Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 35
 
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
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All in a Day’s Work

(Photo by Linda Arntzenius)
Master Baker Denis Granarolo, with assistant, at the Witherspoon Bread Company

Denis Granarolo

Linda Arntzenius

Good things can happen when individuals with a shared vision meet. When Denis Granarolo and Carlo and Raoul Momo were brought together by a mutual acquaintance, the French Master Baker's boyhood dream of coming to America fit perfectly with the Princeton restauranteurs desire for fresh European-style bread for their customers. Since imported bread was never truly fresh by the time it arrived in New Jersey, the Momos did the next best thing. In 1998, they "imported" the baker and his family to the United States. Et voilà, Princeton's own boulangerie, the Witherspoon Bread Co., was born, adding to the town's cultural richness while serving the palates of Terra Momo patrons at the same time. Besides bread — ficelle, baguette, five types of focaccia, ciabatta, batard, challah, rustic sourdough, country boule, and nine varieties of dinner roll — the bakery offers varieties of croissant and brioche, as well as a selection of panini and desserts including tiramisu, fruit tarts, and éclairs from the kitchens of one of Terra Momo's four restaurants.

Denis Granarolo seldom sits still. Up at 2:30 a.m., he begins work at 3 a.m. at the large wooden island in the one-room bakery that is no bigger than the average Princeton home kitchen. He measures and mixes in preparation for the preservative-free dough that will be shaped into baguette (stick), batard (rounded loaf), boule (round), couronne (ring), or epi (spiky baguette). The loaves are glazed, dusted with flour, or decorated with scissor cuts and baked in an oven that is kept hot day and night.

I go to bed around eight because I am up around two-thirty. I have a coffee and that's it. I don't eat too much brioche or croissant, it's too rich, but I like bread, I enjoy the baguette. Half of my day I am in the dough, the other half I am managing, ordering, all that kind of stuff that I don't really like but it has to be done. I work from 3 a.m. until around 1 p.m. in the afternoon. In a week we bake between about four to five thousand loaves in addition to the brioche and croissant. In the beginning I used to do all of the baking but now I teach an apprentice and I have two other bakers working on nights so there are four of us altogether.

My wife, Christine is the retail manager. We first came to the United States in 1998 to open the bakery. We came from Montpellier in the South of France. I always wanted to come to America from when I was a kid. I didn't always want to be a baker but I needed a job and I knew that in the United States, if you are French, you are either a chef or a baker, so I chose bakery. I love it. I am the first baker in my family. My Dad published a newspaper and my mother worked with him.

When I met Christine, I was in dentistry college, but I didn't like it. I knew a guy who had a bakery and I worked with him and found that I liked it. So I studied and passed my diploma exams at La Colline in Montpellier. My first bakery was in the village of Bastide Puylaurant-Lozere. After that I moved to Paris and opened another bakery. I was introduced to the Momos through a mutual acquaintance I had met 10 years earlier in Las Vegas where I was thinking of opening a bakery. [Olivier Frot, the owner of F.B.M. Baking Machines, Inc., a vendor of professional baking equipment, based in Cranbury, suggested that Mr. Granarolo visit Princeton.] After one visit I knew I had to open a bakery here. I fell in love with Princeton.

American Basketball

In France, I used to play a lot of basketball with American people. I like the way they think about life, their confidence, their self-determination. So, I thought, why not? I am happy with the move, especially for my kids, Laure and Nicholas. At the time they were 10 and 13 and they learned to speak English fluently in one year. Nicholas is now in college in California and my daughter Laure is going to go to Mercer County Community College. When they first came to the United States they were very shy and unsure of themselves and now they are much more open. The teaching environment is different here and gives kids more self-confidence. They went to schools in West Windsor. We live in Princeton Junction so it's only five minutes to work.

Christine and I have been married and working together for 25 years. We complement each other. I was a basketball coach when we met and I coached her team. Now I don't have time for coaching but sometimes I play with the Adult (over 35) League in West Windsor. That is when I have time and I am not too tired. The problem is they play in the evening when I am sleeping.

I like making something that people enjoy. Our customers see us working and they know this is the real deal. They know that everything is made right here on the premises and that we are doing everything fresh and with the best ingredients. The bread I make is the same as in a boulangerie in France. There is no difference. The process is exactly the same. We found an excellent source of flour that is unbleached, and unbromated. I am very proud of the bakery. Everyone knows the Witherspoon Bread Co. Next year the bakery will celebrate its 10th anniversary. I will have to come up with something very special for that occasion. Ten years is ten years!

After almost a decade in his adopted home, Mr. Granarolo continues to be enthusiastic about Princeton where he finds his customers to be cosmopolitan and welcoming. Located at 74 Witherspoon Street, the bakery is open Monday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. The bakery's motto is: "It's not a meal without bread" and the large storefront windows allow passersby a clear view of the display of the stacks of breads and pastries in straw baskets.

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