by Chef Molly Beverly
It was Dave, one of my cooking-class students. He stopped in the middle of the street, opened the car door, stepped out and yelled, "I just spent $60,000 on an oven!” That was the beginning of Pangaea Bakery. Three friends, Bill, Nicole and Dave, teamed up to open this artisan bakery.
Nicole had just completed a business degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She grew up in the Matanuska Valley, Alaska, in a farm town where her family grew their own food and made their own bread. Until she left the state she had never even tasted store-bought.
Dave and Bill had both taken my Yavapai College breads-and-pastries class, and were experimenting with sourdough baked in a home-built, wood-fired oven. But no one had any professional experience or training. In short, they didn’t know what they were doing.
With the help of a Small Business Association loan, they paid for the oven and then scraped together the rest of the equipment. That big oven was the heartbeat and fiery soul of the operation.
The doors opened in 1994, with crisp crust, chewy and grainy loaves, and organic espresso. I was thrilled, but Prescott wasn’t ready. Artisan bread was cutting-edge in the big cities, but folks here still expected bread to be soft, white and uniform.
Right away Nicole realized she had to expand the selection, adding muffins, cookies, tarts, pies, cakes, sandwiches and soups. In the evenings she taught accounting at Yavapai College, then went to the bakery at 1am to figure out how to do what next.
Nicole says, “I learned the hard way, the expensive way, the painful way.” It was a struggle, and after a few years the partnership dissolved. Nicole was left shouldering the entire operation. With grit and persistence she held on and built a loyal following through many, many delicious loaves, pastries, muffins and quiches.
Then, on February 10 2016, after 21 years in business, Pangaea closed. The lease was up and the business needed a lot more space. Nicole found a promising building nearby for the new location and planned to be closed for maybe six months for the transition.
I sure missed that bread. You couldn’t get a good slice of bread anywhere.
The closure strung out. The new location fell through. One year, then another, and another year passed. I’d run into mutual friends and ask, “When?” and “Where?” Rumors circulated: just a few more months. The months passed, and years passed. Really, I had about given up.
For sure Nicole deserved and needed a rest. I thought she was ready to retire along with her hardworking, worn-out oven. But Nicole was hatching a plan — searching for a new and better site, honing her baking expertise, and making plans.
Nicole scoured the country for good used equipment, then hauled it home. She searched for a location to match her vision with generous kitchen and dining space, good access and a view. The old Sears automotive department on the north end of the Ponderosa Plaza (now the Walmart shopping center) was an unlikely opportunity. It was a ruin of a place, abandoned for 18 years, dirty, moldy, rat-infested and stinky. The broker said, “What do you want to look at this wreck for?”
“I saw the high ceiling and imagined the great view toward Thumb Butte,” said Nicole. “I signed the lease.” Then the battle commenced: never-ending permits, inspection and construction delays, plus the search for investors.
Another 18 months passed. At 8am on December 14, the morning after getting a temporary certificate of occupancy, Nicole turned on the lights and posted on Facebook: “Good morning everyone. Are you sitting down? We opened our doors five minutes ago for the first time. We have pastries, bread and coffee. Come on down!”
Pangaea had been closed for four years, and Nicole had no idea what to expect. Within an hour there was a line out the door that remained for days. People said, “This is the best Christmas present I could have had! Thank you for re-opening!”
Nicole says it’s the ingredients. She insists on the absolute best — chocolates, cheese, butter, eggs, vegetables — of everything. She’s persistent and insistent on sustainable, small-scale, earth-friendly, fresh and artisan-produced.
Bread consists of flour, water, salt, and particularly yeast. Most of the yeast in Pangaea bread comes from her original wild-yeast starter, captured from the Prescott air and nurtured for 25 years. And one more ingredient: time. Nicole explains that breads rise on a time/temperature continuum. They rise faster in warmer conditions and slower at lower temperatures. A cooler, longer rise develops gluten, digestibility and complex flavor. Pangaea loaves are “retarded” at 50 degrees for 24-60 hours. That’s why her breads taste so good.
The Marketplace features other artisan products: olive oils, cheeses, butter, salami, mustards, vinegars, chocolates, artisan pasta, Rancho Gordo beans and Diamond Crystal salt (the salt is actually in little crystals!). Soon to come: local beers, wines and ciders. Nicole says, “People who are passionate about what they do excite me. When you taste these foods, it’s a whole new experience. My concept is for customers to buy a loaf of bread, pastries, some cheese, chocolates and a bottle of wine, then go home and have a party.”
Soon Pangaea will have a full cooking line with an all-day breakfast-and-lunch menu, open till 7pm for early dinner. She’s excited to feature local farmers and ranchers. And there will be an herb and edible-flower garden just outside the door.
Nicole adds, “I am really committed and believe strongly in clean, local, small-scale food; in the best-quality products; in sustainable practices. It’s the way I live.”
To me it’s a miracle — to have not only the best bread you could find anywhere, but also to see Pangaea return with such a flourish. But I know this revival is driven by the hard work, grit and determination of our wonderful hometown baker— Nicole Marshall. Thanks!
What’s another challenge for Nicole? To help you cope with the pandemic, Pangaea now offers:
Call-ahead ordering and curbside pickup at 928-227-2791
All-day breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches, salads and Roman-style Pizza al Taglio
Whipstone Farm-fresh vegetables and flowers
“Because We Care" organic sliced sandwich bread for $4.99, produced at cost to support the community
Beeler’s Bacon, Red Bird Chicken, and fair-trade organic coffee from Prescott Coffee Roasters
Central Milling organic flour
1260 Gail Gardner Way, Prescott
Menu, bread schedule and delicious photos at facebook.com/PangaeaBakery.
Open every day 8am-4pm
Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott’s creative food activist and teacher. As Chair of Slow Food Prescott she champions community gardens and sustainable food education.