When Tomas Strulovic signed the lease for True Loaf, his popular bakery in Sunset Harbour, he didn't know how to make bread. You would never guess this when biting into one of his pristine homemade sourdoughs or while savoring the store's picture-perfect croissants. They're just as a good, if not better, than ones you'd have in France, and you're lucky if they're not sold out by noon.
Certainly, the Venezuelan-born Strulovic had some knowledge before deciding to open a bakery; the former financier had just completed courses at the San Francisco Baking Institute, but as he puts it: "It's not real life; it's school." What he needed, he says, was hands-on experience and a mentor. One of his instructors told him to work under Richard Bourdon of Berkshire Mountain Bakery in Massachusetts. At first, Bourdon rejected the 41-year-old, but Strulovic persisted and was finally accepted as an unpaid intern. So after a brief stint making bread till 3 a.m. in a space he feared was haunted and under the guidance of the eccentric Bourdon, Strulovic returned to Miami knowing how to bake a loaf. He had gotten the "real-life" training he needed to build his confidence.
But back in Sunset Harbour, his bread wouldn't rise. Worried, Strulovic called his professor in San Francisco, but the news he got was troubling at best: He was told there's no yeast activity or bacteria in the air surrounding his bakery, and as a result, he wouldn't be able to make good bread. Sourdough means naturally leavened dough, which is made using wild yeast and wild bacteria. Determined nevertheless, Strulovic kept at it, and after what he says felt like an eternity, True Loaf had produced its first truly tasty loaf.
"Now when I look back at our loaves then, they were so horrible compared to now," Strulovic says. "Right now I’m superhappy with our bread, and it’s only going to get better. We're always improving."
Achieving success in his domain was hugely rewarding for Strulovic for many reasons. For starters, the divorced father has two children who depend on him. What's more, he took a major risk by abandoning a stable career in finance in his late 30s to pursue a more creative and physical profession.
Strulovic's first attempt at a culinary business was selling empanadas at Dolphin Stadium and the Miami Beach Convention Center. That business failed, but it wasn't because the quality or popularity of the product, he says. Indeed, the MBA graduate enrolled at the San Francisco Baking Institute with the intention of returning to Miami to give the empanada business another shot. However, he fell in love with the craft and decided to open a full-fledged bakery instead. "My whole life goals changed, and I became really ambitious because I've never had a bakery before," he says.
Last month, True Loaf celebrated its second anniversary, and Strulovic recently acquired a warehouse space where he plans to increase production. Rest assured everything will still be handmade with the same level of precision for which the bakery has become known. They will continue to bake only for the day, which is why Strulovic says they can't take on too many wholesale accounts. True Loaf bread and pastries can be found at Michael Schwartz's Ella café in the Design District, and the chocolate, plain, almond, and ham 'n' cheese croissants are sold at all Panther Coffee locations.
Strulovic says he barely knew how to make a croissant when the bakery opened, and he recalls how his employees, with awe in their eyes, watched him make the first batch. Asked what makes the croissants so incredible, Strulovic says that he and his team use high-fat butter and good flour and that they have very high standards. "If something doesn’t look good, we don’t sell it. We’d rather say today there are no croissants."
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In addition to various croissants ($3.50 to $4.50) and several varieties of sourdough ($7 to $10.75), True Loaf also sells baguettes, ciabatta ($4), pastelitos ($4), buns ($4), and cookies ($2.10 to $2.75). And if you stop by on a Friday, you can purchase freshly baked challah ($10). The products are no doubt expensive, but delicious artisanal breads and pastries don't come cheap, especially when sold from a sleek bakery in an upscale location such as Sunset Harbour.
In fact, opening in Sunset Harbour has been a blessing for Strulovic, who says the business has fortunately endured the construction that's plagued the neighborhood for nearly a year. In addition to amping up production, the entrepreneur says he needs to rebalance his priorities so he can concentrate more on his social life and children. That balance may be difficult to achieve considering he begins baking around 3 a.m. nearly every day, but such is the reality of a true baker.