By Paige Lavender and Katie Griffith | 3/16/10
At 5 a.m. each Thursday, Mimi Kibler exits her home and walks the short path to her bakery. While the rest of Parsons is still quiet, she gets to work measuring ingredients and kneading dough, preparing herself for over 15 hours of baking.
Her day is spent making hundreds of loaves of bread, working methodically to produce enough baked goods to supply a variety of shops and markets from Davis to Elkins.
She precisely measures each lump of dough in order to get the most out of her supplies, turning out loaves of whole-wheat sunflower, sun-dried tomato, ciabatta and even holiday-themed breads, the most recent being a Valentine’s Day loaf featuring chocolate and cherries.
The 53-year-old Parsons resident spent years perfecting various types of bread in her spare time while working a myriad of other jobs, none of which involved so much as a measuring cup.
The Maryland native first came to the Mountain State to study forestry at West Virginia University and pursue a career in that field. In 1985, she earned a degree in nursing and remained in the medical field for a decade.
While she considered her other job experiences invaluable, she always thought of baking bread as her forte and eventually decided to make the task her main profession.
“With bread, I think some people just love it, and you really just want to learn how it’s done,” she said. “That was me. I just went for it.”
From that initiative, LaFontaine Bakery was born.
Kibler at first considered relying solely on the baking knowledge she acquired as a girl when making plans to establish the business.
Her mother, who provided her with recipes for old-fashioned, European-style traditional breads at a young age, fostered Kibler’s fascination with bread. She enjoyed baking so much as a teen she would do it weekly, keeping a constant supply of sourdough starter in her refrigerator.
“I started making bread pretty early,” she said. “I made it a lot while I was in high school. I kind of went crazy for it.”
Eventually her interests in baking outgrew her kitchen, so she decided further her culinary knowledge by enrolling in a two-week class at the now-closed National Baking Center in Minnesota.
“It was totally different than anything I had done before,” she said. “I thought I knew all about bread before that, but in a way, I didn’t know anything.”
Before she ever walked through the doors of the Minneapolis school, Kibler had ideas about LaFontaine Bakery. She assumed she would open a store near her home in Parsons, but soon decided to take her business down a path better suited for the small town.
“I thought I would just be sitting there waiting on somebody to walk through the door, so I decided to make bread and deliver,” she said.
Kibler slowly gained customers by baking French-style breads and delivering them in the Parsons area. She chose to remain in the Tucker County town because of the familiarity of the place.
“We weren’t sure how the bakery was going to do anyway, so we just thought we’d stay in Parsons while we tried it just because it’s home,” she said.
Starting the bakery was not a simple task, and Kibler soon found she had to rely on friends from other local businesses for help with the necessary kitchen supplies. She talked with Walt Ranalli and Saundra Goss, who own Sirianni’s Pizza in Davis, and asked to rent out their kitchen one night a week while she worked to get the funds for proper baking equipment.
Every Thursday, Kibler and her husband Alain Kieny loaded their cars with poolish (prefermented dough), salt, sun-dried tomatoes and other supplies before making the 20-minute trek to Davis. After bidding Sirianni’s employees farewell and putting all her supplies in place, Kibler got to work baking bread.
She baked all night, sometimes until 5 a.m., and slept only when it was convenient. Occasionally her husband would help, providing her a couple hours of relief in a sleeping bag spread out on the kitchen floor.
When icy conditions prevented her from getting to Davis, she used the kitchen of CJ’s Pizzeria in Parsons. She kept this process up for three years, building up a customer base and sparking interest in patrons from Canaan Valley all the way to Elkins.
“When I think of it, it’s hard even to imagine transporting that stuff every week,” she said. “Can you imagine?”
These days, Kibler works in a small building next to her home, baking all day Thursday and delivering all day Friday. Her patrons are scattered throughout Tucker County and include Shop-N-Save, the Purple Fiddle and Sirianni’s, among others.
Sara Maze and her son Alex Gartman, owners of Good Energy Foods in Elkins, are also among Kibler’s customers. Gartman said the LaFontaine bread has continued to grow in popularity ever since it hit the store’s shelves nine years ago.
“Usually we’re saving bread for people as opposed to it sitting on a shelf,” he said. “People love her bread. She has a following.”
Kibler recognizes she has come a long way since the days of baking in her mother’s kitchen, but she still credits that time with her family as her inspiration. She named the bakery after her mother, whose maiden name was LaFontaine, and her brother, the late Michael LaFontaine Kibler.
Though she is proud to call her business LaFontaine Bakery, most don’t see it that way.
“No one ever uses the name,” she said. “They call it, you know, my bread. ‘Mimi’s bread.’”
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