"You probably need to eat something," the baker said. "I hope you'll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this....''
The baker in Raymond Carver's arguably best short story is initially something of an ogre in this story of loss and at the end redeems himself with the companionship of baked goods. He runs a bakery, and he comforts a grieving couple who have lost a young son in a traffic accident, offering hot rolls at midnight.
The baker in the short story is working baker's hours — found at midnight — just like the bakers at Shadeau Breads, which has been in business for a decade.
It's a narrow storefront tucked among the bars and clubs on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, where lights blaze throughout the early morning hours well after everything else has closed and where, on occasion, the still of the street is broken by the sound of gunfire, the flashing lights of police cruisers.
Step in during business hours (6 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday) and the baked goods beckon. Select a $3 loaf of bread — its crust browned, sharp and peaked in a dust of flour — and it will be swaddled in heavy brown paper, taped and handed over. Take a sniff before heading out the door — a bakery is one of the most companionable aromas on Earth.
But the small bakery's bread-and-butter are not so much the walk-in crowd but restaurants around town, especially downtown and in the nearby Cincinnati neighborhoods. They will bake 1,000 to 1,200 loaves of bread on weekends, 300 to 400 on weekdays. There are two full-time bakers, not including owner Bill Pritz, as well as a full-time counter person, two part-time delivery drivers and others, eight in all. Most of the eight are a nocturnal lot — the bakers, certainly, arrive anywhere from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and remain until 5 in the morning.
"I'm completely opposite hours from the rest of Main Street," Pritz says. "I've been baking a long time. I just sort of wandered into it. And stayed with it."
But business along Main Street, he maintains, still hasn't recovered from the riots of April 2001, following the shooting of an unarmed black youth. There is dismay in his voice. And there are the bakery chains.
"I knew I wanted to be downtown," he says. "The riots were the worst thing. We're at the point where any business is better than none. We're at the point of taking it in a different direction of some kind. I've tried to keep it as central as possible.
"You look at where the action is now, it's way out there in Mason, West Chester. I have no intentions of moving out there. It's the last place I think about going."
CINCINNATI AT NIGHT is a photography series organized by Jon C. Hughes during his sabbatical from the University of Cincinnati; the work likely will become a book project as well. Excerpts will appear monthly in CityBeat. Go to the online gallery to see Jon C. Hughes' photos.