Brigitte Bar-dough is what Kate Pepper’s co-workers call her at the Dutchess, Ojai’s new bakery and Burmese-themed restaurant. The ebullient 42-year-old baker has amassed 41,000 followers on Instagram.
Pepper, an Ojai native, took up baking bread as a result of a breakup with her farmer boyfriend, with whom she managed a CSA. “I walked out of the 12-year relationship with nothing,” she said. "It was his house, his business, his everything.”
She moved back into her parents’ home and worked three part-time jobs — even setting up a massage studio in the shed behind what is now the new Ojai restaurant Rory’s Place — to support her 13-year-old daughter, Francine. She bought a pizza oven on Craigslist for $1,000 and, with the help of the Tartine "Bread Book" and a stint at Milo & Olive in L.A., taught herself to roll and laminate.
She started Kate’s Bread in 2013; until last fall it was run out of her father’s wood shop. Initially, she sold her wares at Farmer and the Cook, an Ojai cafe and organic market. In January 2020, she switched to selling her twice-weekly bakes to website customers. By that April, she was selling out her entire inventory (200 loaves, 100 croissants, scones and cinnamon rolls) in an hour, sometimes within five minutes.
“Kate’s country boules were thick, crunchy, and the flavors were perfectly balanced— not too sweet or sour,” said Sal Avina, who would occasionally drive up from Pasadena for a couple of loaves.
Gaming her system became a new Ojai pastime. If you were lucky enough to snare a Turkish simit or a pumpkin polenta loaf in your online basket, dither and it might disappear by the time you were ready to check out. Pepper shut down the operation in November when a sourdough-loving bear clawed down a wall of the wood shop.
Last spring Zoe Nathan, Pepper’s old boss at Milo + Olive, asked her to oversee the morning shift at the Dutchess, one of four ambitious new restaurants that opened in town during the pandemic. Pepper signed on, and today the Dutchess pastry case showcases all the baked goods she offered in the wood shop as well as co-baker Kelsey Brito’s fruit crumb cakes, chocolate coconut teacakes and pecan-walnut kumquat pies. (Brito and Pepper are among the partners at the Dutchess.)
“Very quickly Ojai has become a destination place for food,” said Pepper. “This is something the town hasn’t ever had. I hope that it works, because Ojai is beautiful place that deserves to have good restaurants.”
11:56 a.m. May 25, 2022: This story has been updated to indicate that Kate Pepper and Kelsey Brito are among the partners at the Dutchess.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.