If you could travel back in time to the first day of business at Standard Baking Co., you wouldn’t find the long lines that often snake out the door in 2015.

On April 25, 1995, when the bakery was in its original location on Wharf Street in the Old Port, it had no sign outside and no cash register inside. There were no business hours and no locks on the door. Alison Pray and Matt James, the owners and partners in work and life, didn’t even know on that first day that they would end up with a retail business.

But on April 26, a couple of people who had tasted their bread at Street & Co., the restaurant next door, or bought loaves at local markets came in asking to buy some. Back then, the couple made 30 to 40 baguettes a day and they had no employees. (And for the first couple of weeks, it was only baguettes.)

Now, in its 20th anniversary year, Standard makes 200 to 300 baguettes a day, plus dozens of other breads, rolls and pastries, and they have 40 employees. The bakery moved to its current location in 1999.

When you talk with Pray and James about why they opened a bakery in the first place, they mention France as their inspiration and how bakeries there are at the heart of their communities. So to mark Standard Baking’s birthday, we talked with members of its community – longtime fans – about their love for the place and its traditional, often irresistible products.

o o o


Joan Leitzer is a bread head. For 20 years, the Portland resident has visited Standard Baking several times a week to pick up her favorite loaf of the moment.

“They keep developing new breads, so my routine when I go on Friday morning is to get their Miller’s bread, which is a whole wheat bread,” she said. “Then I fell in love with their Hominy Whole Wheat, which comes out on Sunday.”

Leitzer, a 67-year-old psychiatrist who also has a master’s degree in nutrition, likes any of the dark whole grain breads the bakery produces. The triangular hominy whole wheat bread is perfect for toast, so she slices the loaf and freezes it so none will go to waste. But just because Leitzer is health conscious doesn’t mean she can resist the gooey insides of a chunky chocolate rye cookie.

On Fridays, when she goes the The Language Exchange in Portland for le petit dejeuner francais, her contribution to the breakfast gathering is Standard Baking’s pain au chocolat. There’s often a longer line on Friday mornings, she said, but the bakery staff takes the edge off the wait by walking down the line handing out samples.

“I love their crisp white aprons that they’re usually wearing,” Leitzer said. “It’s such a cool place.”

o o o


Michelle and Harvey Rosenfeld of Cape Elizabeth weren’t the bakery’s first customers, but they were close. The retired couple started visiting when the only thing coming out of the oven were baguettes.

“It was really like going to a little French bakery,” Michelle Rosenfeld said. “We always wanted to say ‘Un baguette, s’il vous plait.'”

The Rosenfelds still visit the bakery a couple of times a week, every week. Ask about her favorite thing, and Michelle Rosenfeld finds it hard to stop listing items.

“We love their cookies and their tarts, and I love the fougasse,” she said. “They’re almost like a pretzel but they’re not, really. Those are really excellent. The madeleines, and the financier is one of our favorites. And Italian rolls are wonderful. It makes me want to stop and go there right now.”

But wait, she’s not finished.

“And, of course, the croissants and sticky buns too.”


o o o

Chris Kast still remembers his first bite of a morning bun – the texture, the richness, the butteriness, the overall flavor and “mouth appeal.”

“I remember someone brought them into our kitchen (at work) and it was kind of like this alien object on the table that I had never seen before,” the 55-year-old resident of Portland recalled. “I learned that they are amazing, and I do want to take a bath in the sauce that they put on them.”

(That “sauce” is a mixture of melted brown sugar and cinnamon.)

Kast prefers his morning buns without nuts, thank you. And he has a tip for those who, like himself, occasionally reheat them in the microwave. Heat them just 15 seconds at a time, he says, to avoid a “tragic tongue accident.”

“There’s something warm and welcoming about that space under Fore Street,” he said. “It’s this warren of warmth and goodness that makes me feel good whenever I go in there.”


o o o

The first thing Judy Paolini does when she gets off the ferry from Long Island at 7:20 a.m. is stop at Standard Baking Co.

Paolini’s office is on Commercial Street, just a few blocks away from the bakery, so it’s easy to visit every day. Her favorite treat is a seasonal one, a French pastry from Provence called gibassier that’s made with anise and candied orange peel. “It’s baked and then it’s rolled in butter and covered in sugar,” Paolini said. “It’s very sweet, but I have a sweet tooth.”

That’s what she buys on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Thursdays, she buys a cranberry-walnut scone, crunchy on the outside and dense on the inside. Fridays are reserved for pain au chocolat.

Unfortunately for Paolini, the gibassier disappears around Memorial Day. (She subs in the cranberry-walnut scone in summer.) Last year, she bought a dozen of the French pastries to hoard in her freezer, but this year she’s decided to go cold turkey.

“They’re not going to make them until the fall, so I’m not going to have them until the fall,” Paolini said. “It’s like I can’t get blueberries off my bush until July, so I won’t have blueberry pie until July.”


Daily visits to the bakery could affect her waistline, but Paolini, 61, has set her priorities.

“This is my fun thing,” she said. “I’m not going to deny myself Standard Baking because I might put on a few ounces. I’ll cut it out somewhere else.”

o o o

James Robbins of Portland has visited Standard Baking Co. every morning he’s in town for at least the past five years.

But he rarely buys anything to eat. He goes in for a cup of Coffee By Design dark roast with a splash of milk.

“It’s more than a routine,” said Robbins, who works at Bangor Savings Bank. “I would have to say that the people that work downstairs, both behind the line and even the folks out in the kitchen who sometimes venture out front, they really set the tone for my day. It’s kind of like extended family.”


As for missing out on the baked goods, “I don’t allow myself to eat that stuff anymore,” Robbins said. “It’s awful good, but I’d be in trouble if I did.”

He admits he does fall off the wagon once in a while.

“How can you not?” he said. “I mean, you’re talking about morning buns with walnuts. And then they introduced me one day to those rye cookies. They should be illegal, don’t you think?”

o o o

Sonia Medina is practically a legend at Standard Baking Co. She’s been coming into the bakery every day since the day it opened to buy a baguette.

“It is my daily bread, pun intended,” said the 45-year-old, who teaches French and Spanish at Cape Elizabeth High School.


Medina was born and raised in Paris. When she and her husband first moved to Maine, she had trouble finding some of foods they took for granted in Europe – good yogurt, for example, a variety of fine cheeses, and bread that wasn’t mass produced.

One day in 1995 she was shopping at the Green Grocer, a specialty market that used to be on Commercial Street, “and I saw someone with a baguette, and my eyes just popped out,” she said.

Medina followed the man until she got a chance to ask him where he bought the bread. Off she went in search of Wharf Street and a bakery that was still so new there was no sign out front.

“Suddenly I saw it, and it was a very, very small bakery,” Medina recalled. “It was just Matt and Alison selling their baguettes.”

When you move from one country to another, Medina explained, food helps you adjust to a new culture and eases homesickness. In Paris, she had eaten good bread every day, starting her day with a piece of toasted baguette with jam and butter. Lunch might be a sandwich made with a baguette, an afternoon snack a baguette with chocolate in it. And at dinner, a baguette was usually on the table.

Her first Standard Baking baguette was as good – or even better – than bread she’d had in France. It had weight and consistency. “It’s almost a meal in itself because it has such flavor,” she said. “Finding that baguette, it changed my life because it changed the meals you were cooking.”

“Their croissant and their pain au chocolat were exactly the way they tasted when I was a kid,” she continued, “and it brought back so many memories.”

Medina still visits every afternoon, but now that she has a teenager and an 11-year-old, she buys two baguettes.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.