Written By: Janice Crowl
Photos By: Jack Wolford
Eric Cox and Paul
Lackner had visited Hawai‘i many times before they finally made a permanent
leap from the snows of Anchorage to the fire and rain of east Hawai‘i Island
nine years ago. In the tropics they thought they’d become fruit farmers. They
roughed it in rural Puna in an off-the-grid, twelve-by-sixteen-foot cabin and
lived from their savings. It was paradise lacking, for Eric, one essential
staple: the bread he liked. So he began baking it at home using recipes he’d
collected over forty years.
Eric tried a different
recipe every month. When friends came over for breakfast, they swooned and
urged Eric and Paul to sell bread at the Volcano farmers market. Since their
debut there in 2006, the pair haven’t missed a single market day; they also
expanded over the years to farmers markets in Hilo, Na‘alehu and Pahoa, selling artisan breads as Papa‘a Palaoa Bakery, a name that means “slice of bread” in Hawaiian.
In March the venture
culminated in the opening of a retail bakery in
downtown Hilo. In its bright Tuscan-yellow open kitchen, you can now see Eric
and Paul, along with master baker Rachel Van Etten, leaning over a floured
wooden table, kneading loaves and rolling out fennel-seed chapatis and graham
crackers. Sweet cinnamon and cardamom waft on the warm air rising from the
oven. “People smell the bread baking and say they just had to come in. I
have this fantasy of being the local village baker,” laughs Eric. He’s a jovial
sort, clad in a flour-dusted apron and round spectacles.
uses local ingredients whenever possible; Eric learned to adjust to what was
available while he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal. “The open markets
had vegetables I’d never seen before, so I learned to substitute,” he explains.
In Hawai‘i, substitutions include local honey instead of sugar; macadamia nuts
instead of walnuts; and a nuttier alternative to buttermilk: soymilk from an
organic tofu factory in Kea‘au. Among the sweets is a gluten-free banana bread
with poi and mac nuts. “Our customers,” says Eric, “are great inspiration.”