TORRINGTON – They arrived at the bakery on a Saturday morning, some from down the street, others from a different state, gazing at the pastry case as they waited their turn.
Crusted lemon tarts glistened with golden glaze. Rich cheesecakes swirled with homemade cherry mousse, resting a few rows from the freshly dipped chocolate éclairs.
Minutes later, lemon tarts were running low. Only two cherry cheesecakes remained, and the chocolate éclair tray was already half empty.
Ezdan Fluckiger moved quickly in the back room. He wore a chef bandanna and a black apron with white pinstripes, checking the savory ground beef and green chili empanadas in the oven, checking the chicken potpies, retrieving trays of pastries from the walk-in refrigerator, moving the—
“Whenever the éclair tray is half full, you go get a full one and swap them,” Ezdan told his 15-year-old son, William, in one breath. “We want it to always look plentiful. I’m going to go grab the cheesecakes.”
The bakery hadn’t been this busy since it opened eight months ago. But Ezdan has. The artisan baker is also a family physician who works in the ER at the local hospital. His shift lasts 36 to 48 hours. Then, he heads to the bakery for the remainder of the week.
That’s why he named his shop The Bread Doctor.
“But that’s not the story,” he said, slicing chunks of buttermilk cinnamon coffee cake.
The story is the girl at the register. She is Ezdan and Lisa Fluckiger’s youngest daughter, Eleanor. The 18-year-old high school senior with long sandy hair swipes cards and takes cash. She also has Down syndrome.
Ezdan has worked as a family practice doctor since the late ‘90s and has delivered roughly 800 babies. Years ago, he had the idea of creating a business for Eleanor. He wanted his daughter to have a long-term vocation by the time she graduated high school.
“Something that we could do together as a family, for her, so that she didn’t have to do whatever the group home kids are doing,” Ezdan, 49, said.
He also wanted something that he could do in addition to medicine – maybe a profession he could retire into. He and Lisa had always been good at baking, opting to make their four children cakes or pies for their birthdays instead of buying them. They also baked breads.
“I’ve always been interested in how things work, just like the body,” Ezdan said. “How do you make layered pastries like croissants? All those layers, they do it by hand. I’ve always been interested in the artistry.”
Three years ago, Ezdan typed “How to start a bakery” into a search engine. He discovered a class with the same title at the International School of Baking in Oregon – a 20-day intensive course. If he really wanted to pursue this bakery idea, he needed some expertise. He took a sabbatical and entered the program. Ezdan was the only student, and with his teacher, they baked four to five artisanal products eight to 10 hours a day.
When he returned to Wyoming, Ezdan and Lisa opened a home bakery to gauge interest in town. They boiled traditional New York-style bagels and baked rolls and breads, taking online orders for pickup. Then in April 2014, Ezdan found a vacant building on Main Street in Torrington and bought it.
He altered his hours as a doctor, opting to work in the ER part-time so he wouldn’t be on call, and started preparations. The Bread Doctor opened on Fair Day last summer with thousands of people already on Main Street.
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“I thought he was crazy when he started this,” William said. “When (my parents) told us that they were buying a building, I was kind of worried. I just thought they were good cooks. I thought they both learned how to cook in college and just kept going.
“I never, never expected them to do this.”
The menu at The Bread Doctor is ever changing, but the recipes have one common component: They are all artisan.
“It means everything is made from scratch, pretty much, and everything is made by hand,” said Ezdan, whose baking methods are largely European. “It’s more expensive than the grocery store. It takes hours to make this stuff. We start from zero. That’s part of the art.”
On that busy Saturday morning, Lisa coated soft lemon cookies with homemade lemon glaze. Ezdan monitored chicken potpies and empanadas, while William folded boxes for cheesecakes. Eleanor was at the cash register, ringing up everything from bagels (plain, sesame, jalapeño cheddar, asiago cheese and cinnamon raisin), to croissants. Her favorite is the ham and Gruyere cheese, with buttery webs of flaky dough and a dollop of French stone-ground mustard on the inside.
Variety is important at The Bread Doctor.
“Why would you come to the bakery to eat what you could bake at home? When you come to the bakery, it needs to be special. It needs to be something you don’t normally do, or wouldn’t take the time to do,” Ezdan said.
Lisa has enjoyed the challenge of running a bakery, but it’s time-intensive. She juggles church work, teaches ballroom classes and helps with the local community theater, not to mention working the “parent shift” around the clock.
“It’s just the balance,” Lisa, 50, said.
And the same goes with Ezdan. The only day he isn’t working is Sunday, where sometimes, he’ll sleep 14 hours. His job as a physician is stressful. The pressure is to be perfect all the time, compared with the bakery, where the pressure is to make people happy.
“(The bakery) is really fun. It’s just positive. It’s like dispensing bread love all day long,” he said. “People don’t come to the bakery to be mad. They come to the bakery to get something yummy.”
The Bread Doctor is open Thursday through Saturday. If success continues, Ezdan will decrease his hours at the ER.
But he’s already accomplished his goal.
Eleanor’s favorite game growing up was playing waitress. Now, she chats up customers at the register — asking about their favorite movies or foods — and enjoys folding boxes and napkins.
She graduates from high school next month and is thinking of attending college for a year or two.
“Whatever happens in the future,” Ezdan said, “I’d like for (us) to be together.”