As I enter Katić Breads a barefoot little girl flits about the immaculate furniture store turned bakery, quite literally covered in a light dusting flour, and exuding a sense of ease that only comes from being among family.
“This is my daughter Sophia,” says Head-Baker, Dušan Katić with a smirk.
Sophia scribbles on a chalkboard as her father laminates croissant dough on an industrial sheeter. Her mother, Carissa, quietly checks on their naturally-leavened sourdough production a few steps away. When asked to name her favorite thing her mother and father make in the bakery, the dainty girl pauses for just a moment and declares, “a chocolate almond croissant,” before twirling off in another direction.
Mere moments into my Aurora, Illinois bakery visit I knew I wasn’t there to chat with folks about flour and yeast. It was instantly apparent Katić Breads prizes more than simple ingredients; its a business built on the spirit of family and celebrates a balance between tradition and innovation.
During a stint in the French Private Military, Katić took a hike in the Brittany region in the northwest of France and stopped midway to enjoy an outdoor lunch. As he savored a simple meal of salty charcuterie, sweet fruit, and fresh bread he experienced a lunch time epiphany. Katić began to consider food in general and the emotional impact of what we put in our body. As he surveyed the components of his lunch, Katić recognized they were sourced, not from a catch-all grocery store, but from highly-specialized artisans.
Each bite served as a reminder to the budding baker...at one time everyone knew their baker, the baker’s wife, and the baker’s children. Buying weekly baked goods was not just a way to sustain your own family, but an act of supporting another family whom customers knew and cared about; artisans mattered.
“We have become cultural orphans,” says Katić, “and I realized people need to reconnect with the human component necessary to properly fuel their bodies.”
In short, Katić realized the French were really onto something; they enjoy a better quality of life because they are enjoying better quality food. Katić began embracing the philosophy that honest food made from natural ingredients with caring hands had the ability to lift a person out of a depression; the alternative just causes one. He is committed to improving the quality of what goes into his body every day.
“It wasn’t until I had inspiring food that I felt inspired to make food myself.” admits Katić.
While he may have been inspired, his first breads were just awful. With further experimentation, however, his products continued to improve.
After his return from France and trial-and-error experimentation, Katić took a job in a bakery in central Illinois. While the bakery was known for creating fairly basic breads, the establishment afforded Katić the production volume to improve faster and the freedom to learn from his mistakes. Over time he was given creative liberty in the bakery and revolutionized their approach to almond croissants. He worked diligently until he “nailed it” and took the bakery’s weekly almond croissant production from 250 to 2500 units per week.
Despite his success, Katić maintains it is impossible to be perfect every-time, but he crafts croissants in batches of 100 with perfection in mind. He starts with American-made European-style butter and other high quality ingredients, but relies heavily on timing and touch to ensure a good result. A good baker can feel the quality of every dough; eking out perfection in a laminated dough requires perfect timing to ensure the proper fat to dough ratio exists in each of the 27 layers created in every batch of croissants.
By now the hallmarks of a perfect croissant are easily identifiable to Katić . A proper croissant should have distinctive layers that can be pulled back easily and appear almost empty inside. Most importantly, croissant layers should collapse with every bite shattering crisp, buttery flakes all over your shirt. Katić insists croissant flakes should be worn with pride.
Katić met his wife, Carissa over a shared love of bread.
“She asked me a question about sourdough,” says Katić , “and over time I saw she had work ethic and passion.”
A year later they were married and today the duo of bakers share two daughters, Sophia and Felicity. Early on, the young couple rented a bakery oven and began making goods to sell at farmers markets. Their artisan products, like the Felicity Croissant filled with salted camel and pastry cream, made them popular at a myriad of markets. At one point, the couple sold their breads and sweets at 52 different markets, but scaled it back to 11 in an effort to find a better work-life balance. Seeking “enough” gave the Katićs everything they wanted; downsizing allowed the couple to see their customers more, enjoy their company on a personal level, and build their own Katić Bread-loving community.
Thankfully the Oak Park Farmers Market made the cut.
The Katićs are in the business of building relationships and the Oak Park Farmers Market holds a special place in their hearts. There was a time Katić had over extended himself and became sick from exhaustion.
“Our Oak Park customers are like friends and deeply loyal to our product,” say Katić, “they all told me to get my rest and assured me they would wait from us to come back.”
The young family appreciates the care Oak Park Farmers Market shoppers have for their craftsmen; they feel real empathy going back and forth when they are at the market in Oak Park.
“Sure if a child cries for a chocolate croissant they’ll get a chocolate croissant from me every-time,” says Katić, “but I won’t be giving children breads filled with corn syrup; how could I look my Oak Park customers in the eye if I did that?”
Katić is one baker, among a small number of artisan bread makers who are not interested in blowing up. He and Carissa are first and foremost interested in creating food with spirit and believe care is an ingredient people can taste. Rather than watering down their business for the sake of quantity, soulful bakers like Katić and his family employ their uncompromising standards to age their bakeries slowly by focusing on improving the products they make and sell.
“Bread alone is not bread; a loaf of bread is not a single serving,” says Katić , “bread only reaches it zenith when it is shared among people.”
Take some time to get to know your bakers; the Katić family puts care into every product they make and supporting them should become part of your weekly routine.
- Katic Breads at the Oak Park Farmers Market
- Professional Photographs courtesy of Katić Breads by Monica Kass Rogers Photography