BRACEBRIDGE — “If you build it, they will come.” Ron and Bonnie Karson are beginning to realize the truth behind that famous quote as they build the first wood-fired oven bakery in Muskoka.
FRESH FROM THE OVEN.
Ron and Bonnie Karson stand beside what will eventually be the first wood-fired bakery oven in Muskoka. Their business, All Fired-Up in Muskoka, is expanding from a travelling oven that does catering and farmer’s markets to this permanent location at the former Coopers Custom Meats in Bracebridge.
Photo by Bev McMullen
In a high-profile location, on Highway 118 West in Bracebridge, All-Fired Up in Muskoka is already seeing its fair share of visitors curious about the activity at the former Cooper Custom Meats. When they find out it’s a bakery, most couldn’t be more pleased.
For the Karsons, the bakery was a bit of an afterthought, brought on by the public’s enthusiasm for their products.
Bonnie Karson is a chef, with her own catering company, Bonnie Karson Catering. Baking began as a hobby for Ron. A stonemason by trade, he used to travel the province installing wood-fired ovens and heating systems, but soon developed a taste for what came out of his ovens.
“Baking is very similar to masonry actually. It’s theoretical knowledge but applied. You can spend a lifetime reading and getting theoretical knowledge for masonry, but until you start doing it, you know absolutely nothing; baking works the same way,” he explained, adding it doesn’t hurt to be married to a chef. “She’s a chef, who’s a great baker. I’m someone who loves technical information, so I’m the person who loves studying the science of it, so it’s just a perfect marriage.”
Together the Karsons began attending farmers markets and catering events with a portable wood-fired oven mounted on a trailer. When the wood-fired catering took off, the Karsons realized they needed another oven to do some advance baking.
They found their new location at 719 Highway 118 West and began outfitting it with a wood-fired oven and preparation space for Bonnie’s catering needs. It wasn’t long before passersby started dropping in to see what was up at the previously vacant storefront.
“People keep coming by and saying, ‘Wow, it’s a bakery,’ and so we realized we’ll have to once again expand our vision and have to morph into a retail space as well,” explained Ron.
The primary goal is still to use the space to fulfil their catering commitments for 2012; however, the pair also hopes to balance the catering with a retail bakery operating on the premises as early as May.
“We’re hoping to try to find a couple of days where we know we can be open consistently, so we can say on these two days, for example, you can come by and buy wood-fired bagels and sourdoughs,” explained Ron.
In addition to the bagels and sourdoughs, the Karsons expect to offer wood-fired pizzas, bread and dessert options, including some whole wheat and gluten-free varieties.
The wood-fired masonry oven provides a steady, radiant heat that is generally hotter than a traditional oven, while retaining moisture. The result is delicious baked goods with a unique wood-fired flavour.
“It’s obvious in the taste. No matter what you put in a wood-fired oven, whether it’s a chicken, whether it’s dough, it doesn’t matter if it’s a vegetable, it’s a noticeable difference,” said Ron.
“A lot of the breads are baked with an accompanying fire, so the flatbreads, the pizzas, the bagels not only benefit from radiation, but they also benefit from the heat of a fire swirling around them. A wood-fired oven gives a radiant heat, conduction from the hearth and convection all in one.”
Key in the Karsons’ vision for the bakery is a connection to local foods. They already have people lined up to grow organic heritage wheat and grains locally, with the goal to supply the bakery with its needs as early as 2013, and hopefully have enough to retail the flour as well.
“It’s not about business, it’s about an idea for us,” said Ron. “It’s about seeing if we can put into action what we all think and what we all dream about — a product created by people who are into it, who care about it, and who are constantly striving to make it the best, not only with taste, but nutritious.”
In the meantime, Muskoka residents will just have to be patient as the Karsons try to balance their commitments at their much-loved farmers markets and their catering bookings with their newest retail endeavour.
“Just like dough, things take time to develop,” said Ron.
“Our eventual goal is to have a full-time bakery here, if the community will accept it, and supplement the business with a portable oven that specializes in catering. It’s a great marriage for my wife and I … I love to stay home and bake, she loves to bake and cater. If we can pull it off, it would be a wonderful thing.”