Rising to Success

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FWD_0164 Bread Artisan Bakery owner Jonnie LoFranco_Ron De Angelis
Bread Artisan Bakery owner Jonnie LoFranco | Photo by Ron De Angelis

Local resident Jonnie LoFranco has turned her business, Bread Artisan Bakery, into a culinary force.

By Anne Marie Panoringan

 

Although she lived in Los Angeles for a while, Laguna Beach is where Jonnie LoFranco grew up and where she returned to raise her children. Indeed, LoFranco’s roots are firmly planted in this coastal city. “It’s paradise and I get to call it my home,” she says.

Over the years, from this vacation-worthy home base, LoFranco has built up a successful bakery brand. Previously working as a music rep in the advertising industry, an opportunity presented itself when her father passed away. This businesswoman and mother of two going through a divorce was compelled to turn her dad’s modest, 15-year-old bakery into the flourishing enterprise he had always dreamed about. But it was a bit of a process to get there.

master baker Yannick Guegan_Ron De Angelis
Master baker Yannick Guegan | Photo by Ron De Angelis

In 2010, she closed his business, Breads and Spreads—when the lease ended and was without a head baker—then started from scratch with her own Bread Artisan Bakery, building it up through hard work and fueled by copious cups of Americano from Laguna Coffee Co.

“To be honest, the intent was to sell my dad’s bakery after my father died, but then the stars somehow aligned,” LoFranco says. “Bread Artisan Bakery is my passion now and I love every minute of it.”

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Photo by Anne Watson Photography

LoFranco’s business acumen along with her determination and outgoing nature would translate to additional accounts and continuous growth. “I have more of a mathematical, business mind, but I love being around energetic, creative people,” she says.

In 2011, her first client, a landmark Anaheim theme park, would lay a foundation for the growth of Bread Artisan Bakery, which will soon be known simply as Bread. Expanding from one to 11 delivery vehicles, the bakery’s goods are now found in more than 300 dining rooms and eateries throughout the region, with a local roundup including Nick’s, Ahba, Montage and Sapphire, Cellar-Craft Cook in Laguna, and Marché Moderne and Mario’s Butcher Shop in Newport Beach. Locals also find her company’s breads in a very popular neighborhood grocery retailer throughout Orange County and Long Beach.

Yet LoFranco emphatically gives much of the credit to her talented master baker Yannick Guegan. She unknowingly tried Yannick’s baking while dining at French 75 years ago, not realizing who he was nor that his current place of employment was closing until a mutual friend introduced them. After three years of working together, Guegan would ultimately become a partner in the bakery and they would move the operation from San Juan Capistrano to its existing home in Santa Ana.

 

The Proof

Born in the Brittany region of France, Guegan’s talent for baking has been refined over the course of 40-plus years. He not only runs the bakery side of the business, he works seven days a week—by choice. “Why not? There’s always something to do,” he says. As the weekend approaches, Guegan begins prep at midnight on pastries from croissants to tarts for the multiple farmers markets (including Laguna Beach) where they set up shop, always keeping the specific inventory a surprise until the team loads the delivery trucks. These weekly markets allow the bakery to extend beyond restaurants and into the kitchens of home cooks and busy families who appreciate fresh, locally made bread and pastries.

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Photo by Anne Watson Photography

The markets are also an opportunity for Guegan to bounce between classic and creative bakes. On the traditional side, the sourdough table bread at Water Grill is an integral part of a diner’s experience. For weekends, sweets sell out as quickly as savory. From sesame brioche burger buns and multigrain sourdough to iced cinnamon rolls and fanciful kouign-amanns, Guegan’s expertise knows no bounds.

“We make at least 200 kinds of breads, including several different kinds of sandwich/burger buns and loaves such as batards, baguettes, rolls, etc.,” LoFranco says. Her favorite is a multigrain pan loaf or baguette; Guegan prefers a toasted campagne multigrain. On a normal day, the bakery produces between 14,000 and 17,000 pounds of dough.

Touring the baking facility gives a better idea of just how busy Bread truly is. Amongst the wall-to-wall equipment, team members swiftly move between the various stages of breadmaking. From incorporating Guegan’s 27-year-old sourdough starter into every batch of dough to its first rise, shaping, proofing/second rise and baking, it is a process so precise that the weather can easily affect a batch. “The most challenging … is the Santa Ana’s wind; it’s hot and dry,” Guegan says, explaining how the dough grows more temperamental as the weather shifts.

 

The Bake

At home in Laguna Beach, LoFranco begins each day with some form of exercise, such as spin or strength training, at local spots Vessel and Prevail Strength & Conditioning, respectively. When looking for a place to dine, she frequents Ahba for its crave-worthy cheeseburger as well as South of Nick’s for Mexican fare. She also enjoys live music and exploring new restaurants throughout the county.

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The bread can also be used to make avocado toast. | Photo by Anne Watson Photography

When it comes to work, despite never thinking she would be part of her father’s business, LoFranco, Guegan and Bread have made a significant contribution to the restaurant landscape in OC and beyond. Future plans include a much-needed expansion of the existing bakery to a neighboring space, adding Yorba Linda to the farmers market list as well as at least one project LoFranco is still keeping under wraps. For LoFranco, passion for her company makes the bakery more than just her bread and butter.

“We’re living and breathing this 24 hours a day, whether we’re here or not,” LoFranco says. “It never stops. That’s having your own business, right?”

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