By Christina Griffin
Jon Goodman frequented Clear Flour Bread in Brookline, Massachusetts in a stroller as a child. They visited regularly to pick up their favorites–focaccia, sourdough, sometimes morning buns for breakfast. Goodman knew it as the neighborhood “bread mecca.”
Today, Goodman is the Co-Owner of Clear Flour Bread with his wife, Baker and Co-Owner Nicole Walsh.
As co-owners of a bakery, the two are a jack of all trades. No two days at a bakery are the same and their job description is constantly expanding to meet the current needs of the business.
“To simplify it,” Walsh said, “Jon takes care of the bills, the equipment management, making sure we are kind of where we need to be as far as the wheels being greased, and everything working so that the bakers have the right equipment and everyone’s getting paid.”
Goodman and Walsh exchanged a smile as Goodman explained what Walsh’s role in the bakery is.
Goodman said, “Nicole is also that…Nicole is everything. A little of everything, but your hands are in the dough, you’re making the tarts, you’re jumping up front.” Walsh’s job depends on the well-being of her employees. She only works with the dough if she is filling in for one of her bakers.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m a support,” Walsh said, “I’m everyone’s cushion. Whether that’s me seeing that they need a day off or that they need help shaping when it’s really warm [outside] and the dough is moving.”
Heat is one of the obstacles to bakeries. The warmer it is outside, the warmer the dough is. It has to stay cool, sometimes by moving the dough by hand.
Sometimes Walsh feels like a counselor—other times she feels like a baker. “Really just hearing people, listening and just caring about them on a day to day basis,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s dream was to own a bakery. So, when her and Goodman returned to Boston to visit family, they met with the former owners of Clear Flour Bread to get some advice on opening their own bakery. Abe Faber and Christy Timon owned and operated Clear Flour Bread since 1982. When Walsh and Goodman sat down to talk with them, they had no idea Faber and Timon were looking to retire.
Walsh and Goodman purchased their dream bakery—built with a room for bread making, pastry baking, and a local clientele who adore easy walks to freshly baked bread every day.
Goodman knows the variety of products Clear Flour Bread offers to residents has expanded drastically. Before he and his wife took over, the products were far more limited, but Faber and Timon would tweak and add products into the mix overtime, he said, “There used to be ten different kinds of bread, now there’s thirty different kinds of bread.”
While the menu might have changed, the recipes have not changed at all. “The recipes themselves haven’t changed at all, but there’s more products. Things are still, you know, 1993, original recipe, like they’re still being made with that recipe, give or take a pinch of salt here or there,” said Walsh.
Pastries, cakes, and specialty breads are stacked on the shelves–especially on weekends. “On the weekend we have so many pastries, and it was just rustic fruit tarts twenty years ago,” said Walsh.
Pastries make up a large part of Clear Flour Bread’s income. According to Goodman, “60% of our retail sales are pastry now. So, as far as bread goes, we’re not revolutionizing bread.”
By “we’re not revolutionizing bread,” Goodman means they’re not looking to expand their selection to gluten-free products.
Their flourless recipes were not intended to be gluten-free, the recipe happened to taste fantastic without flour. Additionally, the bakery created a small handful of desserts without flour that can be enjoyed during Passover for those who celebrate.
The Artisan Response to Trends
Walsh is against trends. While some bakeries have created one, two, or three products for people with dietary restrictions, Walsh and Goodman are sticking to the products that have made Clear Flour Bread successful from the start: delicious bread and decadent pastries.
“We have four items that are truly flourless,” said Walsh, “What that means is that they are still covered in flour because, in essence, the air we’re breathing is coated in flour. We have nothing that is gluten-free. I would not feel comfortable selling our products to someone who is gluten-free.”
One of their flourless items is a flourless chocolate cake. Any of their products that are truly flourless are flourless by coincidence. Walsh and Goodman are not looking to fit Clear Flour Bread into a national trend.
“If we did it for anyone,” said Goodman, “We did it for Passover to have items to have desserts that people could have over Passover.”
Goodman and Walsh regularly consult with former owners Abe Faber and Christy Timon. They have extensively discussed putting gluten-free products in their cases, but they feel it breeches Clear Flour Bread’s artisan tradition.
“Trends in general,” said Goodman, “Abe and Christy and me feel very strongly about kind of staying away from that. We want to, kind of, dabble in little things here and there, but I think the idea is that it’s been here for over thirty years and we’d like it to stay for over a hundred years.”
Walsh and Goodman stick to the timeless recipes that have brought families back week after week for their bread—just like Goodman’s family growing up. Walsh does want to reserve the right to test new products and perhaps offer gluten-free products one day, but not because of a trend—because a product is tasty.
“The definition of trend is, you know, fleeting,” said Walsh, “More importantly, what we want to emphasize in this particular trend is how great grains actually are for you if you’re, like, getting nutritional, fresh milk, like we are getting our flour delivery day today and it was milled a week ago and it gets on the truck the day after it’s milled.”
Fresh ingredients in artisanal bread certainly make in Walsh’s opinion. She eats bread multiple times a day and has a healthy blood pressure.
“The reality is we are not forcing anyone to come in here. People are making a very special trip for the most part to come in. There’s a lot of butter and sugar in all the pastries, and the bread is bread and you can say it’s bad for you, you can say it’s good for you whatever it is but we think it tastes great and a lot of people agree with that,” said Goodman.
Walsh and Goodman agree there’s any number of things that aren’t good for you, but to them, bread is bread. Part of their role at the bakery is educating customers on how proper ingredients in bread lead to better digestion.
“It’s educating people on their, maybe what they don’t understand about the digestive system, and at some point, I can’t educate every customer, but we want that to be a role at the bakery,” said Walsh.
Education is a role they take seriously. When Walsh and Goodman train their retail staff, they educate them how Clear Flour Bread sources their ingredients, what sets their bread apart and why bread, to them, is an important component of an everyday diet.
“We do ask our retail staff to educate people on how things you know and kind of the percentages and and how we source things and talking about how different things are more easily digestible and different grains,” said Walsh.
Gluten is their business, and they certainly want to support how healthy gluten can be in a diet when it’s sourced properly and baked traditionally.
“We just want to take away the stigma or help like not promote that stigma because it directly effects our business,” said Walsh.
Another reason for not offering gluten-free products is Walsh and Goodman do not feel safe feeding a person who is gluten-free. As Walsh said earlier, the air of the bakery is covered in flour. They would need a separate kitchen in a different building to make products gluten-free.
Walsh and Goodman do not offer gluten-free products because they believe in traditional methods and traditional breads (which contain gluten). However, if they wanted to offer gluten-free products, it would require them to obtain a secondary space to avoid cross-contamination. Even successful corner bakeries do not have the resources for this to be possible.
“We aren’t doing anything that hasn’t been done for hundreds of years,” said Goodman.
Listen to Walsh and Goodman share their experience co-owning an artisan bakery in Boston, how they respond to food trends, and the future for Clear Flour Bakery.