Biga Bakery Is Leavened with Much Friendship
By IAN FEIN
During the most of their nine years together at Biga Bakery, owners Beth Kramer and Douglas Reid, who are married, rarely saw each other.
Ms. Kramer would work through the night - putting in more than 15 hours to bake as many as 1,000 loaves per night - while Mr. Reid would spend 14 hours behind the Biga counter during the day, cooking countless breakfast sandwiches.
"In the summer the only time we'd see each other was Saturday nights, when we would have dinner together," Ms. Kramer said, sitting at the couple's own kitchen counter this week in their Skiff's Lane home.
"We'd have to take time off in the winter to reacquaint," added Mr. Reid. "Every year it would feel like the first date."
Beginning this morning, Ms. Kramer and Mr. Reid will have the time for a second date.
Yesterday was the last day of Biga Bakery.
The business will be sold next week to Jane and Fella Cecilio of Vineyard Haven, who plan to reopen under another name by the end of the month.
Ms. Kramer and Mr. Reid both acknowledged that the upcoming transition - though welcome - will not necessarily be easy. They said they know they will stay on the Island, but have no plans beyond the near future.
The only priority for the time being is Ms. Kramer's health. She learned in May that she had breast cancer after an annual mammogram at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital.
Ms. Kramer this week downplayed her experience with cancer and spoke with confidence and candor about the illness. She said she has taken strength from the incredible support of the Island community.
"We get flowers pretty much every day, and I went through boxes and boxes and boxes of cards. We're surrounded by love - literally," Ms. Kramer said, petting their well-fed feline friend Harold, who adopted them at the bakery six years ago and is now sprawled out comfortably on the counter in their home.
"I feel like the luckiest person - lucky it was found, and lucky I have a place where I can be with friends, family and with Douglas, who has been unbelievable," Ms. Kramer continued. "In many, many ways these have been the best few months of my life. I got to sit down and slow down and see just how amazingly beautiful it all is - and it is."
In some ways it sounds as if the last few months have been harder on Mr. Reid, who kept the bakery open all summer and did not get to spend the time with Ms. Kramer he would have liked. The interactions with customers every morning also never afforded him any distance from the illness.
"I could never get away from it because when I'm at work everybody asks. It's great that people care, but you just never stop hearing it," he said. "And I've had some bad experiences with cancer. It's really hard when somebody who's so much of your life is stricken with it."
Ms. Kramer and Mr. Reid first met 13 years ago when she came to the Island for a one-day vacation. "It was a really good vacation," she said. "Still is."
The unlikely couple met in the office of the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark, where Mr. Reid was a chef and Ms. Kramer was a guest. She was using the phone to check the weather report; he needed it to place a hurried meat order. Mr. Reid rudely took the phone.
Despite their inauspicious start, Ms. Kramer's brother set up another meeting between them when she returned to the Vineyard two weeks later. Mr. Reid reluctantly took her on a bicycle ride to Lucy Vincent Beach, "and that was it," Ms. Kramer said.
"We watched the sunset in Gay Head that night and have never been apart since," Mr. Reid said. "She moved in with me pretty much the next day."
Ms. Kramer originally intended to stay for the summer, but she began baking for Eden in Vineyard Haven and Mr. Reid soon convinced her to start her own wholesale bread business. She borrowed money from Mr. Reid and - again at his suggestion - named the business Biga, which means starter dough in Italian.
Ms. Kramer said she had no idea the bread would take off so quickly. Most of her bread-baking was self-taught through trial-and-error. "The community here is so responsive. If there's something they like, they'll tell you. And if there's something they don't like, they'll certainly let you know," she said.
One of Biga's first and biggest wholesale customers - Stephen Bernier of Cronig's Market - approached Ms. Kramer about the retail space next to the West Tisbury post office when it became available in spring 1996. Ms. Kramer said she liked the shop but knew that she would not be able to finance or run the bakery operation there herself.
She and Mr. Reid signed the Biga lease together and married a few days later.
Mr. Reid said honestly that he did not always enjoy his work at Biga."I think I walked into it unknowingly," he said. "My vision was much different than reality."
He described it as culture shock coming from his 20 years as a chef. Mr. Reid worked in a four-star French restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y., before taking the Beach Plum Inn position in 1990.
"I went from foie gras to macaroni salad," Mr. Reid said, still wearing his trademark Biga baseball cap more than four hours after closing the shop for the day. Mr. Reid said he looks forward to waking up in the morning, squeezing fresh juice and eating homemade croissants. But he admitted that he did not know how long he will be able to go before he feels like he needs to find a new job.
"I really don't know what to think," Mr. Reid said. "I'm baffled. I haven't not had a job since August 1989 - that was about two weeks, and I couldn't stand it. I don't know what idle is."
Ms. Kramer said that she too looks forward to a new chapter in her life.
"I love baking, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have found something I loved so much. But I couldn't do anything else. It controlled me - and all that I did - in a lot of ways," she said.
Ms. Kramer and Mr. Reid still have a commercial bakery set-up adjoining their home; they have talked about doing some baking for the farmers' market or another small venue. "But I know that I don't want to go back to that kind of life," she said. "I'm working on a few projects now, but none of them involve bread."
Ms. Kramer praised the network of cancer support on the Island - singling out the Angel Flights program, which flies her and other Vineyard residents to their daily radiation treatment in Hyannis at no charge. But she said she wants to develop a resource center at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital to centralize some of the services.
"A lot of it is word-of-mouth," she said. "It's just a matter of putting it all together."
Starting this spring, Ms. Kramer plans to teach a free yoga class for women with breast cancer. She is also in the early stages of developing a study to see whether the Island has an overall elevated level of cancer, and is considering writing a play about her experiences.
Both Mr. Reid and Ms. Kramer this week wanted to tell people to get their annual check-ups, and to thank their staff and customers for their years of support.
"It's definitely going to be difficult," Mr. Reid said, the reality of the impending closure slowly settling in. "It's so much of my routine. If I'm home on the Vineyard I think I need to be at Biga. And Biga's not going to exist anymore."