Latvian rye bread conquers America

For ten years now, American stores have been selling rye-bread prepared according to a Latvian recipe. The bread is baked in a bakery shop located in Brooklyn, New York. It was introduced to the bakery by a Latvian-born professor at the University of Maryland, Jānis Melngailis. Latvian Television caught up with him at “Rodman's”, a chain store situated on the outskirts of Washington. 

Jānis' story began many years ago, when he came to America in the aftermath of World War II and his mother ruled out that no loaf sold in local stores was suited to Latvian tastes.

“We came here in 1950, and the only bread they had in stores was the plain soft bread which of course was not to our taste, and my mother began... well, she wasn't a baker, she was a pharmacist by trade, and had had her own business back in Latvia, but she learned to bake rye bread, and continued baking till the end of her life. When she died in 1987, I started looking for other sources,” said Melngailis.

Jānis sought out and bought bread from other Latvians expatriates who knew how to make it, and later came across the “Lāči” bread in American stores, which he showed to his colleague one day. “One of my colleagues, who was a chemist and worked at a business school, said: “It's amazing. We should have it in all stores!” I had no idea, since I am a physicist and electrical engineer. And that's how we started,” Melngailis reminisced.

But getting the bread into stores was not an easy task. Out of more than 23 stores, only 7 were convinced to sell the produce, and even that with Jānis being present and advertising it. Then the dollar fell. It was no longer feasible to import the “Lāči” bread, and Jānis looked for local bakers who could realize the Latvian recipe. He found Eastern-European bakers in Brooklyn.

“I called them and asked if they know how to make Latvian-style rye-bread, and they said: “Konečno!” (“Sure” in Russian). I brought them the “Lāči” bread as an example. They were puzzled by the fact that it was made from rye only. I called the chief baker, and after four tries, he succeeded. And so they have now been baking bread for us for nearly ten years. We are selling it mostly in shops in New York, but also in Washington, where I currently reside, and Boston, where my brother lives,” said Melngailis.

 

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