A passionate pursuit to make the very best bread possible led to the creation of the bakery that’s now an Old Town icon.
- by Ellis Anderson
- photos by McKenzey Northington
There are no neon signs to help town visitors find the bakery at 131 Main Street, but tempting aromas often lead to its entrance on the building’s side. And this time of year, fresh bread isn’t the only thing coming out of the ovens at Serious Bread Bakery – king cakes are holding court, too.
Serious Bread’s king cakes have been a bakery staple during Carnival season for many years, garnering rave reviews and many loyalists. After a 2022 readers’ vote, the Sun Herald named the recipe as one of the best on the entire Mississippi coast.
And while the blueberry/cream cheese came in as a fan favorite, the other flavors have devotees for good reason. There’s classic cinnamon, and cream cheese combined with strawberry, apple, chocolate and lemon.
According bakery manager Leah Thomas, what sets Serious Bread’s king cake apart is the rich brioche dough. “It’s made with eggs and is much more buttery than other doughs, making the cakes incredibly moist and soft,” she says.
Bakery owner Vivian Jensen gives an additional reason. She credits the popularity of their cakes to advice from the late Jim Thompson, prize-winning king cake baker and co-owner at Ruth’s Cakery in Bay St. Louis pre-Katrina. Jim’s entry once won first place in a king cake contest in New Orleans, where the competition was fierce.
Since Ruth’s never reopened after Katrina, Vivian worked up her courage once to ask the king of king cakes for his secret recipe. She remembers Jim shaking his head, saying “No, I can’t share that.” However, he did give Vivian a crucial pointer, one that’s she’s still following today – and keeps close to the vest.
Leah Thomas says the cakes are hard to keep in stock and advises customers to order them ((228) 231-1214) 48 hours in advance. “That way, you can make sure to get the flavor you want.” The traditional cinnamon cakes are $15 and the filled ones are $20.
Seasonal items like king cakes and Valentine’s Day treat packages are offered in addition to the regular menu of fresh breads including: Roasted Sunflower Seed, Garlic Rosemary Sourdough, French Sourdough, Oatmeal Cinnamon Raisin, Pecan Honey Whole Wheat, Dale's Multigrain, and Kalamata Olive Sourdough.
The bakery’s scones, muffins, and giant-sized cookies also have an ardent following, with some social media posters saying that they buy them by the dozen.
Those hungry for more substantial fare can order panini-style sandwiches made from the bakery’s bread. Saturdays, the crew serves up pizzas made on the bakery’s famous flatbread (you can also purchase the flatbread itself on Saturdays).
For breakfast any day of the week, you can get a fresh house-made croissant sandwich made with special seasonings, egg, cheese and bacon. According to Leah the coffee is always a hit as well since they brew only French Roast by Coast Roast.
Customers in the know also check out the to-go cooler, taking home Vivian’s chicken salad, spicy hummus and basil pesto.
But no matter what food they’re serving up, it’s clear that Vivian and the crew feel passion for all their products. That’s a legacy from the late Al Jensen who founded the bakery with Vivian in 2003.
An oceanographer who spent nearly four decades traveling the world for his career, Al retired, but he kept traveling, this time in a quest for recipes and techniques that would help him bake the ultimate loaves. He was seriously serious about the craft of bread-making.
Soon folks in town to start calling him “Al, the Breadman.” The Breadman’s reputation spread quickly. Vivian joined him in the hobby-turned-business, and they began selling their wares at local farmers’ markets. The demand grew as customers clamored for more of his delectable bread made in small batches with quality ingredients like non-GMO flour and without preservatives or chemicals.
In 2006, the couple formally adopted the name Serious Bread. Vivian says it came from a favorite saying of Al’s as he offered samples at the farmers’ markets. “Have a bite,” he would say, “This is serious bread.”
Eventually, Vivian retired from her long-time career as an occupational therapist to join Al full time, managing sales and bookkeeping. Their daughter, Renee, also became a key member of the team.
In 2011, Serious Bread Bakery moved into 131 Main Street to offer its own shopfront, where customers can pick up loaves and sweet treats or take a seat and enjoy sandwiches. The couple designed the space to provide a state-of-the-art bakery on one side and a homey, wood-paneled café on the other.
The move has been a good one. Locals flock in on a regular basis, lured by the luscious aromas when the ovens are fired up. Food writers take note, and the bakery regularly garners regional awards, like “Best Bread in the State.” Visitors from around the country often arrive with the bakery’s name on their “Must Do While on the Coast” lists.
While Al passed away in 2018, the bakery he created is still happily pleasing palates with Vivian at the helm. Vivian believes her husband had the heart of an artisan and the mind of a scientist, and those two traits combined to give their baked goods an exceptional flavor and quality.
“The legacy of Al’s passion and commitment are still in play at the bakery every day,” says Vivian. “Baking for people and seeing them light up when they take that first bite – well, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
131 Main Street, BSL
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