Adrian and Nicole Sulea love their work so much, they don’t consider it work at all.

I met the couple last week after popping into Adrian’s new shop, Universal Bread Bakers: Old World Artisan Bread, on Temple Street in downtown Waterville.

Adrian grew up in Romania, where his family baked bread in large outdoor wood-fired ovens.

You might say bread baking is in his blood.

“The bigger the loaf and the better you bake it, the better the flavor you end up with,” he said.

The aroma of yeast and freshly-baked bread wafted throughout the small shop, where baguettes, French boules and batards were cooling on a wire rack behind the counter. Adrian, 40, unabashedly said it is the best bread around.

“It’s just the way you have in Europe,” he said.

The secret to making good bread is loving the process, he added.

“You have to love making it. It’s an art, and it’s very dependent on patience and temperature; and if you don’t pay attention to those elements, you’re never going to get it right,” he said. “It’s not an exact science.”

He uses, simply, flour, salt and a little yeast to create the large loaves. There are no additives, no preservatives and no sugar, he said.

“Back home, bread was just such a big part of every day life. You don’t really have any meal without having good bread with it.”

Adrian and his wife, Nicole, are lucky.

They got to take what they loved from their childhoods, they honed it over several years, and they turned it into their livelihoods.

On the other side of the bakery wall, Nicole runs Heirloom Antiques & Vintage, an unusual shop featuring vintage clothing, jewelry, art, handbags, shoes, hats and other specialty items — and the shop includes a men’s department.

The impeccably neat, tastefully organized, colorful space, renovated from a garage, carries many items from former Waterville shops, including Dunhams, Alvina & Delia, Levine’s, C.F. Hathaway and Sterns.

“Waterville had really nice stores and really nice quality, so I love getting stuff from Waterville with the labels,” she said.

Nicole, who grew up in Yarmouth, Mass., and worked in retail for many years, knows good stuff when she sees it. She worked at Neiman Marcus, Filene’s and a little boutique at the Ritz.

“I’ve always collected. My grandmother had a good eye for antiques, and I loved vintage as a teenager. I love vintage, because it’s just timeless.”

Nicole initially operated her shop out of a space on The Concourse beneath Tardif Jewelers, but last year she and Adrian bought a building at 19 Temple St. and renovated the side-by-side storefronts they now have. She moved into her side in October; he opened the bread shop in March.

They met 17 years ago in Boston and married 14 years ago. Adrian had worked in restaurants in the city’s North End, where he honed his culinary skills. Nicole, whose great-grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Greece, grew up loving healthful, natural, local foods — something she and Adrian found they had in common.

“I just love local food,” Nicole, 46, said. “My family was Greek, so I was kind of spoiled. We always had good food.”

The couple eventually opened their own business, Transylvania Pizza, in Salem, Mass.

They also spent time in Maine and loved it. Ultimately, Adrian decided to enroll at University of Maine at Farmington and obtained a degree in business economics. They lived in Skowhegan for a time but eventually moved to North Anson. They commute 30 minutes each way for their work but do not mind.

“We love Waterville,” Nicole said. “Everyone’s really friendly. Everyone’s really nice.”

Adrian showed me the kitchen he renovated in the back of his shop. There’s a large Hobart mixer, a maple-top baker’s table and a Swedish oven that can bake 25 loaves at a time.

Back in the storefront, Maria Reynolds, of Embden, popped in and selected several loaves of bread.

“How’s the farm going?” Adrian asked.

“Very well,” she replied. “We have tons of stuff. We had our first ripe tomato, actually, about a week ago.”

Reynolds and her partner, Mike Bowman, own Groundswell Seed Farm in Embden, where they grow and sell organic vegetables and vegetable seeds. She said they love Adrian’s bread, which they stock up on because they live so far away. She said they eat some bread right away and freeze the rest.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “Best bread north of Portland.”

Tina Wentzel, of Benton, stopped to buy a baguette.

“This bread is phenomenal,” she said. “The texture, the nice hard crust on the outside and the texture on the inside. It’s just fantastic.”

Customers kept on coming, and complimenting.

Janine Moore, of Waterville, said it was her first time in the shop.

“Somebody gave me a loaf from here and it was awesome, so I had to come in myself,” she said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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