Through the red door of a small addition on the side of his modest house in Guelph, Ontario, Jesse Merrill of Polestar Hearth Bread creates some of the best loaves of bread you will ever taste. They’re certainly the best I’ve ever had.
Using a large brick oven custom-built in the backyard of his home, Jesse and his business partner Scott Williams crank out loaves such as Sesame Sourdough, SuperSeed and Spelt.
Working just four days, the duo produces as many as 800 loaves every week. The bread is distributed through Jesse’s community-supported bakery co-op and a number of local stores and restaurants.
While baking is his passion, Jesse started baking bread out of necessity. He simply wasn’t happy with the bread sold in grocery stores. He fondly remembered his mother making lots bread for the family when he was a child, so he decided to do the same thing for his three young kids.
Jesse built a small brick oven in the backyard of their previous home almost seven years ago. A year later, he took a bold leap and quit his job as a musical-instruments craftsman to bake full time.
Jesse credits his wife’s support for the success of his venture. “The community’s access to our bread has been subsidized for more than six years by her generosity to me and belief in the good of this project to our town.”
Jesse doesn’t work from recipes. Each type of bread has been influenced by other recipes but the ratios he uses to create his bread have been developed over time. And he’s constantly adjusting them, making subtle improvements.
The backyard bread oven is always “warm.” Even over the weekend in the middle of a frigid winter, it barely drops below 400F. When we visited, the oven was up over 500F as he baking several batches of bread. “It’s completely different from baking in an oven,” says Jesse.
When asked what the future holds, Jesse simply says “more of the same.” There are no grand expansion plans. As much as the stores are clamoring for more bread, Jesse plans to stick to baking just four days a week, taking weekends off with his wife and kids.
He admits that it’s not a typical endeavour where he drew up a business plan. Rather, the business grew around his needs and suits his lifestyle choices.
Not a bad gig at all.
* Photos: Andrew Goodwin and Andrew Wheeler.