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Palette to Palate: Anna & Simon, bakers

Anna Marano and Simon Briggs
Working hard in the kitchen to bring you the freshest products possible.

If you let your nose guide you towards the scent of freshly baking bread, it will no doubt lead you to downtown Amherstburg. Although it feels like small town France; it’s actually The Panetteria. Here you will be greeted with trays upon trays of beautiful pastries, shelves bulging with warm bread, no doubt a long line of anxious customers, and the smiling faces of the owners, Anna Marano and Simon Briggs. These two are young and passionate and so skilled with what they do, that it may not have occurred to you that they are the owners, but we can assure you that they are indeed the partner proprietors of this much loved local business. 

Maybe you’ve tried some of their goodies, or you saw them right here in the Rivertown Times after they won Best New Amherstburg Business of the Year in 2022, but how did these breadheads (as they thoughtfully refer to themselves) end up opening this fabulous European style bakery? Let us jump back in time to Stratford, Ontario circa 2015. 

Anna, an Amherstburg native, had decided on a career change and so enrolled in the Stratford Chefs School to train as a chef. There she connected with Simon, who was teaching pastry. Simon himself had many years of experience in restaurants and when he moved to Canada from Scotland, he also attended the SCS. After working in bakeries and refining his pastry skills after his graduation, he was asked to come back to teach pastry at the SCS which he did for seven years. This is where they met, over a love of perfectly laminated croissant dough, I conjecture.Not long after, they relocated to Amherstburg, where they started forming their business plan.

Initially, they hoped to open a casual and comfortable bistro-like restaurant where they could focus on high quality, beautifully plated food where you could also sip a good glass of wine or cocktail. Eventually, they settled on the bakery concept because they saw a need in the community for a place where you could buy bread and pastries fresh every day. Because bread itself has very few ingredients, (flour, water, yeast, salt), but involves so much time and science, Simon especially enjoys using the proper and old school methods to produce his breads. There are so few variables, yet also many variables, that it’s taken him years to get some of his recipes just right. But the proof is in the pudding as they say, the taste and the quality is spot on. The proof is also in his arms, as the bakery is so cozy that there’s no room for equipment like a sheeter. Simon is the sheeter. I imagine that he could moonlight as a bouncer, possibly at his own business on busy weekends?        

Something else many people may not realize is that they are now married, which lends itself nicely to this Valentine’s Day issue. Anna laughs, “It does not work for everybody, but it teaches you to communicate effectively and efficiently. This should be the person you trust the most, you can depend on the most, understands you the most, supports you the most. What better team environment could you ask for?” When you think about it, this is a wise outlook considering during the week they start at 3 a.m. and on weekends it shifts to 2 a.m. That means that by the time they open at 9, they’ve already put in almost an entire day of work. It makes sense that you have someone who understands this grueling schedule, and can cheer you on when you start to lose steam around lunchtime. 

Of course we pumped them for info on new products that might be ‘in the oven’ so to speak, but any and all new product information is tightly guarded. You won’t see anything new until it hits the shelf, at which point, it’s been tested and tasted, and tested again. This dedication to offering their customers the absolute best and freshest products is one of the reasons they sell out almost every day. Support from their regulars has been tremendous over the past two and a half years, and in turn Anna and Simon give back to the community when and however they can. They’ve donated to various animal and child related causes like Bryerswood Youth Camp and youth soccer, the Amherstburg Food and Fellowship Mission, and Amherstburg Community Services. As Anna puts it, “Food is a basic human right and everyone should be fed. Being philanthropic has always been an element of what we wanted to do.” Simon adds that there are people locally who are hungry, and “a loaf of bread can go a long way.”

delicious pastries
Just a sample of some of the many pastry variaties offered daily.

Speed round (although a lot of thought went into the answers, so it wasn’t so speedy):

Q: Favorite item to make and favorite to eat?

Anna: I find a lot of joy in making pies and tarts, and can I choose a bread and a goodie? I’d have to say our Multigrain Sourdough, and our cinnamon buns. No! Change! Our danishes. 

Simon: To make I’d say it’s a toss up between the croissant or any of the breads, because every day you have to use your judgement and baking Spidey skills to get it just right. And to eat, I eat the financiers (brown butter almond cakes) every weekend. 

Q: Favorite kitchen tool and favorite ingredient?

AM: Butter; what would we do without butter? And I think I’m married to my Kitchenaid stand mixer. I use it all day every day. 

SB: I would say kosher salt because without it you’ve got no flavor. And my digital thermometer; it’s a very versatile piece of equipment. 

Q: Best place you’ve had bread or pastries outside of the Panetteria

AM + SB: Oooh, The Little Bread Peddler in London (sadly, UK, not ON); Torus Doughnuts in Windsor (she knows what she’s doing); and we love Alan the bread guy at Downie Street Bakehouse in Stratford. He’s also a Windsor boy!

Q: It’s Valentine’s Day; do you usually do something to celebrate? Do you have suggestions for others that involve bread?

AM: We do! We stay home and we cook for each other. We alternate courses and set up our table to feel like a bistro. It’s a nice way to cook for your loved one. And my recommendation is that’s what others should do too! And have bread and butter on the table to start, because it’s never a bad idea. I know a good bakery. 

SB: And get a good quality, salted butter. If we’re going to use butter to smear on our bread, it’s St. Brigid’s. We’ll travel seven hours round trip to get butter from St. Brigid’s Creamery (in Brussels, ON), that we can’t get locally. But in general, keep it simple, less is more. 

After spending time with Anna and Simon in their aromatic bakery, their love for each other and their love for their craft is unmistakable. So I asked them if they had any heartwarming customer stories they could share for this Valentine’s Day. “The first person who comes to mind is Joe,” says Simon. Joe, who is likely someone everybody just knows when you say “Joe”, is an older fellow who will come to the bakery every so often ‘to get the things his wife loves’. Simon says “It’s almost like Joe would walk through a blizzard to come down here and get these things for his wife. He always has a little note and he reads it to us.” Anna will load him up with goodies and help him out to the car. “It’s really sweet” she says. 

Sweet indeed, just like one of their pastries, and I dare say I may have seen Anna and Simon’s future. 

Art Alley
Anna and Simon are pictured in front of one the murals in the Art Alley surrounding their business.

By Tammy Joho - Special to the RTT

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