Jyan Isaac begins making magic in the early morning hours.
By Urs Baur
Images by Tim Aukshunas
Before he was a baker, Jyan Isaac was passionate about music. He was a jazz drummer. He draws clear parallels between baking and playing. “There is so much creativity with jazz because it’s all improvised,” he says while shaping dough at his now-famous Jyan Isaac Bread in Santa Monica. “It’s the same with bread. The bread that I make is based on tradition, improvisation, and creativity. Both are practices and take much patience and discipline.
“They are both physical pursuits, very tactile,” he continues. With jazz—as well as baking—mind, memory, and intuition guide the hands’ actions and movements in service of a higher purpose.
In the competitive culinary scene of Los Angeles, Isaac’s bakery has been making quite an impression. It’s where the owner and baker (born Jyan Isaac Horwitz), since the tender age of 22, has been nourishing the local community with his artisanal sourdough loaves, baguettes, bagels, and other baked goods for just over three years.
Isaac’s love affair with baking, famously, started when he first walked into Tartine bakery on a trip to San Francisco and tasted the sourdough bread by famed baker Chad Robertson. He was hooked then and there—experimenting at home initially, and eventually pursuing baking full time. He was lucky to find employment at Gjusta where the Venice native loved to immerse himself in the entirety of the work. He found a great mentor in Travis Lett, the acclaimed chef, who had left shortly before the pandemic forced the operation to close its doors in 2020.
The City Sourdough Loaf and other assortments on offer at Jyan Isaac Bread.
Many may now be familiar with Jyan Isaac’s story of turning his pandemic-related loss of employment from Gjusta into a thriving and growing business one loaf and one half dozen bagels at a time. He began baking sourdough with natural yeast and well-sourced grain in his family’s home kitchen. He started taking photos of his bread and offering them for sale and delivery on Instagram—$10 a loaf, $3 delivery fee.
The steep price didn’t keep people away. He started selling 200 loaves a week, delivering them all around LA from 7 AM to sometimes 6 at night, telling The Los Angeles Times “It was easy at the beginning, because there was no traffic and I could get anywhere in LA in 15 minutes.”
His father Bruce, an entrepreneur, not unbothered by the time and mess his son was making in their home kitchen, suggested Jyan decamp to a nearby pizza restaurant the patriarch had bought recently, itself another pandemic-related business casualty.
That was then.
Now, the bakery’s Instagram-worthy bread has not only attracted a loyal following of locals but has also caught the attention of food enthusiasts, bloggers, and tourists from around the world. Jyan Isaac Bread was named in Food & Wine magazine’s January 2022 feature “The Best Bread in Every State.” But there is more to this bakery than just photogenic loaves. What truly sets Jyan Isaac Bread apart is the passion, hard work, deep knowledge, and perseverance of its eponymous baker.
The loaves are just so beautiful to look at…it tastes like it’s made with love.
The place is tiny and seems to exist as an afterthought to the adjacent pizza restaurant his father bought. There is no actual sales floor. Like many recent popular takeout upstarts, its baked goods are handed out through an open door, or across a wooden table to the waiting customers who’d started lining up on the sidewalk outside as soon as they open at 7 AM. It’s before that, in the ungodly hours of the morning where people are only up to make mischief or knead dough, when Isaac is doing the latter and making magic happen.
His team of seven full-time bakers executes a perfectly rehearsed and choreographed routine.
Drawing from packed floor-to-ceiling shelving, large bags of flour, countless stacks of bins on wheels, gigantic dough mixers, all arranged, put to use, cleaned, stacked, greased, and refilled. They feed the dough in various shapes and forms into the giant imported Italian gas deck oven at the center of it all, for golden loaves to emerge hot and perfectly timed. It gives off the vibe of a sacred ritual, all seemingly flowing from the mind of the young bread protégé. No commands shouted. No idle chit-chat. World beats blasting. Everyone is on board.
Jyan Isaac has a lot to smile about.
When not conducting his orchestra in the bakery, Isaac likes spending time with his girlfriend, trying out new restaurants. He feels at home along the southern California coast and loves to fly planes out of Santa Monica airport. His real commitment, he maintains, is to the business and the people he employs. “These guys know everything about me,” he says. “I don’t hold back. They mean everything to me. I’m still amazed sometimes that I get to be surrounded by all these good people and that I can help them make a living, support their families.”
Soon Isaac will open a brand new, larger location in Culver City. With more space and upgraded equipment, he estimates it will quadruple productivity. Still, the team will take care to uphold the same unwavering commitment to quality.
As one loyal customer told the Times, “The loaves are just so beautiful to look at…it tastes like it’s made with love.”
That won’t change.
By about 8 AM, all the goods are baked. The dough for another batch is ready and formed by noon, then left to do its thing overnight. Before the sun rises the next day, the ritual begins anew.