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The Bread Doctor: Why a small-town doctor opened a bakery for his daughter with Down syndrome

by | Jun. 18, 2020

“Is the doctor in?” is not a question normally posed by customers walking into a bakery. But in the small town of Torrington, Wyoming, people aren’t just coming in to taste homemade pastries. While the desserts are sweet and the dinners savory, getting a taste of the faith and parental love that started it all might be the most satisfying part of a trip to The Bread Doctor. 

“I think [people] come because of the story of how the bakery began, but they come back because it's a beautiful place with fabulous food and a warm spirit,” says bakery employee Kristen Bearnson.

This unique bakery began when a father, who was anxious to help his daughter succeed, started receiving gentle, gradual instructions from the Spirit. And the story that follows his obedience to those promptings might be the sweetest thing in shop.

The idea he couldn't shake

When Latter-day Saint Ezdan Fluckiger began mulling over the idea of starting an artisan bakery, he wasn’t thinking of fame or financial security. He was only thinking of his daughter, Eleanor. Ezdan and Lisa’s third child, Eleanor, was born with Down syndrome. When she reached middle school, Eleanor's father become preoccupied with how his daughter’s life would take shape after high school graduation.

“Whatever the future held, I wanted it to be something that our family did together and not a program that we dropped her off at for the rest of her adult life. Those were available in our town and I just thought, ‘No.’ Whatever it is, it needs to be something we can do together, and both enjoy,” says Ezdan.

Once the idea of starting a bakery for Eleanor was in Ezdan’s head, he couldn’t shake it off—in part because he remembered how Eleanor had loved to play waitress as a game while growing up. When he proposed the idea to his wife, Lisa kindly pointed out that, from a logical standpoint, Ezdan’s idea was crazy. And she was right.

For one thing, Ezdan had a successful career as a family practice physician and while he enjoyed baking for his family, he had no experience running a bakery. Further, their town of Torrington, Wyoming, has one of the lowest average incomes in the state and is home to about 6,100 people. Ezdan had to ask himself: would there be enough support to keep an artisan bakery afloat? 

Even with those legitimate concerns, Ezdan couldn’t get the idea out of his head. The family considered it for at least year before taking any steps forward. During that time, Lisa gave her husband an apron for Christmas that said, “The Bread Doctor,” which Ezdan took as a sign of her approval. He was soon ready to explore the first step and enrolled in a one-month course through Marda Stoliar’s International School of Baking in Oregon.

Ezdan with his baking instructor, Marda Stoliar.

Upon Ezdan’s return to Wyoming, he resumed his practice as a doctor, while also beginning to sell baked goods from home. The family named their home bakery “The Bread Doctor.” Twice a month customers could drive by and pick up food. 

Business was going well when Ezdan, sooner than he anticipated, had another idea he couldn’t shake. 

“I thought we would be at home for three, four, or five years and make sure everybody liked the bakery stuff and then we would get a building, maybe, downtown. But I could see very quickly that we were going to outgrow our ability to produce at home. I just felt these ideas and I really do believe it was the Spirit,” says Ezdan.

Those ideas prompted Ezdan to take the leap and move his bakery to a storefront location after just one year of home baking.

From the homefront to storefront

Ezdan says he considers buying a storefront for the bakery “one of the most frightening decisions of [his] life.” He adds that he felt more at peace about deciding to marry Lisa than he did about buying the building. But when Ezdan was unexpectedly presented with an available building on Main Street, he was ready to make the move.

On the day things fell into place, Ezdan was downtown looking to pay a vendor who had made posters for a theater production his family was involved in. When he arrived at the vendor’s address, however, Ezdan found that the vendor had moved, and the building was empty. Something about this vacant building at 2017 Main Street struck him. He called Lisa right there from the street and asked her to come down and take a look.

As Lisa stood looking at the building, knowing that business would not be easy in a small town, a scripture story came to mind. She thought of Nephi as he stood before Laban’s house and was about to try and retrieve the brass plates. Nephi had faith that Heavenly Father would guide him, so he went forward “not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). 

“We could see some beauty in the building, but that was my connection that day. I know how Nephi felt—it was that day standing in front of the building, thinking, ‘I don’t know. This feels like the right thing to do, but I can’t quite see it yet. I can’t quite see it,’” recalls Lisa.

Despite their fears, the Fluckigers trusted that the Lord was guiding them and bought the building. The next year was a busy one full of remodeling and other preparations.

“We had a lot of miracles along the way,” says Ezdan. “With all the things it takes to get a building renovated, and inspections, and there were hiccups here and hiccups there, but every single time something would act like it was not going to work out, within a day or two it would work out. And so, I felt like well, maybe Heavenly Father really is guiding this project because we want it.”

When the remodel was complete, Ezdan was again compelled to acknowledge the Lord’s hand in their efforts and states that he remembers thinking “somehow this is going to be successful.”

Bringing more than bread to a sleepy town

Ezdan’s impression was correct: this July, The Bread Doctor will celebrate its fifth year in operation and business continues to grow. The bakery employs six people and is open every Thursday to Saturday. Ezdan continues to practice medicine, but changed from being a family practice physician to working long shifts in the emergency room. He still spends 36 hours a week in the hospital, but he now has days off that he can dedicate to the bakery and other projects. 

Ryan Clayton, who served as the Fluckigers’ bishop for seven years, says that The Bread Doctor “brought international variety” you wouldn’t expect to find “in a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere Wyoming.”

Ezdan and Lisa have found that to be especially true around the holidays.  

“When you own a small bakery, you become the source for holiday joy for the whole town. You become part of the town’s ability to celebrate Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving, and that’s exciting,” says Ezdan.

And while that means the Fluckiger family’s own festivities for the holidays come later, their community appreciates their dedication to excellence. 

“The chicken pot pies are outstanding, the croissants are light, flaky, and delicious, the brownies are rich and fudge-y, the scones are tender and moist, and you just can't go wrong with the cheesecake! It's all fabulous!” says Bearnson. “I had a customer from Quebec, with French bakeries on every corner, tell me that the lemon tart was the best she had ever eaten.”

Five-star ratings on Yelp and Trip Advisor attest to Bearnson’s statements. One Yelp reviewer called The Bread Doctor a “beautiful oasis of heavenly goodness.” And while that reviewer may have been referring to the food, the Christlike lives the Fluckigers seek to live have left a lasting impression of goodness on many.

“The Fluckigers have impacted my life in such a positive way. Ezdan has taught me that I can do hard things. His support, trust, and confidence in me have helped me grow not only as an employee but as a person,” says Haley Bustamante, the store manager. “One of my favorite things to witness at the bakery is when a customer asks if ‘the Doc is in’ and even though Ezdan may literally be elbow deep in bread dough, he will make the time to come out front and greet his customers.”

Creating an environment of welcoming friendship has been an important goal for the Fluckigers. Even before their family moved to Torrington, word had spread that they are Latter-day Saints. In fact, when Ezdan and Lisa came from Pennsylvania so Ezdan could interview for a job after he finished medical school, the woman making breakfast at their hotel greeted them by saying, “So, I hear you’re Mormons.”

Both returned missionaries, Ezdan and Lisa take a thoughtful, personalized approach to sharing the gospel, rather than seeking formal conversion for those that visit or work in their shop.

“I think missionary work is about how people live their lives. We’ve had lots of experiences where we’ve eased the burden of mortal living for those who work for us and the people to whom we minister in our ward,” says Ezdan. “My philosophy is to have people come to the bakery and feel safe working there, but we do talk about what we believe. I feel like the work of the Lord is going forth, but we are doing it our way and His way, which is to reach out and just be part of people’s lives.”

Ezdan and Lisa were touched when a former employee, whose personal circumstances had made it difficult for him attend church while working for them, reached out to let them know he had been called to serve a mission in Mexico. Lisa says this young man’s mother attributed his decision to serve a mission to his time spent working in the bakery.

“It is just so important that people know that you love them as they are. People know that our friendship for you is simply here. It’s not here if you come to church, it’s just here,” says Lisa.

The bakery’s celebrity

And what about Eleanor? She is now 22 years old, and her engagement at The Bread Doctor has given her what her father hoped it would, and more. 

“Torrington holds the Fluckigers in high regard due to Ezdan’s medical career, his and Lisa’s tireless support of community theater, and their support of our local schools. But what is also awesome about the Fluckigers is their daughter Eleanor. She is a celebrity in her own right,” says Clayton.

Eleanor’s celebrity status is the result of her social personality as she works up front at the cash register in the bakery.  Before working solely at the bakery, Eleanor attended a local community college for two years where she studied arts, music, and general studies. Now, Eleanor packs her own lunch and walks to the bakery, where Ezdan says she “does not have to be instructed on everything” and is “a very good helper.”

“I think it has done exactly what I hoped it would as far as her having a vocation and something worthwhile to do and something for us to do together,” says Ezdan.

Adds Lisa, “I think it is better than we imagined. And it keeps getting better and better. We keep doing fun things, new things, interesting things. You know, it is fun to go to work.” 

The Fluckigers don’t plan on expanding the bakery to another location. They started this as a family project, and they intend to keep it that way.

But if you ever do go to Torrington, Wyoming, and get the chance to visit The Bread Doctor, you may be lucky enough to be helped by Eleanor and try some of her favorite foods: the cranberry walnut bread, the Wowie Cowboy Cookie, and the ham and cheese croissant. And if your luck continues, perhaps the Bread Doctor himself will be in to say hello.

“This project has been guided by the Lord. I don’t think it was so important for Him to say to me, ‘You need to start a bakery.’ But it was important to me to have something [for Eleanor]. I had the idea and then He supported us every step of the way,” says Ezdan through tears. “There were many opportunities that could have been created for Eleanor, but I think that in the end, He knew that there were a lot of other blessings waiting that we didn’t know about. I would never go back.”

Lead and the first two images courtesy of the Fluckigers. All other images: Tom Lacock
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Emily Abel

Emily first found her love for storytelling as an editorial intern at LDS Living. She recently returned as a content writer and loves that her job is to highlight the meaningful in life. Emily is a graduate of Utah State University in English. Hiking trails, dance studios, and behind the cover of a good book are some of her favorite places to be.

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