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Brett Boyer and Brendon Wilharber of Desert Bread
Louiie Victa

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How Las Vegas’s Smallest Bakeries Shape the Community

In a city that is larger-than-life, pandemic-boosted microbakeries work tirelessly to make bread for — and break bread with — their neighborhoods

After a full day of house-hunting, Oakland, California, residents Brett Boyer and Brendon Wilharber “ran around like children” when they found what would become their four-bedroom pied-a-terre in Paradise near McCarran International Airport. Scarred by being outpriced in the red-hot California real estate market, they felt like they needed to jump on the opportunity before it was snapped up, but it was out of their range. Thanks to an aggressive real estate agent, they were able to whittle the price down and purchase the property in 2016. “We would come here on the weekends,” says Boyer. “We weren’t moving to Vegas, but we loved this house,” Wilharber adds. Little did they know that the house on a busy street would turn into their permanent residence and, eventually, their full-time place of work.

In 2018, the couple, who were maintaining their restaurant careers in the San Francisco Bay area, started a supplemental cottage bakery business called Desert Bread, selling sourdough and croissants at Las Vegas farmers markets. By 2019, they left the farmers market scene and started holding regular pop-up events featuring their signature items and seasonal delights in their driveway at home. It was Boyer’s idea, and although Wilharber was skeptical at first, he quickly warmed to the game plan. “It felt better because it was coming from our house, so we could have people at the place where it was happening,” he says.

It wasn’t long before the duo grew weary of taking turns flying back and forth to the Bay Area (to alternate caring for their Siamese cats, who were living full-time in Vegas), and they decided to leave their Bay Area-based jobs to turn their side hustle into a full-time pursuit in January 2020. “Every time we came here, we just grew more and more attached,” says Boyer. Wilharber specialized in front-of-house operations, and Boyer was a pastry chef in some of the Bay’s most noteworthy kitchens: Chez Panisse, Boot & Shoe Service, Penrose & Sons, and Ramen Shop in Oakland, where he made California-inspired Japanese desserts. When businesses started closing last year in March, the couple chose to cease their driveway events to avoid large gatherings, and began to personally deliver their organic and all-natural goods to customers who later became their friends. Boyer’s inspiration often comes from what is growing in their backyard garden. By July, they slowly resumed in-person events every other Saturday. They are now open for business every Wednesday and Saturday morning.

“It was a year of pivoting,” says Wilharber, who explains how demand grew as word-of-mouth spread about their operation. “A moment for me — I literally cried — was at Christmas,” Wilharber says. “The line was all the way from here to Russell [Road]. It is overwhelming to think about why people were coming for this. It was really beautiful.” For them, connecting with the community through their sourdough staples, croissants, and seasonal baked goods (current examples are lemon cruffins, asparagus and mornay croissants, and angel food cake with kumquats) was paramount. “I wanted to work with — and for — locals,” Boyer says.

A woman and a man hold bread in a kitchen
Jennifer and Benoit Cornet of French Cottage Bakery
Louiie Victa

The motive was the same for married couple Jennifer and Benoit Cornet, owners of French Cottage Bakery in Summerlin. “It all started because we wanted to provide bread for our friends and neighbors,” Jennifer says. Like Desert Bread, they originally started their business by selling panettone at farmers markets three months out of the year and offering a monthly bread subscription to a short list of friends.

“It was the most we could handle,” says Benoit, a native Frenchman, who notes the pair’s crazy schedule with two young boys and two full-time careers — Benoit is a chef and Jennifer is a public relations professional.

When the pandemic decimated bread supplies at grocery stores throughout the valley, the Cornets were faced with numerous requests. They were initially reluctant, since it made them feel embarrassed and guilty because they had both maintained their full-time jobs, but after rationalizing the idea further, they decided to give it a try. “Between both of us seeing people getting laid off, seeing empty bread shelves and people asking us firsthand for bread, we thought, ‘Why not?’” Jennifer says.

Their first pop-up event, held April 5, 2020, on their peaceful suburban front porch, came just a few weeks after the city shut down. Before they knew it, they were dreaming up special menu items inspired by their own family traditions such as chocolate chip brioche for Mother’s Day, demi pretzel baguettes for Father’s Day, burger buns for the Fourth of July, and pumpkin spice macarons, madeleines, and scones for Halloween. “[During the pandemic] a lot of people felt like their group of friends narrowed because they were stuck in their homes, but we feel like our group of friends expanded so much,” Benoit says. “Now we see these people every Saturday. It’s not just a transaction thing.”

By selling fresh-baked baguettes, macarons, focaccia, and more from their doorstep — now every Saturday morning — the Cornets led the way to building a hyperlocal lifestyle in their neighborhood. “It’s like the olden days where people on our street are starting businesses by showing off their own talents,” Jennifer says. “In the last year, my perception of ‘support small businesses’ has changed. As much as our neighbors support us, we want to support them, too. Our little community has gotten so much tighter.”

A man and a woman stand on either side of a bakery rack
Ryan and Kris Wilson of 5098 Bread
Louiie Victa

Kris and Ryan Wilson of 5098 Bread were attracted to Downtown Las Vegas because of its sense of community, especially for residents who work in the food and beverage industry. The husband-and-wife pair left their corporate jobs in California to go on an 18-month global quest in January 2020 to have “as many food and life experiences” as they could, but their adventure was derailed in March by the pandemic. At the time, they were in Uruguay, where they ended up staying for four months. They later went to explore Western Canada before they headed to Las Vegas, where their belongings and two cats were being safely kept at Kris’s parents’ house. There, they contemplated their next move, which they wanted to be based around building a community, and food.

Like many pandemic bakers, Ryan had been experimenting with sourdough during quarantine in Uruguay, and it wasn’t long before the idea hit. “When we returned to Vegas, Ryan really began to nerd out on bread, reading super-detailed books like Open Crumb Mastery by Trevor Wilson and experimenting with a number of different loaves and concepts,” Kris says. “After receiving great feedback from family and friends, we decided to just go for it.” The self-taught baker and his resourceful wife launched their cottage business — named after a friendly cow’s tag number in Uruguay — with their light-crusted “Bay Bae” sourdough and their darker country-style LSL (Last Supper Loaf), along with “the Cookie,” a mix of brown butter, dark chocolate, Maldon salt, and their sourdough starter. The Cookie was such a surprise hit that it remains the only one they ever plan to offer. “It is unique in that it incorporates a large amount of sourdough starter discard, which gives it a beautiful balance of crunchy, chewy, sweet, and salty,” Ryan says. “Kris offered to take over the cookie program thinking it would just be a small add-on, and it’s turned into a full-time job on its own.”

Like Desert Bread and French Cottage Bakery, word-of-mouth propelled the growth of 5098 Bread. The couple embraced the Downtown food and beverage scene and the scene embraced them back. Pre-ordered bread pickups are available from their home every Tuesday, and they can often be found participating in a local event on the weekends. “The snowball effect from [the community] sharing our bread and cookies on their social platforms is something we are so grateful for,” Kris says. “We have discovered how closely knit the off-the-Strip food community is here, and as people who left everything behind to go travel the world to find a sense of community, it’s been incredible to find it here in Las Vegas. We strongly believe that food connects people all over the world, and we have felt so welcomed into this community through the food people here.”

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