DUXBURY — Tucked between a liquor store and coffee shop here, a single baker has achieved a level of perfection in his bread. Working alone five days a week, starting at 4 a.m., Jim Chappuis makes 80 to 120 loaves of bread by hand in almost reverential silence. From the time he pulls up a shade, sells his loaves, then closes the door, this baker is doing exactly what he wants with his life.
But that amounts to a lot. At My Little Bakery, Chappuis (pronounced shap-pwee) is baker, counter clerk, manager, and janitor. “I’m 51 and I feel 61 sometimes,” he says. “But a bakery is all I’ve wanted since I was 14.”
His artisan loaves (about half are organic) are displayed around the small counter, or on an adjacent metal rack. They include thick-crusted baguettes, batards, and sourdough. Focaccia glistens with caramelized onions; white pan bread, a sandwich loaf, is sweetened with a touch of Pembroke honey. Other loaves include multigrain made from flour milled in Maine, rye from a recipe perfected during a stay at a German farm, and, on weekends, cinnamon-chocolate swirl that makes luscious French toast. There are also some cookies. “I only like to make things I like to eat,” says the soft-spoken baker.
My Little Bakery, which is open Wednesday through Sunday, is an example of how, increasingly, consumers prefer their food: organic and local, according to a recent report by the Specialty Food Association. And, in spite of the no-carbs mantra some follow, the report states demand for bread and baked goods ranks fifth among 51 categories of retail foods. “There’s a real hunger for this kind of food,” says Louise Kramer, the association’s spokeswoman. “Younger consumers, particularly, want authentic, real food made by people who care.”
Chappuis’s bread can only be found in Duxbury; there is no wholesale distribution to grocery stores or restaurants. It’s not uncommon to see customers parked outside in the gravel lot, waiting for the bakery to open. During the summer, travelers bound for Cape Cod often pull off Route 3 and drive to St. George Street to pick up loaves. Regulars have rescheduled dinner parties around Chappuis’s vacations rather than serve a meal without his fare.
The baker’s affection for bread began when, as a teenager, he became intoxicated by the scents from a Randolph bagel bakery along his newspaper delivery route. He gave up his route and found a part-time baking job. At the University of Massachusetts Boston he developed a business plan for a bakery before graduation, then attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. After that, he worked at the Four Seasons Hotel, Boston. He spent 11 years working with a brother sourcing industrial supplies, so his hours were more compatible for his children, Ashleen, now 21, and Jim Jr., 19.
In 2009, when his children entered Duxbury High School, Chappuis opened his bakery. On occasional weekends, his children and his sister, Elizabeth, help out at the till. (His wife, Jeanne, works for State Street Corp.)
Except for an Italian-made oven and German-made mixer, Chappuis purchased most of his used equipment from Craigslist. For training, he attends occasional workshops, voraciously reads baking cookbooks, and has gleaned invaluable tips watching bakers on YouTube. His biggest challenge is one he can’t control: the weather. Too hot, and the dough overproofs. Too cold, and rising slows considerably. The sweet spot, he says, is 74 to 78 degrees.
Abe Faber, co-owner of Clear Flour Bread in Brookline, says hearing about Chappuis was reminiscent of his early days. “We used to do it that way when it was just two of us. My wife Christy [Timon] was the baker and I was her boyfriend doing deliveries,” Faber says. He adds, Chappuis’s customers “get to be served by the person who made their bread. There’s no disconnect. They can ask: ‘What flour did you use?’ ‘How long was it in the oven?’ ‘Why did you do it this way?’ But it’s hard. You can’t get sick.”
While Clear Flour Bread baguettes can be found in area Whole Foods Markets, Chappuis has no desire to sell outside his shop. His loaves are comparable to those sold by other artisan bakers (A Little Bakery baguette is $3, Clear Flour’s are $3.60, Iggy’s Bread of the World are $2.75)
One daily regular, Joe McDonald of Marshfield, says he wishes Chappuis would sell to retail stores to increase his profits.
“I just worry if he’s making any money,” says McDonald.
Chappuis says he has made a profit since his first day of business. “I have to make a lot of bread to make bread, but I’m making enough,” he says.
Just don’t ask this baker to make something that’s not on his daily list. He’ll point out his storefront sign, which reads “my little bakery,” not, he says, “your little bakery.”
My Little Bakery 282 St. George St., Duxbury. 781-934-2352, mylittlebakery.co
Peggy Hernandez can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a customer, Joe McDonald of Marshfield.