Oat Bakery Expands to Old Town Goleta
Louise and Lou Fontana Spreading Danish Bread Culture from Retail to Wholesale
When Oat Bakery suddenly became the darling of Santa Barbara’s bread scene about six years ago, no one was more surprised than founders Louise and Lou Fontana. The couple were merely indulging a fondness for breads from her native Denmark, but their homemade renditions made for brisk pop-up sales at the Juice Ranch, which led to a tiny brick-and-mortar shop on West Haley Street.
“In the beginning, we were just playing bakery,” said Louise, who moved to Santa Barbara to be with Lou in 2016, the year after they met in a Florida bar. “My mom would teach me how to bake over Facetime. I had never baked anything in my life at the time.”
Last fall, this out-of-the-blue bakery took the next step: opening a wholesale operation from a large kitchen in Old Town Goleta, which allows them to better serve loyal locals with two locations while expanding into delivery for customers far beyond Santa Barbara. They’re also selling prepared sandwiches, toasts, soups, and salads in the airy space on Magnolia Avenue during the daytime hours, hosting occasional classes with guest bakers, and planning to break into special dinners down the road.
“The idea is to highlight our bread in ways that show people how to eat it,” said Louise of the location’s everchanging menu. “We do have untraditional breads, and people don’t know what to do with shiitake-shallot sourdough or our superseed bread.”
It’s not like their flavorful, texturally dynamic breads need any help. But what they’re doing with them in Goleta is decidedly delicious while stunningly simple, a testament to how quality ingredients don’t need excess to excel. Recent focaccia-fillers included dry-cured ham, farmstead cheese, arugula, and Dijon; Motley Crew Ranch-raised turkey on whole-grain with French butter, Dijon, and arugula; and vegan jalapeno spread with butter lettuce, cilantro, basil, and avocado. There’s been soupy Rancho Gordo lima beans with buttered bread, spiced citrus granola bowls, and snap peas & goat cheese quiche.
And there’s drip coffee made from Prolog beans that Louise’s friend roasts in Copenhagen. “We are the only people in America that sell them,” she said. But don’t expect fancy mochas or flavored cappuccinos. That’s intentional, as they actually got rid of an espresso machine that came with the building. “You can go around the corner and get a great latte,” said Lou of the nearby Old Town Coffee. “We don’t want to mess with that.”
That conscientious strategy to not step on existing toes goes back to the beginning. “We don’t do croissants for a reason,” said Louise, nodding to those made by Renaud’s Bakery. “That’s also why we don’t do baguettes. You can get baguettes at many places in town.”
Instead, they bake a variety of sourdoughs (charcoal-sesame, seeded, country-style, focaccia), numerous nutty breads (date-almond, pumpkin seed, and superseed), and flavored loafs like sage-garlic and that shiitake-shallot. There’s Danish rye, of course; the popular “Hygge Bun,” a slightly sweet morning treat with walnuts, dates, cinnamon, and cardamom, and a rotating cast of seasonal favorites and one-off experiments.
The ingredient sourcing is key, usually organic for the flavorings, with the base of quality flours from Utah’s Central Milling and occasionally California’s Tehachapi Grain Project. Though the initial, and still common, notion that the bakery is gluten-free was never the case, Oat Bakery is one of the modern bakeries reminding American eaters that healthy flours don’t usually cause gut issues (celiac and serious allergies aside).
The bakery is the latest tenant in this storied space whose long patio along the mostly quiet Magnolia Avenue sits a half-block from the traffic of Hollister Avenue. For decades, it was home to the Mexican grocery store La Esmeralda Market, whose founder’s granddaughter still lives on the property (and is the landlord). Goodland Kitchen occupied the space from 2011 to 2019, and then Lemon & Coriander briefly opened in 2020 before the pandemic shut it down. All along the way, the commercial kitchen served as an incubator to countless food purveyors and pop-ups, many of which remain players in the regional scene.
After selling out daily and turning down so many orders because they just couldn’t bake enough in their old space, the Fontanas realized that the large kitchen could bolster their existing retail needs while opening the wholesale market to places like the popular Los Angeles delivery service Flamingo Estate. They installed the ovens required for sourdough and specialty baking, brought in all new equipment, and handled the design themselves, trading architect Jeff Shelton bread for some of his tiles. The result combines a stark neo-Nordic vibe with friendly warmth, reflecting the bubbly couple’s affinity for putting “We Loaf You” on their packaging.
“We wouldn’t be anything without the community support and our team,” said Lou, explaining that many of their employees have stuck around since being hired. “Having a bakery really connects you with people.”
Raised in Ventura County and educated at SBCC in the early 2000s, he worked in video production for his first career, producing commercials and winning two Emmys for the Santa Barbara public television show Backbeat, which highlighted efforts to “use music to make a positive impact on your community.” But while that work granted the chance to travel the world — he was filming a cruise campaign when he met Louise on her Florida vacation — it wasn’t all that meaningful.
“I would call film production glorified construction,” laughed Lou, who rarely saw the actual impact of his commercial work. Baking, which was brand new to him as well, is a full-circle experience, using your two hands to craft a custom product that immediately makes people happy. As he explained, “The whole process is really fulfilling.”
For Louise, Oat Bakery continues to be a daily love letter from her homeland. “As a Dane, I eat bread two times a day,” she said. “We are bringing that Danish bread culture to California.”
231 Magnolia Ave., Goleta; (805) 845-4300; oatbakery.com
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