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Love Them Loaves!

for the moment

By Jason Frydman

It is surprising how a place so popular among Harvard administrators, professors and graduate students is relatively unknown to the undergraduate community. If you have ever dined at the Greenhouse Cafe, or its equivalents at the GSD, Law School or Kennedy School, you may have sampled Panini's goods unwittingly. But Panini is no industrial, impersonal manufacturing hub. The bakery, on the corner of Kirkland and Beacon Streets, has been serving the Somerville/Cambridge community for over four years now. Open from seven in the morning until eight at night, this cozy, unpretentious establishment sells European style breads made the "old-fashioned way," as Michael Staub, business manager and part-owner, puts it. "We cut a wide swath through the cross-cultural currents of the area," Staub adds. Principal owner and head baker Debbie Merriam opened Panini in early 1991 and has been selling bread to the entire Boston area ever since.

Upon entering the cafe, one is greeted by a raging battle of aromas, between the savory Panini house blend coffee, which is constantly brewing, and straight-out-of-the-oven breads. Sourdough rounds, baguettes, Vienna loaves, lemon scones and focaccia are among Panini's standards. Specials include such delicacies as potato loaves, onion focaccia and crushed olive rolls, all obviously fresh and exceptionally well priced. A variety of pound cakes, cookies and giant biscotti lay on the counter; a friendly, exuberant staff sits behind it. Besides staple deli drinks such as IBC root beer and cream soda, they offer "Fresh Samantha" carrot juice, fresh squeezed orange juice and fruit smoothies, produced and delivered by a local businessman.

The tables are simple, black and round, the chairs traditional wood. Pretentious, no; classy, yes. The Victorian shelves that line the walls are adorned with all sorts of chatzchkes. cookie jars, old-fashioned scales, basket, and copper kettles make for interesting conversation pieces when coffee-talk goes stale. Merriam's sister Susan, a graduate student at Harvard, created the soft-colored paintings that hang on the walls, complementing the tranquil effect generated by the blue-green, cream and white decor of the small interior. One simply feels content sitting among the friendly and sociable clientele, many of whom are regulars. The loyalty of Panini's patrons is revealed every Saturday morning, when, beginning at seven, the line is out the door and around the corner.

Due to their wide range of business-roughly fifty percent of sales are from their wholesale business and fifty percent from the retail shop--the bakery is a twenty-four hour operation. Seven bakers currently produce about 1,000 loaves of bread and 1,200 to 1,500 scones per day. The bakery makes over 250 deliveries a week, all before seven in the morning. By this wee hour, the scones are steaming and the coffee is brewing for those who are willing to brave the cold trek.

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