COTTAGE GROVE – Every Thursday evening there is a steady stream of visitors heading in to Kalapuya Books on Main Street in Cottage Grove. Communities are on the rise again after Covid and so is this town’s very own Bread Club.
For many of its visitors, this popular weekly event offers local products, such as fresh-baked sourdough bread, local eggs, mushrooms, freshly roasted organic coffee, country style pesto and jam, white corn tortillas and kombucha.
For some visitors, this is also a space to get inspired, a place to mingle, network and possibly even hatch a new business idea that might just become “the next big thing.”
This social institution originated in Cottage Grove somewhere around 2002, when bread maker and blacksmith Brian Thomas began selling his bread to Grovers at Kalapuya Books when it was located at the old Pioneer Building on the corner of Main and 8th street.
Thomas lived just outside of town and wanted to find a way to combine his two lifestyles – bread-making and being a blacksmith. Having invented his very own wood-fired outdoor oven, he said he wanted to share his bread with others.
Kalapuya owner Hal Hartzell enjoyed making his blackberry wine and together with his wife Betsy they decided to make this a weekly event of bread and wine samples to visitors – combined with the passion for books.
It started out on a very small scale, but by the time Kalapuya Books had moved to its larger location at 637 Main St., the line grew to 20 feet long — out the door and lining the sidewalk. The club soon grew to include locally grown vegetables, homemade fresh food and art. Even after bread maker Thomas moved, Bread Club remained steadfast until Covid shut it down.
Three years later, as communities began to re-emerge from Covid, Tabu Lain and Erika Peterson, longtime friends who first met at Bread Club nine years ago, became inspired to re-establish the club again.
“I was an up-and-coming kombucha business owner and Erika was a farmer. We both sold our products at Bread Club and for me it meant everything,” said Lain, who now has her popular brand, Tabucha Kombucha, sold in several locations in Lane and Douglas County. “It was so important for me at the beginning of growing my own business, I got the opportunity to come out and meet the public.”
Today, Kalapuya Books continues to be the venue and Lain and Peterson are the hosts of Bread Club every Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m.
Lain said that Bart Caridio, Axe & Fiddle owner, played an important role in revitalizing Bread Club by finding a new baker in Kimberley Summers-Bray. She began bread-making eight years ago, initially to contribute to potlucks and holiday feasts.
“I keep baking more and people keep buying more,” Summers-Bray said. She bakes a variety of loaves of sourdough, English muffins, cookies, sourdough crackers and sometimes even bagels. “I have found that the person that brings bread makes people so happy and it’s great to be that person.”
Summers-Bray said that she is not an outgoing person, so for her, Bread Club has been a great social opportunity.
“Being a new person in the community it became a great way to meet people outside my immediate social network,” she said. “It’s a small community but it’s sprawling. It is so nice to see people that have been here for so long making a place where everyone is welcome, even those new to town. ”
As more and more people have been coming to Bread Club, the Axe & Fiddle saw an opportunity to boost its own business, sorely needed after Covid, and started planning more events around the Bread Club crowd. It is now arranging special shows and open mics on Thursdays to accommodate the club crowd.
”Bread Club has always been very special, a shared space that flows over to the Axe & Fiddle,” Caridio said. “We are next door and this just brings people into the building. After Covid it’s really nice to have community events where people are connecting again around something positive. New people are coming in and we have really made an effort to cater to the new crowd.”
For a community rising out of a pandemic, quality food, fresh-baked bread and connecting with the community has become a staple in getting Grovers back to the basics of innovation, creativity, and food culture.
“It’s all about creating community and being kind and accepting of everybody and trying to make connections. Division is not good for the community,” Caridio said. “The bread really is the heart of it all and it is really fun seeing Bread Club back where it was before and more and more people coming out for it.”