Fire Dog Breads
79 Emerald St., Keene, NH
Sam Temple and Bridget Love, of Fire Dog Breads on Emerald Street on Keene, were not bakers by trade. Temple and Love moved to New Hampshire in 2017 after spending a decade at the University of Oklahoma. He was a French historian, and she was a Japanese anthropologist, but despite their academic careers, they both felt something was missing. We spoke with Sam Temple about the couple’s road to bread baking.
What inspired you to start baking for a living?
Living in Oklahoma, I just couldn’t find any good bread. We had just come back from a year in Germany. So I started baking — partly to supply us with bread, partly to vent professional frustrations. I didn’t know what I was doing at first. I had always loved to cook, but baking was never my thing, funny enough. I certainly had never worked in a bakery. But I had lived in France a long time and knew what good bread was. When people ask where I learned to bake, I usually say I developed my palate in Europe but learned how to bake in Oklahoma! It was a steep learning curve. I started with sourdough, a process that is as old as wheat itself and appealed to the historian in me. It’s flour and salt and water, but it’s endlessly complex having to manipulate a live culture. It’s just like beer making. It’s a living thing, and the time, temperature and humidity dictate a lot of the process. I find it very engaging, with a lot of trial and error. Gradually I began to collect baking equipment at auctions and bought my first bread oven. Pretty soon, half of the garage had been turned into a bakery. That was the origin of Fire Dog Breads.
Apparently, you were doing something right, though, because you started a business.
It first started just with friends. They would come over to the house on Saturdays, some on bikes and some in electric cars. These were people at the university who were from somewhere else, and all liked good bread. It just grew, and eventually, every Saturday, we had this line of cars with people wanting bread. The truth was I got more out of baking than my real job. It took a while for me to accept I might be a better baker than academic. But I didn’t think I would bake for a living.
Given your success in Oklahoma, why did you pull up stakes and move to Keene?
We were ready for a change. We spent our summers in New Hampshire and dreaded having to go back to work every fall. My parents and brother’s family live here, so there was a natural pull, but it’s also just a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Bridget started working at the local Waldorf School, but I didn’t have any remarkable talents other than baking. I was baking out of the family barn, selling at the Farmers’ Market of Keene, all while we were trying to find schools for the kids, housing for us, and generally resetting our professional and personal bearings. It was an interesting time!
Selling at the Farmers’ Market allowed you to dream a little bigger?
At the time, I wasn’t sure if Keene needed us. It already had some wonderful bakeries. The Farmers’ Market allowed us to test our product and to meet the community. One of the first things that struck us is how much pride Keene takes in local producers and production, particularly around food. They are loyal to their beer maker, their baker, their farmer. If you’re the new person, you have to break into that. The Farmers’ Market was our way. We found our niche pretty quickly: crusty rustic breads and delicate French pastry.
Finding your niche allowed you to open a storefront on Emerald Street, which, in turn, allowed you to expand your offerings and do more experimenting?
Breads and pastry are still our bedrock, but we have expanded to do lunches as well. Aside from greater capacity, the store allows us to continue to experiment and innovate. For instance, we’ve always stone-milled our whole grains but now we are able to source much of our grain from New England farms growing heirloom corn, wheat, and rye. We use Redeemer wheat from Whites Fields Farm in Massachusetts and Wapsie Valley corn from Nitty Gritty Grains in Vermont. Stone milling preserves a lot of nutrients and can bring new flavors and aromas to bread and pastry. It also brings new challenges. Flour is no longer an inert and consistent staple you order from a distributor. You have to constantly adjust and experiment, which for me, is just fascinating, sometimes frustrating, but never boring. In addition to stone milling, we do other cruel things to grain: we sprout it, ferment it in porridge, even soak it in lime and grind it. While whole grains are generally considered healthier, what we are ultimately after is creating something memorable. We want people to remember how our stuff tastes, smells, even sounds.
Do you like being part of what has been termed “The Emerald Street Revival,” with eclectic businesses nearby?
It’s a great artisan community that has populated Emerald Street, echoing its manufacturing past. Salt and Lime is grinding its sausages, Terra Nova is roasting its beans, Mudita is working on the body — a lot of busy artisan hands-on Emerald Street! Like most startups, we needed space, and we needed it at a rate that was affordable. And parking here is good, too. I underestimated the importance of free parking. I can’t tell you how many people say the best thing about the bakery is the free parking.
How many people do you have on staff?
We currently have three — Emma, Kaleb and me — and just hired a fourth, Renée. They are fantastic and make this whole enterprise possible. We have many dogs in the pack!
Before the pandemic hit, you were offering baking workshops. Do you plan to restart them when the all-clear is given?
We were doing them on Wednesday nights. They are a blend of baking class and cocktail hour. They usually run for two-and-a-half hours and are capped at 12 people. Some came looking for a relaxing night out, and others came to really hone their baking. Once we’re all together, we experiment and learn about sourdough and pastry or make pizza while we drink some wine, chat and generally just have fun. If I can share some of the excitement of baking, the adventure of it, then I consider a class a success. The process of learning should be messy and fun. Kids know this, but sometimes we adults forget. We’ve been really missing that part of our business. Of all the things we had to modify because of the pandemic … that was the one thing we couldn’t do any other way. Hopefully, we can re-start sometime in 2021
How have you had to adjust your business in light of the pandemic?
We’ve been very fortunate. We never closed and kept everyone on staff. We had to reorganize the store for online ordering and pick up/delivery for a few months. Once we reopened retail, we created a large buffer zone between staff and customers. But mostly we just kept doing what we do. Interestingly, our online ordering system has remained popular, probably because of the convenience it offers. If you prefer, you can order online the day before and just pick up your goods the next morning. But if you miss the sights and smells of the bakery and lingering over the selections and just chatting with us, you can do that too.
Do you have plans to expand your services?
Yes, but not at the location. We want to get involved with the public schools, have kids come into the bakery. We want to restart the workshops, too. One thing that has come out of the pandemic and the protests is we want to be more socially engaged. We are involved with Bakers Against Racism, a loose coalition of bakers hosting virtual bake sales and donating the proceeds to organizations that are fighting racism. It’s a great initiative and one that helps connect local businesses to a larger social dialogue. In the future, we hope to use this format to raise awareness and funds for issues we feel strongly about, whether it’s racial inequality, climate change, homelessness or food insecurity.