Baker Kate Pepper raises Ojai mornings at Dutchess
Brigitte Bar-dough is what Kate Pepper’s colleagues call her at Dutchess, Ojai’s new Burmese-themed bakery and restaurant. The exuberant 42-year-old baker has amassed 41,000 followers on Instagram.
A native of Ojai, Pepper began making bread after a breakup with her farmer boyfriend with whom she ran a CSA. “I walked out of the 12-year relationship with nothing,” she said. “It was his house, his business, his everything.”
She moved back into her parents’ home and worked three part-time jobs — even setting up a massage parlor in the shed behind new Ojai restaurant Rory’s Place — to support her 13-year-old daughter, Francine. She bought a pizza oven on Craigslist for $1,000 and taught herself how to roll and laminate with the help of Tartine’s “Bread Book” and a trip to LA’s Milo & Olive.
She founded Kate’s Bread in 2013; until last fall it was carried out of her father’s timber business. Initially, she sold her wares at Farmer and the Cook, an Ojai cafe and organic market. In January 2020, she switched to selling her twice-weekly baked goods to website customers. By April, she had sold out her entire inventory (200 loaves of bread, 100 croissants, scones, and cinnamon rolls) in an hour, sometimes in five minutes.
“Kate’s Country Boules were thick, crunchy, and the flavors were perfectly balanced — not too sweet or sour,” said Sal Avina, who occasionally drove in from Pasadena for a couple of sandwiches.
Playing their system became a new Ojai pastime. If you’ve been lucky enough to snag a Turkish Simit or Pumpkin Polenta Loaf in your online basket, hesitate and it might disappear when you check out. Pepper shut down operations in November when a sourdough-loving bear clawed down a wall of the lumber shop.
Last spring, Zoe Nathan, Pepper’s old boss at Milo + Olive, asked her to oversee the morning shift at Dutchess, one of four ambitious new restaurants opening in the city during the pandemic. Pepper signed, and today the Dutchess Pastry Shop is featuring all of the baked goods they offered in the Woodshop, as well as Master Pastry Chef Kelsey Brito’s Fruit Crumble Cakes, Chocolate Coconut Tea Cakes, and Pecan Walnut Kumquat Cakes.
“Ojai has quickly become a food destination,” Pepper said. “It’s something the city has never had. I hope it works because Ojai is a beautiful place that deserves to have good restaurants.”