Some have called him a renegade. Others might call him a rebel with a worthy cause. But after a long coffee talk with Mark Stambler as the sun came up at his bakery in the Baywood-Los Osos community, this peaceful man with a desire to keep the world fed would best be described as "Father Bread."
Stambler is the man largely responsible for helping create the California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616, which established a new category of food enterprise called a "cottage food operation."
He remembers the exact moment he learned of this monumental feat—he was leading a bread workshop in his home kitchen.
- Photos By Beth Giuffre
- CHATTING WITH FATHER BREAD Master Baker Mark Stambler deserves the nickname "Father Bread." He was largely responsible for the law that allows home bakers to make a living from their goods, which makes this man a baking legend.
"All of a sudden, there was a huge boom," he said. Thinking the world was ending, the whole class ran outside in their aprons. "We look up and there's this 747 flying at treetop level over our house with a space shuttle on it," Stambler said.
The shuttle was being brought to Los Angeles at the very moment Stambler received a call from Sacramento. Gov. Jerry Brown had just signed the law Stambler designed to support home bakers.
In 2013, he became the first person in Los Angeles County (and probably all of California) to be legally allowed to sell goods from his home kitchen, opening the door for thousands of people to start their own home-based food businesses. For every setback he faced—including being busted by the LA County Health Department for selling bread to his neighbors—he had just as many triumphs.
Thanks to Stambler's passion for baking, Pagnol at Third Street Bakery is the only place around where you can find loaves of classic, European-style breads, pastries, cookies, tarts, chocolate and almond croissants, crostini, and dog treats baked with the freshest, high-quality local ingredients: distilled water; sea salt; organic, house-milled grain flour; and wild yeast, which is left for 36 hours to develop. Stambler mills all his whole-grain flour right before he bakes with it, which he says is the best way to retain the flavor.
He and his bakers employ traditional French method (travail sur trois levains) to make the breads, doing most of the work by hand. And Stambler—whose accolades include being one of Dessert Professional magazine's Ten Best Bread Bakers in the U.S.—swears his bread doesn't cause problems with gluten-free dieters.
Pagnol Bakery occupies the tiny bottom level of a charming blue cottage, with a patio and café tables out front and upstairs living. Customers who arrive early enough may see Stambler's main baker, Marcus Marren, whipping up that beautiful, unmistakable fresh bread, which he'll have been doing since 4 a.m.
On this the cool morning, just as Marren finished the last loaves of Sonora white wheat bread (the oldest variety grown in California) and turned the wooden sign to "open," three customers followed the swirling scent into Pagnol for their daily bread.
- Photos By Beth Giuffre
- FIRST CUSTOMERS Just as the sun rises above the cypress trees in the Baywood Park neighborhood of Los Osos, two early birds walk into Pagnol to the welcoming scent of Marcus Marren's fresh-baked bread.
I nibbled on a delicious apricot Meyer-lemon brioche, and marveled at the comfortable and homey bakery. I was told not to leave the premises before trying the new chocolate croissant, made with organic whole grains and organic butter—which was worth the wait. It was to live and die for.
Stambler told me he bought the place in 2016 from his dear bakery friend's wife after his friend passed away. Pagnol is named after the renowned French writer Marcel Pagnol, noted for his romantic depiction of Provençal life.
The baker bounces back and forth from Pagnol to his permanent home in LA County. His wife, Suzette, worked for the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. Stambler worked as a consultant for nonprofits.
He comes to the Central Coast on weekends to bake for Pagnol. For the bakery's regular hours, Stambler has a handful of employees, including head baker Marren and baker John East.
Stambler's love for baking rose early on from necessity. His mother was not keen on being a short-order cook when Stambler announced at the age of 16 that he wanted to be a vegetarian.
"She said, 'Fine, you can eat side dishes, but I'm not cookin' for ya,'" Stambler said. "I quickly realized if I wanted to eat a decent diet as a vegetarian I better learn how to cook."
Back in the '70s, there weren't many vegetarian cookbooks in circulation, but he found Vegetarian Epicure, which had an entire section on bread making. He got the hang of it pretty quickly and soon enjoyed experimenting with recipes.
Stambler eventually created a community of bread bakers in LA County, which held classes and built ovens, and he went on to build a successful home-baking business as well.
Before long, the Los Angeles Times ran a full article on Stambler's breads, which put the home baker on the radar.
In 2011, it was against the law to bake and sell out of your home, so Stambler got busted by the LA County Health Department for selling his homemade bread. The Health Department shut down his sales in every store he sold to, and officials showed up at his house at 7 a.m. to "make sure no bread baking was taking place on the premises."
- Photos By Beth Giuffre
- SINCE 4 A.M. Baker Marcus Marren, who has been working with Mark Stambler since their days in Los Angeles, starts baking breads, pastries, cookies, cinnamon rolls, and tarts while the rest of the Central Coast is still snoozing.
Bummed but not broken, Stambler made friends with Director of Environmental Health Angelo Bellomo, the Sustainable Economies Law Center, and Assemblyman Mike Gatto to write and pass the California Homemade Food Act, which is now California's cottage food law.
As a result, Stambler could bake his bread in his home kitchen in the county of Los Angeles under a Health Department permit. In fact, he and Bellomo designed the permit protocol based on Stambler's home setup.
He still keeps his Class B Cottage Food license for home baking projects, even though he's moved on to a brick-and-mortar bakery—which makes this Central Coast resident thankful for fresh-baked olive rosemary pain au levain; sourdough with that organic Sonora white wheat; a whole lot of pastries, tarts, and croissants; savory garlic cheddar pain au levain; and jalapeño and cheddar crostini. Δ
Flavor writer Beth Giuffre is breaking bread with her family. Send butter and fresh-baked story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: This article was edited from the original version to remove a reference.