Operas and Ovens
An artisan shares her love for baking bread
Mayhew’s microbakery’s name, LMNOP, was inspired by reciting the alphabet with her children during homework time.
Photos by Rana Faure
Finding employment in the costume shops of places like the Saint Louis Opera, Anne Mayhew followed a career path that zig-zagged around the country. Where possible, she landed side jobs for extra money, sometimes in commercial food shops and restaurant kitchens. “I was a cheesemonger in Minneapolis at one point,” she recalls, of a time that almost led her to a career in fashion design. But then there was a broken engagement. She fled to Manhattan and landed a job at the Metropolitan Opera.
Mayhew had studied costuming and architecture in college. She’d majored in sculpture and after earning a master’s of fine arts in fiber, a Fulbright scholarship took her Paris to study. Back then, the last thing on her mind was baking bread. She’d fallen completely in love with the millinery arts. “I wasn’t doing much with food back then,” she says. “Just eating well.”
Fast forward ten years to a kitchen in Katonah. On the days she is not working in the costume shop for the Metropolitan Opera, Mayhew, a multi-tasking mother of three, runs a home-based micro bakery known as LMNOP. Baking a weekly assortment of bread inspires Mayhew after days spent creating sword belts, armor, and “funky leatherwork from scratch” for the opera.
“I’m referred to as a craftsperson in the business. I don’t make props,” Mayhew says. She builds the visions of the designers. Recently she helped replicate an elaborate necklace for M. Butterfly.
“In the kitchen I have total control of my product,” Mayhew says. “I can decide what’s inside the loaf, and no one is supervising me. I create the flavor.” Her bread business has grown like wildfire—and all by word of mouth. She now has 150 customers who order 70 loaves a week.
On Sundays, the family detritus of toys and school backpacks are swept aside to make way for bulk mixing and baking which occurs nightly until Tuesday delivery. Mayhew distributes her customers’ orders via Kelloggs & Lawrence and John Boy’s Outpost.
“The idea for LMNOP started when our child, Max, was just a bun in the oven,” Mayhew says. “In the old days, an outdoor baking oven was the center of the town. Families brought their loaves to be baked, and to keep track, each person scored a personal mark on the top of the loaf before the baker put it in the oven.”
Historically, the town bread oven was also a place for chat and news gathering among neighbors. Mayhew’s vision for the future is a hybrid of the old ways and some new ones. “I want to expand LMNOP to become a bakery and a learning facility where great teachers and professionals can share their knowledge of bread and baking through workshops.”
She hosted a series of sourdough classes in her kitchen, and the response to her initial email inquiry was overwhelming. It led to more sold-out sessions which now run every other week. Mayhew, a “bread whisperer,” says that baking is science. Her weekly menu offerings vary from specialties like a hibernation loaf that contains seeds, nuts, and dried fruit to a red chocolate-beet loaf for Valentine’s Day. Polenta-parmesan bread and fig-walnut bread are also popular.
“Sourdough is an American term for a naturally leavened bread,” Mayhew says. “We cut out all the junk. We keep it simple. Our bread is good for the gut, and people have an easier time digesting it as a result. Even people with gluten issues can often eat it with no trouble.”
“Making a loaf of bread doesn’t pay as much as selling one crazy dress I’ve designed, but it fills a different need,” Mayhew says. She relies on photographer husband Jesse to manage the business. “I’m trying to train him to make bread, but he doesn’t have his dough hands quite yet.”
Most days, their kitchen has some warm bread and fresh butter on hand to share, and it doesn’t take long for it to disappear. Lucky are the neighbors who benefit from an incredible smell of baking in the air and some frequent gifts of sourdough bread, left hanging on their doorknobs.