August 14, 2013
Ran Zimon’s Bread Lounge in the downtown Arts District elevates L.A.’s bakery scene
Baker Ran Zimon leads a visitor through the doorway separating the cafe area from the kitchen of Bread Lounge, his neighborhood bakery in the Arts District downtown. The temperature suddenly jumps at least 10 degrees. “It reminds me of Israel,” Zimon says with a sly smile.
This aspect of the bakery’s arrangement wasn’t intentional. Nor was the genesis of Zimon’s professional path. The Ra’anana native describes his career as having happened “by mistake.” But better to describe it as a happy accident, as Zimon’s unplanned success thus far and his dedication to his trade can’t be described as anything other than great news, both for him and for the bread lovers of Los Angeles.
Zimon’s story doesn’t involve early-identified destiny. As a child, he wasn’t interested in food, short of eating it, nor would he trail his parents around the kitchen. “I was an ordinary guy,” he says with a shrug. Instead, for “weird” reasons Zimon still doesn’t quite understand, he bought a book about baking one afternoon when he was in his 20s. An odd move, as this son of a librarian never needed to buy books. (His father is a retired employee of an electrical company.) He then found a job as a baker in a cafe after responding to a classified newspaper ad that was two months out of date.
“It wasn’t [as if] I wanted to pursue my dream to be a baker. It just happened,” he explains. “Once I started working in the bakery, I fell in love with it, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” So the trim, clean-headed, quick-talking Zimon will don flour-dusted baker’s garb for the foreseeable future.
Zimon didn’t plan to live in the United States, either. He wanted to open a bakery in Tel Aviv but accepted an offer to visit relatives in West Los Angeles before settling down into what he knew would be a grueling work routine. Upon arrival, the natural entrepreneur wanted to tour local bakeries and instantly saw an opportunity. “When I asked what’s the best bread I can get here, everybody said La Brea Bakery in the supermarket,” he remembers. “If that’s the best bread you can get in L.A., then we have to do something about it.”
Zimon got to work. He got his affairs in order in Israel so he could move, returned to Los Angeles in 2007, found a shared kitchen on the Westside and started making a small repertoire of baguettes and a few loaves based on his natural sourdough starter, which he brought home each day rather than tempt fate by leaving it in the commercial kitchen where it might accidentally get tossed away. Zimon’s first wholesale clients were Wally’s Wine & Spirits, Monsieur Marcel and Church & State. He also took a side job baking breads for Suzanne Goin’s beloved Lucques and A.O.C. restaurants.
Given all this, he began to search for suitable commercial kitchen and retail space on the Westside, and at a point of frustration at the costs and real estate hurdles there, he reached out to Yuval Bar-Zemer, a developer with Linear City, who was also a family friend. It was Bar-Zemer who eventually brought Zimon to the now-burgeoning Arts District. (Linear City is the company behind some of the larger-scale developments in the area, such as the Toy Factory and Biscuit Company lofts.) “We came here, put in my little mixer and my little oven, and we started,” Zimon modestly recalls of his downtown bakery’s origins in 2010. What came out of that oven generated big demand and a cult following among the city’s leading chefs, including Walter Manzke (then at Church & State), Craig Thornton of Wolvesmouth underground supper club, and Jessica Koslow of Sqirl.
Bread Lounge’s nondescript concrete block building sits on Sante Fe Avenue at the very eastern edge of downtown, adjacent to where the Seventh Street bridge arcs over the Los Angeles River. The absence of a sign or a Web site isn’t a deliberate move to cultivate mystique. Zimon is just “too busy” focusing on his products. His cafe component is now just over a year old, almost the same age as his son.
Zimon says he tried to keep his business quiet at first, but, “Once we opened, they all came here. It’s a really great community. I’m so happy I’m here.” Bread Lounge’s minimalist style fits into the aesthetics of the area, which has all the hallmarks of a commercial and industrial urban neighborhood in the throes of intense growing pains and identity shifts: destination-worthy restaurants tucked into former warehouses, top-quality coffee, new residential buildings, along with practically deserted streets at night and some crime.
Folks come out of the woodwork and congregate at daytime hubs around the Arts District — at Bread Lounge as well as at nearby simpatico businesses: Urth Caffé, The Daily Dose, Wurstküche, Pizzanista! and Handsome Coffee Roasters. Zimon says he has noticed an increase in Israeli clientele, as well, thanks to word of mouth. While we are talking, chef Ori Menashe of Bestia drops in with a fellow Hebrew-speaking chef from his kitchen for a Mediterranean breakfast. They all catch up on neighborhood news and food industry shoptalk.
As for what Zimon and crew like to bake: “We try to combine the classic — French, European baking — and then bring some Mediterranean flavors we relate to and things that will work with the American palate. Sometimes it works, sometimes not,” Zimon notes. Customers stock up on the gorgeous baguettes, olive loaves, ciabatta, plus house-made jams, cookies and granola packed to go, as well as sandwiches, soups and daily specials. Don’t, however, come to Bread Lounge looking for typical American treats because Zimon isn’t interested in cashing in on the cupcake craze or making bagels. If the latter happens, it’s in the form of a taut sesame-crusted Jerusalem bagel, which Zimon had only started making a couple of days before we met. Bread Lounge’s staff currently numbers somewhere between 20 and 25.
It’s an example of the fluid business-in-progress model that suits him best. “We don’t really plan anything, we just go with the flow,” Zimon says. That doesn’t mean he’s without a guiding philosophy or a perfectionist’s streak. “When you do something you love, it usually turns out better.”
RAN ZIMON’S ROSH HASHANAHHONEY CAKE
Preheat oven to 325 F.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, sugar, honey and spices.
Add egg mixture to flour mixture, stirring only until no lumps. Do not overmix.
Add hot coffee in two to three increments, and quickly mix in.
Turn into two parchment-lined 9-by-5-inch loaf pans, filling pans only 2/3 full, to prevent overflowing while baking.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until cakes test done.
Makes 2 loaves.