Owner Beth Thorp of Nightingale Breads bakes bread of such unique quality that you can identify it in one bite: Once, we dove into the bread basket at the renowned Farmhouse and immediately asked our server, “This is from Nightingale, isn’t it?” Her understated bakery on the main street of Forestville, Calif., recently celebrated its five-year anniversary. We enjoy stopping in to chat with Beth almost as much as we enjoy devouring her baguettes, challah and treats like chocolate thimbles and lemon poppy seed loaf. So we figured she would be the perfect person to start our “Friends of Gantz Family Vineyards,” series, where we highlight people and businesses that make this area a wonderful place to live.
How did you get started as a baker?
I was a nurse for 22 years. I could see, early on, that while there were parts I loved about nursing, there were other parts I didn’t love. I wanted to find something for the latter part of my career that I really could enjoy. I didn’t want to be one of those cranky nurses that hated her job. I was okay with not making as much money as nursing, I just wanted to be happy. But what would make me happy? I started to think of things I loved to do on my own, and one was making bread. Could I make a career out of that?
Why and how did you open a business?
I started working part time at baking. When I decided to try and bake full time, I found I really loved it. I was living in Montana, but I was born and raised in California, in the Salinas Valley. Sick of the Montana winters, I decided to move back to California. At that point, I’d been baking for 14 years, so I told myself that I had to open a bakery or give up on the idea forever. I originally planned on opening a bakery with a friend in Napa, but the area was never a fit for me personally, so I started looking further west. A realtor contacted me and told me she knew about a building in Forestville that she thought would be perfect for me. Two days later, I had an offer on it.
What makes your business a success?
We love bread and we want it to be fresh. We’re passionate about that. Sometimes people don’t understand; they will complain, “You don’t open ‘til 11? You’re not open on Sundays?” We really care about what comes out and we want it to be fresh. I’m not going to open at 8 a.m. so that the bread someone picks up on the way to work is stale by the time they eat it at dinnertime. People are used to being able to get something any time of the day, but they don’t realize that’s why our stuff tastes good. Because it didn’t come out 16 hours ago; it came out at 9 a.m. and hopefully you’re eating it for lunch. That’s why we do two bakes. The bread comes out of the second bake at 3 p.m., and hopefully you’re eating it for that night’s dinner so it’s only four hours old.
(At this point, Beth’s employee Joni Davis chimes in): She’s here all the time. She cares about what happens and what comes out. Every loaf is hand shaped. That’s why her bread is so good and delicious, because she cares about it so much. She has integrity.
(Beth): I didn’t start this bakery to get rich. I wanted to create a job that I love, which I do. That’s why the quality is there, because we really care about every single loaf that we make.
What insider tip would you offer a visitor to this part of Sonoma?
I love the Sonoma coast. All the rock is so amazing and peaceful. I think it’s pretty special.
What makes this area special?
I love the melting pot that it is. There are so many different people here and so many reasons why they come here but it all works and everyone gets along. There is something really refreshing about that. It’s a nice mix of rural and still being close to a big-ish city.
My grandmother grew up in Forestville. She left when she was 16, so I have no memories of coming here, but do sort of feel like I have roots here. My great-grandmother is buried at the cemetery. I feel at home here, like I was meant to be here. I might one day change my mind, but right now, I never see myself leaving Sonoma County.