Earlier this month, Jonnie LoFranco and Yannick Guegan stood in front of racks of warm loaves of pain de campagne and rolls waiting to be delivered to nearby restaurants. They started with one delivery truck in 2011 and now their fleet consists of 11 vehicles that deliver bread to more than 300 Southern California restaurants, shops, and hotels such as Montage Resort.
The client list for Santa Ana-based Bread Artisan Bakery includes major theme parks and fine dining gems such as Taco Maria, Marché Moderne, Water Grill, and luxury Wagyu steak house Matu in Beverly Hills. Celebrity chef-helmed restaurants such as Jon & Vinny’s, the cult-favorite Cookbook in Echo Park, and HiHo Cheeseburger, which prepares grass-fed Wagyu beef burgers, also serve Bread Artisan Bakery’s hamburger buns and breads.
LoFranco depends on master baker Guegan and his team to create custom bread for each client. The 11-year-old bakery is housed inside a warehouse division near the 55 freeway. The building’s industrial exterior hides the magic inside. The first hint of Bread Artisan Bakery is the scent of baguettes, pain de campagne, ciabatta, burger buns, and rolls emerging from the ovens. Stacked on racks, loaves of hot bread waft scents of sourdough and toasted buttery notes into the air.
For LoFranco, the bakery is part of her family legacy.
“Sadly when my dad passed away, the company was run by another baker for 9 years before I came in,” says Jonnie LoFranco, owner of Bread Artisan Bakery. “But then it wasn’t really anything to sell. We did what we had to do and then (a local theme park) came to us with this really huge project — 1,200 torta rolls.”
LoFranco left her job in advertising and as a single mother of two daughters resurrected her dad’s dream in 2011. She sublet a space for two years in San Juan Capistrano and grew the business to $1.2 million.
“Then Yannick walked into my life,” LoFranco said. “Once I met Yannick and we found this place, that’s when it really happened. I’m grateful that he took a chance on me. There were a multitude of bakeries (trying to hire) Yannick, and I couldn’t pay him what they were offering him. So, thank you for taking a chance.”
Guegan partnered with LoFranco in 2012. He started baking when he was 13 years old in Brittany, France, which is perched on a hilly peninsula overlooking the Atlantic ocean. The area is distinct from other French regions because of its Celtic heritage. It’s also known for kouign-amann, a buttery, layered Breton-style pastry that resembles a sweet croissant scrunched into a muffin tin with a caramelized sugar bottom. Guegan, who wears a viking-like beard, bakes a seriously crave-worthy kouign-amann.
“Money is not everything,” Guegan said. “Sometimes you have to go with your feeling. … You can make money, but if you’re not happy and you can’t express yourself through your work.” He motioned his hands indicating that was not for him. “Here, there was a connection right away, and that is very important.”
Guegan’s loaves and baked morsels are available at local farmers markets and for pre-order pickup at the bakery on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Beyond the farmers markets, Bread Artisan Bakery partnered with Trader Joe’s in November 2021. Now shoppers in Orange County and Long Beach discover the bakery’s sourdough loaves at the grocery stores.
“We deliver it fresh every morning to Trader Joe’s,” said LoFranco.
The bread begins with Guegan’s 27-year-old “mother” dough starter, which sits in a large metal vat in a corner of the bakery. The machine keeps the sourdough levain at an ideal temperature and humidity.
“Sourdough is a good challenge,” said Guegan. “Tangier sourdough, it’s really the American style. When I think about France, selling sourdough, it’s really impossible. They call this vinegar bread. But this was a challenge. I can make better sourdough.”
The OC climate affects the outcome and makes the bakery’s bread unique.
“California is very challenging (for baking bread),” said Guegan. “The West Coast with the Santa Ana wind can dry it out so quickly. Today is humid, tomorrow everything is dry. … But as long as you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work.”
“I’m not sure I would still be in it if it weren’t for Yannick,” said LoFranco. “This is nurturing. This is creative. We make such a great product and chefs are so happy about it. The chefs, that’s who supports us.”
On May 20, Jon & Vinnie’s sister restaurant Animal in Los Angeles will co-host a hoagie pop-up with Joe Beddia of Philadelphia’s Pizzeria Beddia and comedian, actor, cookbook writer Eric Wareheim. Bread Artisan Bakery was enlisted to bake the hoagie rolls for the pop-up.
“For Jon & Vinnie’s, we developed a new bread just for them,” LoFranco said. “It’s been fun!”
The bakery is busy with wholesale accounts and special projects. But Guegan spends his extra time perfecting his pastry. He tinkers with different ideas and his freshly baked creations are sold at farmers markets each week.
“Different kinds of croissant, pain au chocolat, any kind of Danish, morning buns, kouign-amann, cinnamon rolls,” he said, listing the pastries he bakes. Other savory creations include mushroom gruyere tarts.
Guegan rarely smiles, but when he discusses his pastries, his eyes light up and grins emerge.
“He’s always experimenting,” said LoFranco ebulliently.
She handles the business side of the bakery, striking deals with grocers like Trader Joe’s, dealing with their chef clients, and meeting customers at front-facing events. This gives Guegan time to bake.
“His croissant is amazing. His almond croissant, the ham and cheese is something I can’t live without,” she said. “The guava croissant got really popular at the farmers markets. The salted caramel morning bun is like a kough-amann light. It has the same flavor profile. Everybody usually gets a croissant and the pain au chocolat.”
Guegan also sticks with the classic French choice.
“I love the plain croissant because it’s simple and you can add jam or you can add cheese,” he said.
Guegan recently created a mega croissant. (There’s also a mega pain au chocolat.)
“It’s a pound,” he said with a smirk. “It’s almost four times (the size of a regular croissant).”
The comically large croissant started as a joke. Everyone in the bakery laughed at it.
“Now people are asking about it,” said LoFranco.
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LoFranco reflects back on their 11 years working together. Her daughters, Luisa and Stella, aged 19 and 22, are now in college. Guegan also has four children. His youngest son Bradon, 15, occasionally helps his dad at the bakery. He has a knack for the trade.
“He’s a smart guy. I was showing him the deck oven and loading the baguette. In 15 minutes, he was able to do it. Scoring (the dough) and all. I thought he had something there. But, I want him to focus on school,” said Guegan.
The bakery’s production has outgrown the building. Workers maneuver racks of bread, alternating them based on when they emerged from the ovens. “It’s like bakery Jenga,” said LoFranco. They’re currently searching for a 25,000-square foot building.
“I want the space to do what we do better,” LoFranco said. “I don’t want a restaurant. But to have a place where people can come and get bread from us, fresh from the oven, like what we do at the farmers market would be amazing. … I’ve said this from the beginning, I want to bring bread to the people. Now with the farmers markets and Trader Joe’s, we’re doing it.”
For pickup orders, visit breadab.com