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grub: No Wonder: Mark the Bread Man

The Bread Man pulls hot and crusty garlic and romano bagettes out of his tempermental gas stove.

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I had to slip inside yelling "Hello!" and make it all the way to the living room before Mark appeared in the kitchen, 10 feet away, hurriedly kneading a wad of dough the way a convict might pack for a harried trip out of the country.

If Mark the Bread Man works intensely, it's only because there's so much to do. Three days a week there are mountains of bread to bake — 40 hearth loaves and 40 baguettes will rise, bake and cool on his watch today (not to mention a varied smattering of focaccia) — and when it's all over, after mere pittances of sleep, a veritable Everest of chores awaits him.

"I don't get out much," Mark the Bread Man admits, taking a generous break from the activity. His time away from the kitchen is quickly absorbed by weekends selling his bread at the Shockoe Bottom Farmer's Market, occasional Church Hill bread deliveries, and long hauls by bus to and from the supermarket to buy ingredients. It's a rigorous schedule, but in his presence, you quickly sense that the man has a higher calling.

Bread and politics have been married since God knows when, and it's this volatile combination that is the core of Mark the Bread Man's meager marketing pitch. His slogan "Bread for the People" pronounces his altruistic undertaking, while a secondary logo — a circle and slash through the word WONDER — is a bold declaration against the B-grade stuff being peddled by corporate drones.

"The truth is, it's really hard for me to produce inexpensive bread," he says, lamenting the purchasing power of industrial bakers. And to make competitive matters worse, there's his car situation: He doesn't have one. To illustrate the point: He takes eight trips by city bus to gather supplies during the off days. Those occasional deliveries? He makes them on foot, hauling 90 pounds of bread in a camping backpack.

Still, the Bread Man ain't doing bad. For three years now he's been selling his loaves for $1.50 to $4 per loaf, and this year marks the first he's made a living from his efforts. "I have to do something," he says, perhaps striking more at the heart of what keeps him toiling in the heat. "It's almost a calling for me. Bread is a simple job. It does take skill, but it's a simple job. I like serving the public that way."

Mark the Bread Man has plans for a bakery of his own one day, but for now his goals are a bit more tangible: a sprouted-corn and cumin loaf he's been dying to make. If he could only get his hands on some reasonably good sprouted corn. More immediately there is dough to knead, and more baking and the chores, accompanied by the soft, ever-present scent of baking bread, which must surely make it all worth while. S



Call Mark the Bread Man at 306-8316 to place an order.

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