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Bakery’s new item: 16 tons of oven

Stuart Witt (left), co-owner of Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord, toasts (and points to) Robert Kaiser (right), who came from France to install the bakery’s new Fours Fringand oven. Stuart Witt (left), co-owner of Nashoba Brook Bakery in West Concord, toasts (and points to) Robert Kaiser (right), who came from France to install the bakery’s new Fours Fringand oven. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By Jane Dornbusch
Globe Correspondent / April 21, 2010

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WEST CONCORD — What weighs 16 tons, is made in France, and turns out 320 loaves an hour? It’s an oven, of course. But the Fringand Olympic is not just any oven. This brick-and-copper-faced beauty is the brand-new workhorse at Nashoba Brook Bakery, a retail and wholesale operation that produces 4,000 loaves daily. The oven doubles the bakery’s bread-making capacity, and, according to Stuart Witt, a co-owner and baker, it arrived not a moment too soon.

“We were desperate for more oven space,’’ says Witt. Sales of the bakery’s crusty, rustic bread grew 25 percent last year. The little cafe on the banks of the Nashoba Brook — so close that last month’s floods put the outdoor patio under water — accounts for only about one-fifth of bread sales; the remaining loaves are sold in area markets.

The new Fringand Olympic was fired for the first time last week. Witt and fellow owner John Gates (the two have been friends since high school) considered other models before deciding to add a Fringand to the one they already had. The $90,000 oven is manufactured by Fours Fringand in Illange, a town in northeast France. It is to a home oven what a Bradley tank is to a Mini Cooper.

Importing the oven and getting it set up was no easy feat. It was shipped, unassembled, to New York earlier this year. No project this large can go smoothly and this was no exception. It was held up in customs for reasons that were never made clear to Gates and Witt (they suspect it had to do with homeland security). Unpacking and repacking caused a bit of damage and rust. The owners approach to the business balances serious and laid-back, so they took this in stride. “But I knew it would all work out,’’ says Gates.

Robert Kaiser, a Fringand engineer who’s been traveling the globe building ovens for more than 40 years, came to assemble it (talk about customer service), which took nearly two weeks. He and a team of local contractors were putting the final touches on the oven last week as they prepared to fire it. It takes two days to reach baking temperature, and more than three to cool down. The original Nashoba Brook oven has never been cool in the dozen years since the bakery opened.

The calm and dapper Kaiser made some last adjustments to the controls, then changed out of his engineer’s coveralls to enjoy a sparkling toast with the team and the bakers. Through a translator, he said he has built some 20 ovens a year over his long tenure. Gates notes with awe that Kaiser doesn’t refer to blueprints or plans while he builds.

Witt is excited as he describes steam pipes that create even heat, jets that inject steam into the oven, a ceramic oven floor that holds baking loaves and crisps them better than any pan. The mood is celebratory as everyone raises cups of bubbly. Someone offers a benediction.

“May God bless this oven.’’

Nashoba Brook Bakery, 152 Commonwealth Ave., West Concord, 978-318-1999. Breads also available at Whole Foods Market and Hannaford locations; A. Russo & Sons, 560 Pleasant St., Watertown, 617-923-1500; and Wilson Farms, 60 Pleasant St., Lexington, 781-862-3900; and other stores.