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BREAD BUSINESS AIMS TO MAKE DOUGH IN WILLIAMSVILLE

A new business is about to rise on Main Street in Williamsville -- the Montana Mills Bread Co.

The new bread shop, which will open at 5601 Main St. in late November, is the second for the suburban Rochester company whose motto is "Eat Bread." The highly successful business is the brainchild of the husband and wife team of Gene and Suzy O'Donovan, two thirty-something certified public accountants who traded their calculators for oven mitts in 1996.

"We both really wanted to have our own business, but we not only wanted to create something that could be successful, we wanted to have a product we believe in. We found both with our bread," Gene O'Donovan said.

The couple visited about 100 bread stores across the United States and Europe, including several in O'Donovan's native Ireland, checking out everything from ovens to flours to bread bags. They ultimately settled on a bread-making system that gives customers a bird's-eye view of the entire process -- the milling of the flour, the kneading of the doughs and the big moment when the hot loaves pop out of the oven.

"I think too many people view bread as something that comes in a plastic bag from the supermarket," O'Donovan said. "We're proud to show them exactly how we make our bread and why it's different."

The Montana Mills Bread Co. ships in truckloads of private-label wheat berries from a farm in Montana (hence the the name) and mills flour each morning to start the baking process. The Williamsville store, like the one in Pittsford, will bake about 25 varieties of bread, with three standard daily offerings, plus up to seven additional kinds in a rotation to keep things interesting.

It also will be handing out bread schedules to remind customers when their favorite loaves will be available. The company also publishers the "Village Baker News" to provide updates on new breads, suggested sandwich recipes and bread information.

The offerings include traditional-style breads such as Honey Whole Wheat and Grandma's White ranging to more exotic garlic cheddar, spinach feta and jalapeno cheddar corn.

The bakery also turns out seasonal specialty breads, such as the upcoming Blue Corn Pumpkin Petita, which will be aimed at Thanksgiving Day tables.

The breads, which are baked in round, two-pound loaves, have no fats, oils, milk products, eggs
or artificial preservatives. They will range in price from $2.95 for the Honey Whole Wheat up to $4.95 for the most expensive specialty loaves.

O'Donovan said he's used to people rolling their eyes a bit when they see the prices, but he said that skepticism evaporates when they taste the bread.

"That's why we offer free slices of the breads in our store. We can say the bread is better, but the proof is in the eating," he said.

As part of its grand opening marketing campaign in Pittsford, the company gave away their product during a local festival to acquaint area residents with its hand-crafted bread. Apparently, that "tasting is believing" approach paid off as the new business hit its one-year sales projection just three weeks after opening its doors.

While the O'Donovans kept waiting for the initial bread rush to cool off, it never happened and each subsequent month exceeded the previous one. The Pittsford store's ovens have peak capacity of 1,500 loaves per day, which often fails to meet demand.

The Williamsville store is being constructed to handle about 60 percent more bread per day, according to O'Donovan.

"Given the demographics of the village, we think we can go a little bigger without too much risk. We've got a very good feeling about how we'll fit in on Main Street," he said.

The O'Donovans are in the middle remodeling and expanding the former Doctor's Orders Prescription Pharmacy to convert it to a bakery. The current timetable will see the business open by Dec. 1. A third Montana Mills Bread Co. is planned for Irondequoit, a Rochester suburb, next spring.

"We want to grow the business a little bit more, maybe add another Buffalo location and possibly go to Syracuse, but it's a cautious growth," O'Donovan said.

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