As a teenager, Jean Dupre´ loved to ski. Originally from the French Canadian city of Montreal, Dupre´ moved to the town of Banff because of its nearby ski resorts. But there was one hitch — he needed a job that would not conflict with prime-time skiing hours. When he saw an advertisement for a job at an old Swiss German bakery, he jumped at the chance — the nontraditional hours were perfect. Little did he know that he would eventually grow to love baking as much as he loves to ski.
For the past 18 years, Jean and his wife, Romi, have owned and operated Dupre´s Baking Company on Colfax Highway in Grass Valley. With 90 percent of their business wholesale, the Dupre´ family and their´ team bake and distribute roughly 1,100 pounds of bread a day, and it’s all out the door by noon. Large accounts include the BriarPatch Co-op, Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and both SPD grocery stores. The Northridge restaurants buy their hamburger buns and Dupre´s trucks deliver to stores and restaurants stretching from Auburn, to Mother Truckers, to Donner Summit.
Their staff includes bakers Rocio Campos, Bennett Berardi, Bud Beebe, Jaime Martinez and Zach Goepel. The distribution crew includes Mike Thurman, Ashlee Barrett and Carl Donart.
When Jean and Romi first heard about a charming foothills town named Grass Valley, their original vision was to open a small “mom and pop” bakery, said Romi. When they relocated, Jean worked for several years as production manager at the Flour Garden Bakery, with the vision of eventually opening Dupre’s Baking Co.
Once they opened to doors of their new business in 1996, word of mouth spread quickly — and so did the demand. It only took a year before the bakery expanded into the unit next door, then eventually the one next to that. That’s when Romi said, “We’re stopping here.”
A vast array products are baked daily in ovens that can accommodate scores of rotating baking sheets. A sampling includes pies, dinner rolls, bagels, cookies, cinnamon rolls, cheese rolls and, of course, their signature breads. Their sourdough starter is 107 years old, and it has to be “fed” flour and water every morning. They never use commercial yeast and sell seven different kinds of sourdough.
The two met in Santa Barbara, just three weeks after Jean had moved to the United States.
“Jean was working at a wholesale French bakery,” said Romi. “We met at a dinner dance place. He was still working on his English. I owned a hair salon, and the next day he came in for a hair cut.”
Nearly 18 years ago to the day, Jean and Romi have been working side by side, still enjoying what they do.
“A bakery has to have a harmonious atmosphere,” said Romi. “And that has to start at the top. “Our whole crew laughs a lot, and we care about each other. Obviously we care immensely about our products — everything is made from scratch. It touches us to know that our bread may end up on your family’s table at home.”
Goepel has been working as a production manager for the company for the past two years.
“Jean has a been like a mentor — we call him the bread doctor — now I have a skill that can be a career,” he said. “This isn’t like other places — it feels like family.”
The life of a baker can be stressful, said Jean, when it comes to timing, scheduling and unexpected special orders. They currently have 40 wholesale customers in addition to their walk-in customers. Yet during the winter, Jean is able to fit in skiing twice a week when he delivers his goods to Sugar Bowl Lodge.
While the Dupre´s would love a little more time off — 10 to 12 hour days are not uncommon — they continue to love what they do. They appreciate the fact that local restaurants truly depend on them, said Jean.
“I never get tired of the smell of bread baking,” he said.
“The reward comes from people appreciating what we make.”
“It sounds corny, but there is something that we put into our product that is not an ingredient,” she said. “Bread is better if it’s made by smiling, happy and loving people.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.