Their alarm goes off while the moon is still high.
It is the wee hours of the morning, 3 a.m., but pastry chefs Kate and Gates Rickard have just arrived at work. As the corners of the sky turn their first shades of pink, the husband-and-wife team fire up their oven. Soon, the tops of the sourdough loaves, ciabatta rolls and long baguettes they shape by hand will have turned a golden brown.
By 7 a.m., the bread is cooled, bagged and loaded into their van for delivery to both Cronig’s markets. Mr. Rickard, who does all the deliveries himself, stocks the shelves with loaves still warm and heads to Reliable Market in Oak Bluffs. He arrives just in time for chef Jackson Kenworth of the Slice of Life Cafe to walk down Circuit avenue, buy a multigrain loaf and toast a slice to eat with his egg sunny side up.
“It’s the first thing I have now,” Mr. Kenworth said. “It’s incredible. His bread is incredible.”
The breads — lavash and olive loaves, breadsticks and crostini — are creating a buzz among Island eaters and local restaurant owners. Crusty and rustic, they are baked fresh each morning. Whatever does not sell is removed from stores and restaurants by evening. “It is, without a doubt, the real thing,” Mr. Kenworth said.
The Rickards, who recently set up shop in a new bakery and office space, are ready to keep that buzz going.
“Between us, we have a lot of knowledge. We can do anything,” said Mrs. Rickard, 29.
With two sons under four years old and a new wholesale baking business on her resume, there is no reason to doubt her.
“Our goal is to be the pastry chefs for the Island,” she said of the dream she shares with her husband of nearly five years.
The Rickards met over baking. Raised on Long Island, Mrs. Rickard was first introduced to the restaurant industry at age 14 when she took a job bussing tables at a cousin’s restaurant. After starting college as an English major, Mrs. Rickard transferred to Johnson & Wales University, a culinary institute in Providence, R.I.
She enrolled in a baking and pastry science class and, chronically late, arrived one day well after class had begun. It was like something out of a nightmare: the professor stopped talking and all of the students looked up. Mrs. Rickard scanned the room for an empty desk.
She found one next to Gates Rickard who, like his future wife, was also a transfer student. He had started school at Boston University, where he studied philosophy and psychology and found a job at a hole-in-the-wall bakery nearby. “It calmed me a bit,” he said of the job, his first professional baking experience. “It’s sort of meditative in a way, to make bread.”
At the end of the class, Mrs. Rickard asked her neighbor if he liked jazz. Yes, he replied enthusiastically. “We were best friends for a year and a half and then we started dating and then, after three months of dating, we got engaged,” Mrs. Rickard said. Mr. Rickard, who is the shyer and calmer of the two, chuckled quietly.
“Later, he finally told me that he didn’t actually like jazz,” she laughed.
“When a pretty girl asks if you like jazz,” he said with a smile and a shrug, “you say yes.”
The couple went to Belgium together to finish their last semester of school and spent the following year traveling throughout Switzerland and to London where they took odd jobs and experienced as much of the culinary scene as they could afford. “We lived for food and wine when we were there, we soaked it up,” said Mrs. Rickard.
They returned to America, moved into the South End of Boston and Mr. Rickard found a job as a pastry chef. They got married and life seemed good.
For a few days.
The Sunday following their wedding, the restaurant where Mr. Rickard worked announced it was closing. That Wednesday, their landlord called. He wanted to move back into their apartment. Four days later, Mrs. Rickard learned she was pregnant. “We had to move, get a new job and we were pregnant,” Mr. Rickard said. “It was a lot.”
An opening at Lure at the Winnetu Resort in Edgartown brought the couple, along with their two-week-old baby, to the Vineyard in late spring 2004. While Mr. Rickard was at work, Mrs. Rickard began a small business from their home selling chocolates and the occasional wedding cake.
The next season, Mr. Kenworth hired Mr. Rickard as the pastry chef for his sister restaurants, the upscale Sweet Life Cafe at the end of Circuit avenue and the casual Slice of Life Cafe across the street. To make ends meet, Mrs. Rickard began waiting tables at the Sweet Life and continued to sell her confections.
But money was tight, the hours long and the couple had added a second child to their brood. “Honestly, we couldn’t swing it,” Mrs. Rickard said. They put their house on the market.
Soon after, Mr. Kenworth and his wife Mary sold the Sweet Life. Mr. Rickard continued to work at Slice of Life, the restaurant the Kenworths continued to operate, but he missed the experience of creating and plating gourmet desserts and the couple lost the additional income Mrs. Rickard brought in as a waitress.
When a few months went by without an offer on their house, the couple was forced to get creative. On Valentine’s Day weekend last year, the couple took a loaf of Mr. Rickard’s bread to Cronig’s Market. The grocery store agreed to sell their bread at both locations.
Within weeks of the freshly baked bread appearing on shelves in its signature plastic bags hand tied with a bit of jute, the restaurants began calling. Opportunity was knocking and the Rickards yanked down that for-sale sign.
They began a search for a bakery and office space, but it proved difficult to find something affordable and available that met their needs. Until they did, Mr. Kenworth offered the Rickards the use of the kitchen at Slice. Every day that summer, Mr. Rickard arrived at the restaurant for the dinner shift. He plated desserts and waited until the last customer left for the evening. Then, he transformed the kitchen into a bakery, churning out baguettes and ciabatta loaves and, later, whole wheat, rosemary potato and marble rye breads through the late night hours. He cleared out again in time for the restaurant to open its doors for the breakfast rush.
“It was lonely,” Mrs. Rickard said. “We just savor our time together and he didn’t get to see us, or anyone for that matter. He was alone in the kitchen all night. I missed brushing our teeth together.”
“But,” the baker said, “I knew we were working towards something and it would get better.”
He was right. By the end of the summer, the couple bought an outdoor patio set with the money they had made.
“One night, though, after a few months of this, I was sitting out there alone and I just thought, this is nice, but I would rather have my old table and be with him,” Mrs. Rickard said.
Luckily, fate intervened.
The Rickards donate the bread that does not sell to the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. One day last November, while dropping off a donation, a woman at community services told Mrs. Rickard about a building in Vineyard Haven whose tenants, a party rental company, were moving.
“This whole building was filled with stuff,” Mr. Rickard said this week from the upstairs room the couple now uses as an office.
“But,” Mrs. Rickard interjected, “we walked in and it was like, we could see an oven here.”
The building is a warehouse. Down a dirt road behind the former Natural Food Barn in Vineyard Haven, it looks like someone picked it up from an industrial neighborhood in Boston and plopped it down on the Vineyard. From the outside, there is no way to tell that inside, the place smells like a country kitchen, yeasty and warm. Loaves of bread, crusty on the inside and light and soft on the inside, line the shelves waiting to be toasted and smeared with jam or dunked into homemade soups.
The space is 4,000 square feet. It includes a finished office and an expansive baking and preparation area. From their four-deck oven, the largest on the Island, they said, the Rickards churn out 1,500 loaves each day. By the end of the summer, they hope that number will grow to 10,000.
The counters are spotless and each ingredient — semolina, baking powder and whole wheat flour — is labeled by hand. A showroom for wedding cakes and a chocolate room will be operational by the fall.
The couple signed a five-year lease in February and moved in on April 23. Until then, Mr. Rickard continued to bake through the night in the Slice of Life kitchen to meet the demand of the stores and restaurants.
“We both wanted to own our own business before we met each other. Then, when we met each other, we wanted to go into business together,” Mrs. Rickard said. “It was our dream for 10 years. It’s something we always wanted. We did what we could to make it work.”
The couple now sells under the name Rickard’s Wholesale Bakery. Their breads can be found at both Cronig’s Markets, at Reliable and at the new Waterside Market on Main street in Vineyard Haven. Their loaf breads are on the menus of Slice of Life and Alchemy, their rolls accompany pasta dishes at Rocco’s on Beach Road, and their bread sticks are on the tables of the Vineyard Golf Club and the Harbor View Hotel. When it opens, Fiddlehead Farm in West Tisbury also will carry their line.
Last week, the couple added breakfast breads, muffins and scones to their offerings. And in the future, they plan to sell desserts, everything from cookies to cheesecakes, at the grocery stores. An Internet service is also in the works.
Hopefully by summer, the couple will hire a pastry chef and a manager so they can sleep until the sun rises.
“At the end of the day, it is just bread,” Mrs. Rickard said. “But, to know that people like it and will do something with it gives me the thought that this could be successful.”