Ron is originally from the Ottawa Valley region of eastern Canada, while Jaimie hails from rural upstate New York. They met in a laboratory at Rutgers University, where Ron was researching toxicology in grad school. On their last day of working together, Ron finally asked Jaimie out on a date. They have been together ever since. Ron’s grandmother owned a small café in Ontario, and his brother currently runs a bakery in the same province, so making tasty healthy food for people is obviously in his genes. As Jaimie says, “Ron really convinced me to date him by feeding me such wonderful food.” Now paired up, they began to think of the best ways to approach the art of making quality food. They relocated to the Triangle and Ron started his post-doc at UNC in Chapel Hill while Jaimie took a job with the EPA. Jaimie now divides her time between the EPA and working for Loaf, principally running their Durham Farmers’ Market stand. Ron left behind the test tubes, cell incubators and cultures, and is now baking full-time from his 30,000 lb. custom built brick oven on Parrish Street in historic downtown Durham.
Now, that oven is a real story in and of itself. After reading an article in Food & Wine Magazine a few years back about creating sourdough bread, Ron made up his mind to become a baker. Finding a suitable oven was a real challenge. Ron began by trying to adapt his regular kitchen oven at home with tiles. That wasn’t sufficient. Next up was building a wood-fired oven in his back yard from scratch. That worked out great, though it took him almost two years to make it. Ron and Jaimie then happily began baking additional loaves for friends and neighbors. Their neighborhood of Old North Durham was very grateful, of course. Ron eventually used his oven construction skills to re-build Broad Street Café’s pizza oven. He then realized that he could use Broad Street’s oven after their bar closed at 2:00 am to bake his own bread. The good folks at Broad St. were all for it. Loaf was born. Their breads have been on sale at The Durham Farmers’ Market ever since. Loaf’s artisan breads are as organic as they can make them, and are based on the simple core ingredients of flour, starter (yeast), water and salt; no fillers, conditioners, or preservatives. The crusts are generally firm and chewy, and the interior texture is soft and moist. It is bread that tastes good and provides real nutrition, created the same way it was hundreds of years ago before the era of mass production, papery taste, spongy texture and unnecessary additives.
But back to the oven: Loaf now has its own bakery shop, in addition to its longstanding Durham Farmers Market stall, and the aforementioned 30,000 lb. brick oven. An amazing man from the snowy woods of Maine named J. Patrick Manley built it. Pat spends a good portion of his time travelling the length of the United States designing and constructing amazing ovens, including several for several Matchbox Pizza restaurants in Washington, D.C., and others as far away as Louisiana and Chicago. Pat spent several weeks in Durham, enjoying dinners with Ron and Jaimie in the evenings and building the oven with them during the day. Starting with a firm base of concrete, bricks were carefully added one by one with cement and mortar to hold it all together. It was truly a labor of love for all involved. Friends and neighbors willingly assisted with hauling the bricks – and even helped lay the bakery floor. Ron’s parents came down from Canada to visit and also helped with building renovations, including laying the bamboo flooring (from Common Ground Green Building Center in Durham) in the bakery. In this sense, Loaf is very grateful and proud to be a community within the greater community of Durham. Loaf is about locally made food with all natural ingredients, baked with love, for all to enjoy.