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Fresh Start

Culinary dreams rise in Ojai, cooking to a perfect golden brown for the mother-daughters trio at Knead Baking Company.

By Allison Costa—Photos by Gary and Pierre Silva

 

s you cross the threshold of this little haven in Ojai, the aroma of freshly baked bread greets you. You relax and take a breath, helping yourself to a cup of hot coffee. It feels like you've stepped into a good friend's kitchen. In fact, you are at Knead Baking Company.

The women behind the counter laugh and finish each other's sentences. No, they are not just good friends or co-workers; Bobbi Corbin and her daughters, Leah and Rachel, are in business together—navigating their baking adventure as a family.

The Corbins: (L. to R.) Leah, Bobbi, and Rachel.

Bobbi left the world of architecture for culinary school because she didn't want to sit in a cubicle all day. In 2004, she sold her house in Boston and moved to California in search of warmer weather and a fresh start. After some time with the Four Seasons in L.A., as well as stints at Ventura's Anacapa Bread Company and Savory Cafe, she and Rachel started Knead in 2007. They rented kitchen space and sold their breads and pastries at the Ojai Farmers Market. In 2009, they took the big leap, opening their storefront, and soon thereafter Rachel's sister, Leah, moved home to join the business.

For many of us, working with family would be less than ideal. For this trio, however, it comes naturally. Though the women occasionally bicker, especially when exhaustion sets in, they say that in the end they always end up laughing.

Bobbi's children were raised with an appreciation for food: produce from their garden, homemade bread, and foods they ate on trips to Europe and local farms. "All our friends loved eating at our house," the sisters explain. And now all three children, even teenage brother Jake, who pitches in when things get crazy, bring their own set of experiences to the family business. Twenty-nine-year-old Leah picked up management skills working for Sprinkles Cupcakes in Palo Alto. Rachel, 25, has a knack for food prep and a passion for fresh, local ingredients.

The Corbin women have created a space where customers are drawn to sit and linger. Leah is generally at the counter, greeting people with ease and warmth. Rachel and Bobbi are usually behind her in the open kitchen, discussing what needs to go into the oven next. They consider their customers extended family, and the feeling is apparently mutual. When Rachel was out for a few days for an appendectomy, upon her return she received a friendly scolding from a regular who asked, "Why are you on your feet already?" Her mother responded, "Because it’s a family business!"

Beyond typical pastries, Knead offers flatbreads (foreground), house-made seeded bagels (back left), and veggie quiche in a semolina crust (back right).

The baked goods that fill their glass case bring new meaning to the term eye candy. Oatmeal cookies with salty peanuts and dark chocolate, freshly made baguettes, and mini coffee cakes are just some of the treats begging to be eaten. Chocolate croissants are crisp and filled with a warm layer of chocolate hazelnut spread and melted chocolate. Cheddar dill scones are petite and buttery. Every day offers a different quiche with a thick crust made with semolina flour. One day it is filled with potatoes, bacon, and fresh dill; another it might be sundried tomatoes, greens, and goat cheese. They also make crisp crusted flatbreads for those who stop in for lunch, topping them with veggies, cheese, and herbs from the farmers market.

There is a pervasive sense of simplicity at Knead. As Bobbi explains, "I bake the way I cook: I take what's in the fridge and work with it." They make food that is simple but flavorful, and created with local ingredients. "My things aren't big," Bobbi says, "but they are rich." So you won't find giant muffins or enormous cookies at this bakery. Instead, look for petite chocolate peanut butter bars and small packages of chewy cookies.

Knead’s breakfast cake (top dish) is made with whole wheat and cream cheese batter, filled with candied local orange and jam, and finished with an oat crumb topping. Below that, a pumpkin cheesecake with graham cracker crust and cranberry compote.

Customers might also notice a sense of intentional restraint at Knead. Their pastry case is tantalizing—but not because of mass quantities. They try to bake just enough items to avoid waste at the end of the day. And they compost whatever waste they can, trying to minimize their environmental footprint. This restraint also extends into their business sense. When asked what the future holds for Knead, Bobbi shrugs and says calmly, "We are trying to not do more than we can do."

Like a cup of tea on a rainy day, a trip to Knead Baking Company is good for the soul. The food at this Ojai escape embodies simplicity and sophistication, and the atmosphere is filled with the warmth of home and infused with the ease of family. All of this is the happy outcome of a talented yet humble family pursuing a culinary dream—together.

12-01-2009

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