In Her Own Write
by Ann Thurlow
The first great thing about John Dale’s bakery is that you have to work a bit to locate it. It’s tucked down an alley between the Atlantic Technology Centre and David’s Tea. It’s not difficult, but it still feels like a bit of a find when you get there.
Inside, the second great thing: loaves and loaves of beautiful crusty bread and the alluring scent of baking.
Finding a bakery down an alley in Charlottetown is even more surprising when you consider the tale of the baker himself. John Dale worked for 30 years in municipal government in Alberta. When he retired, he pulled up stakes and moved in Bangor, PEI. He became a fan of the farmer’s market in Cardigan and of the bread produced by Dan Mitchell in the market’s tiny bakery.
But when Mitchell stopped making his bread, Dale knew he had to do something. He started at home, experimenting with different styles of baking and different kinds of flour. He worked at it until he had it right. Then he took over the little bakery in Cardigan. He knew he had found his calling, and success, when he heard one market customer call to another, “Hey! Real bread!”
News of his bread spread beyond the market. Soon, he was baking bread for Terre Rouge in Charlottetown. Then Receiver Coffee Company came calling. He found himself producing upwards of two hundred loaves a week in his tiny bakery.
The next move was obvious. He needed more space for a larger oven. He needed to be closer to his customers. He found the little space, a former guitar shop, and breadworks, the Charlottetown version, was born.
As we chat, Dale pulls a big tub of levain from the fridge. Through the magic of naturally occurring yeasts, the simple combination of just flour and water has turned into a long rising dough. He punches its big soft belly, the sour dough smell escapes like an invitation.
Sourdough bread and other, rustic European style breads are coming back into fashion even it Europe, where people had fallen sway to the convenience of the pre-sliced, packaged loaf. Consumers are looking for bread that’s more than just a vehicle for sandwich fillings.
The shelves behind the counter are lined with loaves of rye, sour dough, ciabatta and focaccia.
As well as serving the walk-in trade and his regular customers, Dale also makes ciabatta for Leonard’s Café. And other restaurants have approached him to talk. His bread is made with organic, unbleached flour; restaurants are starting to realize that real bread has real appeal.
I ask Dale if he’s surprised to find himself here, kneading dough and hoisting enormous bags of flour. He’s a no nonsense guy; he has just explained the orderly progression from municipal worker to baker. So the answer is no. But he will admit that being a baker is a lot more difficult and a lot more rewarding than he imagined. He plunges his fist again into the soft white dough.
Again, a tantalizing odor escapes.
Breadworks is located at 72B University Ave. The bread is also sold at Terre Rouge, the Juice Box in Montague and at the Cardigan Farmer’s Market in the summer.