Not many people lose weight after opening a bakery, but Sean O'Mahony is not like many people, and Breads on Oak (8640 Oak St., 504-324-8271; www.breadsonoak.com) is not like most bakeries.
Following a career as a financial consultant, O'Mahony opened an Old World French organic bakery in Uptown. Slinging dough helped him shed pounds, as did the vast change in lifestyle and mood.
"It was time to do something I loved and missed," says O'Mahony, who learned advanced baking 20 years ago. "I felt we had a gap in breads here. I wanted the breads we would get in Europe."
The process was a long one: First, O'Mahony went to Chicago for two months to study with award-winning, fourth-generation French baker Pierre Zimmermann. Next came months to find the right location and prepare it. Then came a trip to the best boulangeries in Paris. The result is a friendly shop where customers can see O'Mahony using the same baking techniques, ingredients and equipment used hundreds of years ago, including a hearth oven and wild yeasts.
"[Wild yeasts are] harder to control; they require real skill to manage," he says. "They take longer to develop, and the flavor really develops during fermentation." The shop's signature baguette has a chewy crust and a moist, pillowy interior. When torn in half, the inside reveals big holes and a warm, almost intoxicating aroma.
All organic, Breads on Oak caters to people on vegan and low-cholesterol diets. Chamain O'Mahony convinced her husband he would not have to sacrifice taste or quality to offer foods she and other vegans could eat.
"My wife really wanted to do vegan, and I was scared of it until I saw Cupcake Wars," O'Mahony says. "One of them was baking vegan, and she crushed the competition, and that's when I thought, 'All right — maybe if I just don't tell everybody it's vegan and scare them off!'"
During Carnival, the O'Mahonys ditched their regular king cake and sold only the vegan version, which everyone agreed tasted better.
Vegan croissants are among the shop's best-sellers. "We're very particular about croissants," he says. "They should be so flaky they fall all over."
After six months in business, Breads on Oak is settling into a groove. People have made it a part of their routine to stop by in the mornings for a croissant, organic French roast chicory coffee and a hearty boulangerie sandwich for later. La Crepe Nanou, Cafe Degas and Lilette serve the bakery's breads.
O'Mahony plans to extend shop hours and expand the courtyard. The extra work doesn't bother the baker.
"Every week is better than the last," O'Mahony says. "My worst day baking is better than my best day in the office."