story & photos by Ree Slocum
For close to 10 years each time I’ve headed up 101 for hikes, camping, or visiting friends, I’ve looked forward to stopping at Café Brio on the square in Arcata. Flashes of the fresh, robustly brewed artisanal coffee drinks and display cases filled with the most exquisite French pastry, mousses, and cookies start calling me well before I’ve left home. Most recently their “Salted Caramel Pot de Creme” literally made me swoon with pleasure at the first bite.
When it’s lunch or breakfast I’m wanting, I look forward to seeing the current offerings or eating a favorite like the “Brio Classic,” two organic poached eggs on toasted levin (made at the Brio Breadworks). For lunch it’s often the “Avocado Grove” Panini with avocado, chèvre, and caramelized onions. A savory culinary treat made with local and organic ingredients whenever possible.
I was able to get behind the scenes at the café and the Breadworks. In the bustling kitchen Taylor Garcia, pastry and dessert chef, was busy preparing the next morning’s “Ham and Swiss Cheese Croissants”. Chef Leigha Olson, a recent transplant from LA and “meat master momma,” was involved in constructing one of Saturday night’s dinner offerings, “Crab Ravioli,” her own delectable creation. Both chefs are young, intensely focused, and extremely talented.
It was wonderfully dark and quiet on the streets of Arcata when I woke early to visit the Breadworks bakery. Sumptuous bread smells surrounded the loaded delivery vans. They were packed with varieties of baguettes, rolls, focaccia. The breads travel to thirty restaurants and stores, from Garberville to Trinidad—and, of course, to the café.
The atmosphere was hushed in the bakery. I was impressed by the efficiency of Berehan Aneteneh, Andy Clifton, and manager Elana Cattaneo, the team creating Sunflower Seeded Baguettes and Olive Bread. A great way to start a busy day!
It’s impossible to tell the story of Brio Baking without talking about its founder, Serge Scherbatskoy. In 1998 Serge and his wife moved to Arcata from Covelo, in Mendocino County, where he was the chef and owner of the “North Fork Cafe.” In Arcata Serge founded the Brio Breadworks with four employees. He and his wife operated the packaging and distribution using their cars as delivery vehicles. Success was immediate and distribution widened with the Breadworks now employing over twenty with five delivery vehicles.
Serge created the Bistro Café in 2007 on the best retail corner of Arcata’s square. It’s become popular and is the go-to coffee, breakfast, lunch and now weekend dinner place in Arcata.
In 2016, when Serge needed to make improvements in the café and Breadworks, he launched a direct public offering (DPO) of shares in his business, Brio Baking Inc. He promoted Alex Ozaki-McNeill, an employee in the café for six years, as the DPO project manager. “Alex was working here and just graduated [from HSU with a Business degree] and she was going to go off and do something interesting with her life. How about I come up with the interesting thing and she can stay here and be in charge [of the DPO Project],” Serge says. He was thrilled when she accepted the “very challenging and exciting” offer.
By selling shares to the public on a small, local scale, they could create a socially and environmentally responsible investment. “It’s a ‘slow money’ movement,” Serge told me. “We’re involved in a Benefit Corporation that allows the board of directors to make decisions that aren’t based solely on profit.”
Alex filled me in about the incentives and paybacks in Brio Baking. Not only do investors take pride in keeping their money local, they also support local businesses with healthy production practices. In addition they earn 3.5% annual dividend, enjoy and participate in “Brio Benefits” like wine tastings and pairings, farm-to-table yearly dinners, bread and other food workshops, and give-a-ways. Alex has made it quite easy to invest online or in person.
As I headed south towards home I realized a new and deeper appreciation for the detailed thinking it takes to make a good idea GREAT. And I had eaten the “Pot de Creme” takeout before I passed the lagoon north of Eureka!