Bread: by far one of the most scrutinized industries of the culinary world in today’s American society. It has become so processed and highly destructive that it’s no surprise it casts a dark shadow within our food ecosystem (you can thank the industrial food complex for that). But to cast a shadow, there must be a source of light. This light comes in the form of a warm oven, manned by an honest baker. The honest baker makes bread that’s true and refuses to submit to the norm—which, ironically, has become a science experiment with fifty unpronounceable ingredients.
Ran Zimon is one of these honest bakers. He owns Bread Lounge in the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles.
I first learned about his fluffy and irresistible pastries from Tyler Wells of Handsome Coffee—one of Bread Lounge’s clients. I sat down with Ran one late morning with a cup of Stumptown Coffee to hear his story while my friend John Liwag ran around capturing photographs of the minimalist bakery.
He grew up in Israel with no desire to ever be involved with food. But his eventual career sprouted when he bought a book on baking at a bookstore in his twenties. He quickly began practicing the delicate trade and eventually found a job in a cafe.
“I fell in love with it,” he told me with a smile. His end-goal was to open a bakery in Tel Aviv, but little did he know that serendipity would strike him again, but in a completely different country.
An opportunity arose to travel to the United States to visit relatives in Los Angeles. He came to LA knowing he probably would not have much time after pursuing his dream bakery in Tel Aviv. But upon arriving in Los Angeles, his curiosity was piqued once again when he decided he wanted to to research what LA’s bread department had to offer. Feeling unsatisfied with the mediocre bakeries in the city and the lack of fresh bread, he decided to pursue his dream in the City of Angels, instead of staying in Israel.
In 2007, he returned to Los Angeles to live and follow his calling. He started with baguettes and a few local clients while also working at A.O.C. and Lucques. Word quickly traveled among chefs and his client base grew as his product’s quality turned out to be something many were yearning for in Los Angeles. In 2010, he acquired a commercial kitchen in the Arts District on Santa Fe Avenue. At the time, the Arts District lacked the energy or culture it has today. But Zimon was reassured by Yuval Bar-Zemer—a developer responsible for many major developments in the Arts District—that the area would quickly flourish. Today the Arts District has become a trendy but strong community of creatives and artisans that value craftsmanship and quality. I jokingly asked him how he felt about the growing popularity of hipsters in the Arts District.
“What is this hipster? People are people,” he responded with a laugh.
His kitchen was strictly for wholesale and caters to top chefs such as Walter Manzke (formerly at Church & State) and Craig Thornton of the underground supper club Wolvesmouth, before opening the cafe to the public a little over a year ago.
“Everyone tries to rush the process,” Ran explained to me with his gentle voice. His kitchen seems to be running all day and night as there are bakers that come in to start baking the next day’s batch of bread every night. You see, Ran uses a wild yeast starter which is a living organism. The dough requires an incredible amount of attention, time, and love in order to bake the perfect bread. It’s all in the touch. Part of the problem that Los Angeles faced was that many of these “bakeries” expedited the process in order to fulfill greater quantities in shorter amounts of time, which is a recipe for an inferior loaf of bread.
After Ran told me his story, he needed to run into the kitchen to start preparing for the lunch rush. Not only does he sell bread and pastries, Bread Lounge also offers sandwiches and salads. And boy did the lunch rush arrive with a fierce appetite.
I sat a moment longer sipping my coffee (with a bag full of mouthwatering gluten in the form of pastries and sliced bread) and just watched the people walking in. Many seemed like regulars, knowing exactly what they wanted or coming in for a baguette, putting it in a tote bag and riding away on their fixed-gear bike. Then there was those that were completely mesmerized by the options in front of them: fresh baked pain au chocolat croissants, the timbale which is a brioche filled with Belgium chocolate cream and Bourbon vanilla pastry cream, or the Greco focaccia with crumbled feta, kalamata olives, extra virgin olive oil, and Za’atar. Or perhaps the many Danish options will strike your fancy: try a pistachio danish, an almond danish, or a ricotta cheese danish (with white chocolate and cranberries). Other ethnic alternatives include delicate boreks stuffed with spinach and feta, or the beautifully herb-y Jerusalem bagel with its peculiar, elongated shape.
Ran’s approach is simple and truthful using ingredients that are… real. It is even reflected by the cafe’s design itself: it’s minimal. It isn’t a place that needs trendy artwork, fancy lighting, or the latest Arcade Fire album playing in the background. The focus is respectable food: nothing more and nothing less.
Every once in awhile, you find a gem that transports you to a different place based simply on its flavor. It slows you down and you begin to gain perspective. This perspective allows you to romanticize that moment in the present, no matter how simple it is, and without you knowing it manifests itself into culture and appreciation for what is right.
Buy fresh, buy local, buy from the honest baker.