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Posted on Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Renner's baguettes rise again: New oven puts Ann Arbor bread maker back in business

By Janet Miller


Jeff Renner's bread is back in production thanks to his new oven, allowing him to sell the bread last week for the first time since August.

Janet Miller | For

For fans of Jeff Renner’s French baguettes, the end of summer was a time of loss.

Renner’s 45-year-old oven had baked its last baguette and it took Renner a month to find a replacement.

"People told me they were forced to eat other bread, and they didn’t like it,” said Renner, who runs the operation out of a commercial kitchen inside his Scio Township home.

But Renner was back to baking what he calls “The Best French Bread in Town” last week, making his first deliveries since mid-August.

While he’s still getting to know his new Hobart pizza oven, he’s back to full production of 80 loaves a day, albeit a little rusty (he forgot to slice the tops of the first batch).


Jeff Renner makes 80 loaves a day in his home-based bakery in Scio Township.

Janet Miller | For

Renner has a cult following who claim that his crispy crusted and flavorful baguette rivals that of a better-known bakehouse with a national reputation across town.

But Renner is not trying to out-zing anyone. He makes only French baguettes, limits it to 80 loaves a day, four days a week and keeps it a one-man operation.

He’s even looking to retire in a few years, but hopes to hand the operation over to someone else.

“Customers have told me I can’t retire, that they’ll chain me to the oven,” Renner said.

He resisted buying a new oven that can cost $8,000 because the time he plans to continue baking bread for commercial purposes didn’t justify the expense. It wouldn’t have paid for itself anytime soon.

Instead, Renner used the Internet to scout for a used oven. He had bought his first oven used - it was 17 years old and had been used at a Little Caesar’s restaurant - and it had served him well.

He looked around Michigan and Chicago until the brother-in-law of his brother-in-law tipped him off to a Lansing restaurant supplier who had a 12-year-old oven that was still in the box.

While it cost $3,000, twice what he had planned, it was much less than a new oven, Renner said. He figures it will add another 10 cents to the cost of each loaf, but he doesn’t plan to pass that along to his customers. His bread retails for $2.99 a loaf.

It’s a small-scale, home-based bread making operation that began after Renner baked bread for bake sales at his children’s nursery school. He was a stay-at-home dad, and other parents asked if they could special order the bread. He began selling in eight-loaf batches.

He eventually began selling it at a limited number of retail outlets, rarely going over the 80-loaf a day limit that keeps it manageable, Renner said. He also sells to area caterers. It’s been a business since 1982.

It’s Renner’s own recipe, borrowing heavily from Julia Child and the recipe that came with the baking pans he bought at Kitchen Port years ago. The ingredients are simple: flour, water, yeast, salt and a tiny pinch of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), a dough enhancer.

So what makes Renner’s bread so different - and so good? Time and limiting the amount of yeast, he said. He makes the dough the night before and lets it rise 18 hours. He uses less yeast than even other artisanal breads.

“It gives all the other natural microorganisms in the flour a chance to make their contribution,” Renner said. And he doesn’t over knead it so the gluten doesn’t break down.

Renner is also a master beer maker, again combining yeast and grains. “The both come from a common interest,” Renner said. “They both are about making things by combining creativity and science.”

Renner’s bread is sold retail at two locations: Arbor Farms (delivery is at 3:30 and 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday) and Village Corner (delivery is at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and Friday). He also delivers eight-loaf orders around Ann Arbor (the baguettes freeze well).



Mon, Oct 11, 2010 : 2:25 p.m.

@aatownie: "This is the true French baguette now almost impossible to find in France where they are now mostly made in a industrial and not artisanal method. Thank you Jeff!" If you go to a small village bakery you'll still find the authentic baguette, along with a large variety of country breads and sometimes, depending on if the bakery has a sweets baker, a selection of wonderful cakes and cookies. But to agree with you, if you end up at a grocery store like Champion or Carrefour or such, then, yes, you'll be eating crap for bread. Same goes for cheese and the like.


Fri, Oct 8, 2010 : 8:45 a.m.

I've worshipped with Jeff at Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor for over a decade, and he generously bakes a small round loaf for communion. The remnants of the Host *never* go to waste. :-)


Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 3:43 p.m.

OK folks, just drove to Arbor Farms and caught him as he wheeled in with a warm warm warm fresh load. Wow, just perfect. Soft tangy inside, crispy perfectly crunchy crust, but not too thick you have to wrestle to bite through like so many other "fresh" baguettes.


Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 9:12 a.m.

I adore french bread but in recent years have given up on finding great and settled for good. I am already trying to figure how to get in to pick up a couple (I can usually tell if I'll like it be a few "thumps" with forefinger and thumb, and if I do, I KNOW I'll eat a loaf "just to test it" so I'd better have a spare for my husband when I get home). Sounds like I'd better be there at delivery time. I may be coming from Milan but it sounds like it's more than worth it. My 25 minute commute should be just the right amount of driving time to "test" a loaf.

Jeff Renner

Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 8:18 a.m.

@ bunnyabbot - I still make these three pound "country loaves. I deliver four of them each Friday to Arbor Farms, and last Friday they all were taken before I could get them out of the cart. They sell for $6.95. The can be cut into quarters and frozen, and make wonderful toast. In the past, I made far more than four a week for Lagniappe, as well as Village Corner and Coleman's, but demand declined. I can increase production again if demand increases. Or you can order directly from me - four loaves for $24. See the "Best French Bread in Town" Facebook page for a photo.


Tue, Oct 5, 2010 : 12:07 a.m.

I remember purchasing a big round loaf of bread (like 14" dia) of Renner bread at Lagniappe (sp) 15-20 years ago. What was it and do you still make that one? ever? We always bought one within hours of delivery b/c they would sell out so quickly. THAT was my favorite bread.


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 8:05 p.m.

I recommend purchasing at least two loaves at a time. I have (seriously!) eaten a LOAF OF THIS BREAD on the way home from Arbor Farms. Granted, that 1.2 mile commute can be a killer....just sayin'! Bravo Jeff! Bravo! Welcome back, you were missed.

David Briegel

Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 5:29 p.m.

BobbyJohn, of course you are correct, but with TLC you can have that wonderful treat anytime!

Jeff Renner

Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 5:13 p.m.

More answers - You may order eight loaf batches from me for $18 for pickup after 4:15 PM at my Scio Township bakery or delivery for $3 within a limited area of the west side. I generally have limited extra capacity Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, so ordering in advance is essential. Phone 665-5805. I think it freezes extremely well if you wrap it well, then thaw unwrapped about 45 minutes and lightly refresh it for 3-5 minutes (depending on how crisp/crunchy you like the crust) at 350F. The crust will be soft when it comes out of the oven but will crips up as it cools. Wait until it cools a bit before slicing so it doesn't lose too much moisture. It's not as good as fresh, but I think it's still pretty good. An alternate method is to heat it unwrapped for 10 minutes while it is still frozen. This will result in a crunchy crust. For years, the majority of my business was to individuals in eight-loaf batches. I suggest to people that keeping some baguettes in the freezer for last minute use is like keeping a case of everyday wine under the basement steps. You can pull one out when the mood strikes you.

Jeff Renner

Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 5 p.m.

Answers to some questions - Yes, the bakery, which is a separate part of the attached garage in our house, is inspected and licensed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. The wiring to the elements on the lower heating unit shorted out. My repairman refused to work on it because it was so old, but a friend, whose family business is the manufacture of industrial furnaces, repaired it once, but then it failed again. He rewired the entire lower unit, but it still didn't heat properly. There were probably some broken elements. It was just going to be too much to expect of him to continue, and I wanted to get back in business. But he took the old oven to work on for himself, which saved me the trouble of disposing of it.


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 1:55 p.m.

Jeff's bread is great, but freezing and reheating is a POOR substitute for fresh, I have to say. I just do 1 fresh loaf at a time.

suzanne murray

Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 1:48 p.m.

2 questions (for now) 1) In what way did #1 one oven 'fail'? 2) Is your home (basement?)transformed to be 'commercial?


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 11:42 a.m.

Great bread..How do you order for delivery?


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 11:41 a.m.

How much for an eight-loaf order? And how would one go about ordering it? (Though I guess since Jeff Renner is reading this, I could just order it in the comments.;-)


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 11:08 a.m.

Oh, these baguettes are SO delicious...glad you're back in business!!


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 9:58 a.m.

I went to school with Jeff's son Matt. I remember Mr. Renner came to our third grade and taught us how to make bagels :)


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 8:52 a.m.

This is the true French baguette now almost impossible to find in France where they are now mostly made in a industrial and not artisanal method. Thank you Jeff!

David Briegel

Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

The Best! I've been known to take a bite on my way home!!

Jeff Renner

Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 8:26 a.m.

@ Cobo127 - Yes, I taught science, as well as English, social studies and American history, at Tappan during the 70's. I took Ann Arbor school system's first paternity leave in 1975 and came back for a semester in 1977 before staying at home for good as a stay-at-home dad.

Patti Smith

Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 8:15 a.m.

This bread is awesome! And yes, Cobo127, I don't mean to speak for Jeff but I do know that he was a teacher in the 70s.

Somewhat Concerned

Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 8:03 a.m.

What a great story. Ann Arbor needs more of this sort of thing than it needs another national hamburger chain (Five Guys) or another sports bar for drunk students. And, there's plenty of room here for Zingerman's and Renner and more people trying to do really good work.


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 7:32 a.m.

Congratulations and welcome back Mr.Renner!


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 7:31 a.m.

My favorite french bread! Keep on baking Jeff!


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 7:28 a.m.

Is this the same Mr Renner that taught science at Tappan in the 70's?


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 6:29 a.m.

Sounds awesome!


Mon, Oct 4, 2010 : 5:52 a.m.

definitely the best french bread around!