its growth, La Brea Bakery moved into its first large-scale production facility in Van Nuys, Calif., a 129,000 square-foot space with room for growth … on a scale beyond its wildest dreams.
Foodies, festivals and fine wine
It’s true that La Brea Bakery has come a long way since its beginning on Los Angeles’ La Brea Ave. Even then, La Brea Bakery was setting trends, not following them.
Food manufacturers on every scale are in a constant race to figure out what consumers will demand next, and bakers big and small quite often find themselves at the mercy of the foodie nation. But La Brea Bakery in its early years was making artisan breads even before the foodie takeover.
As the bakery grew, the trend started to spread. “More customers became familiar with artisan bread because it was such a new experience,” said Jonathan Davis, La Brea Bakery’s senior vice-president, R.&D., who has been with the company since the beginning. “As artisan bread is becoming more and more well-known, the demand has continued to grow.”
While artisan breads are still niche products with only 8% of U.S. households buying them, according to I.R.I. data, La Brea Bakery remains the trendsetter. This is a company that cares about food.
“From an overall marketing perspective, it’s all about food,” said Andrew Blok, brand director. “We have to focus on food, and if the food’s not perfect, nothing else works. That’s why we put so much time and energy into R.&D. and innovation.”
From that foundation, the company is tapping into restaurants, retailers and consumers who share that sentiment.
“We’re riding the wave of educating people about what true artisan bread is,” Mr. Blok said.
This includes having a presence at events such as the Family Winemakers Event in San Diego, where the bakery will offer tastings to more than 600 attendees and demonstrate how La Brea Bakery breads can complement a wine program.
La Brea Bakery has also partnered with the Cochon555 Tour, a culinary event held in 15 cities across the U.S. dedicated to heritage-breed pigs and featuring five chefs, five winemakers and five dishes. At its booth, the company educates attendees on the heritage grains and wheat varietals it uses in many of its products.
With a background in winemaking and production, Mr. Blok understands how food creates an experience and how La Brea Bakery fits that space. “The difference between a commodity wheat and an identity-preserved (I.P.) heritage grain is like the difference between drinking bulk wine and having a single vineyard experience,” he said.