A Pearl of a Bakery

What do baking bread and building lights have to do with each other? More than you might think…

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Pearl Bakery is a cornerstone both of Portland’s bakery culture and the Northwest Portland neighborhood known as “the Pearl.” Known for the first half of the 1900s as the “Northwest Industrial Triangle” for its combination of railroad access, light industry, and warehouses, the Pearl fell into disuse when train transport gave way to trucking. It became known mostly as a good place to keep out of sight and endanger to yourself and others, as immortalized in Gus Van Sant’s 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy.

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Putting industrial leftovers to use in service of a neighborhood playground.

Despite its rundown appearance, Pearl Bakery Founder Eric Lester chose the Pearl because he could see the potential (also true of  Rejuvenation Founder Jim Kelly in the gritty Northwest neighborhood where he established his first shop in 1975). The bakery opened its doors in February of 1997, with a small offering of breads, pastries, and coffee. The building sits one block from Powell’s Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world. Together these two businesses anchored the southwest corner of the neighborhood.

Four years later, in 2001, a concerted community effort to revitalize the Pearl began. But rather than tearing down every stitch of the industrial remains, the decision was made to repurpose, build around, and layer upon them. The result is a landscape that integrates old industry and new commerce, and honors its roots (also true of how Rejuvenation approaches every building we occupy).

Today the area is all bustle and sass, a hub of white-collar industriousness combined with street-kid cool. As a result, Pearl Bakery welcomes a steady stream of hungry and thirsty residents, shoppers, and visitors.

At the helm day-to-day is Eric’s son, Jared Lester. Though Jared worked in the bakery throughout high school, he always figured that once when he went away to school – Oregon State University, to pursue a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering – his bread days would be over.

Jared Lester is not even kidding about this bread.

Jared Lester

Once he finished school, though, he realized he actually missed baking, and his father persuaded him to return to the bakery. Jared’s approach, however, was different than Eric’s, who had come to owning a bakery by way of other gigs in food service.

Jared applied his engineering mind and education to the world of bread. It is an exact science, baking, though bakers traditionally have honed the craft’s necessary precision through years of practice. Working nearly seven days a week for several years, Jared created a more efficient bakery and an ever-improving loaf.

What separates a loaf of bread that’s just okay from one that’s truly satisfying? Three things, according to Lester: ingredients, process, and diligence (also true of lights that rise above anything else out there).

Ingredients: Excellent flour is essential. The Lester men commit themselves to continually searching for the best local flour. PERIOD.

Ingredients: The Lester men commit themselves to continually searching for the best local flour.

 

Process: It takes 24 hours from proof to cooling–-no skimping, no shortcuts. Clients who call late Thursday to ask for extra bread the next morning are out of luck.

Process: Each loaf is shaped by hand, and takes 24 hours from proof to cooling– no skimping, no shortcuts. Clients who call late Thursday to ask for extra bread the next morning are out of luck.

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Diligence: Baking is a precise craft. Every single batch is checked to make sure quality never flags.

Overseeing Pearl Bakery’s labors of love? Rejuvenation’s Rose City pendants – a testament to the ideals the companies share. Like Jared’s bread, the Rose City is made of the highest quality ingredients (solid brass and a handblown Opal glass shade) and built lovingly by hand, one at a time, in Portland.

 

 

on January 16 | by

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