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Bakers join crowded Ashland market

ASHLAND — Warm, yeasty aromas of fresh-baked bread entice workers still painting the A Street building.

Garrett, Michelle and Miles Furuichi moved in just yesterday, but Deux Chats bakery already smells like home.

Baker Michelle Furuichi takes a pan of golden, crusty baguettes from the oven and leans down in anticipation of the tell-tale crackle of loaves exposed to cooler air. Hearing only a hiss, she turns her attention to focaccia dough in the next room.

"Mom, they're starting to crackle," 12-year-old son Miles says a few moments later.

The only family members who aren't in on the fun are the bakery's namesake cats, Buddy and Dizzy. They may be home-bound, but a whimsical portrait Furuichi designed of the "two cats" became the business logo.

Furuichi's career in design and packaging no longer satisfied once she and her husband turned 50. Looking to fulfill a life-long love of baking and yearning for a sense of community, the family relocated to Ashland in September from Reno, Nev. Ashland's relatively crowded bakery scene — about a half-dozen businesses — didn't worry the Furuichis, who embrace one of Garrett's favorite adages, "A rising tide raises all boats."

The rising food-industry trend toward local products emboldened the Furuichis, who approached Rogue Creamery in Central Point about a wholesale partnership. In a bid to deliver a unique product to the creamery, Michelle Furuichi improvised a method for transforming focaccia bread into crackers.

"It really came to us when we came here," she says. "The thing about baking is ... it's invention all the time."

"We like the cracker because it pairs well with fruit, cheese and wine," Garrett Furuichi says.

The creamery admired Deux Chats' flavor profiles, combinations previously unknown in the Rogue Valley, says Francis Plowman, director of marketing and merchandise.

"We were happy to find some crackers ... that were very high quality and made in Southern Oregon," Plowman says.

As creamery customers snapped them up, Deux Chats gourmet focaccia crackers became the bakery's flagship product. Of 10 varieties, two crackers incorporate Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue and sharp cheddar cheeses in the recipe.

"I think people are willing to pay for quality," Plowman says, adding that the creamery sells 4.5-ounce boxes of crackers for $8 apiece.

Michelle Furuichi didn't stop with crackers. Using organic flours, Deux Chats turned out baguettes for the creamery, followed by panettone, stollen and kuglehopf for Christmas. Galettes made good use of apples and pears from Ashland's Valley View Orchard.

"That is really another reason why we came to Oregon," she says, referring to the abundance of local produce.

"This is right here; it's very charming."

Adding Ashland Food Co-op, Allyson's Kitchen and Harry and David's Country Village to its list of wholesalers, Deux Chats outgrew a rent-a-kitchen in Talent within a matter of months. They planned to outfit their new A Street digs for retail by this spring, but in light of massive renovations that will virtually block street traffic for several months, Deux Chats likely won't open to the public until summer, the Furuichis say.

"Our move here ... is very instrumental to take that next step in growth," Michelle Furuichi says.

In the meantime, Furuichi — a graduate of San Francisco Baking Institute and member of the Bread Baker's Guild of America — plans a cooking class at Ashland Food Co-op next month, as well as student workshops at Miles' school, Willow Wind Community Learning Center. Eventually, classes amid the friendly, French-country decor of their own location will follow, the Furuichis say.

"We now need to re-educate people on how to eat good bread," Michelle Furuichi says.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Deux Chats baker Michelle Furuichi anticipates the crackle of fresh-baked baguettes. - Bob Pennell