Relax, eat bread, repeat
Ian Conover and Tara Williams Conover, the husband and wife owners of Relax and Eat Bread, came up with the name for their bakery on a bike tour in Sweden.
“We kept hearing the phrase ‘fika’, which means ‘relax and take a coffee and pastry,’” Ian said. “We loved that sentiment, the culture of the country and all their bakeries.”
When they decided to open their own bakery, they considered the name “fika”, but did not want to be confused with coffee and pastry, so came up with the slogan “Relax and Eat Bread” and it seemed to stick.
“We also wanted people to know it’s okay to eat bread,” Tara said.
Bread has received a bad rap over the past couple of decades, especially with the surge in low-carb diets. However, there is a difference between the highly processed pre-packaged breads and what you will find from local bakers like Relax.
Whole wheat breads are nutritious and can actually be a healthy part of a balanced diet, even one aimed at weight loss, so long as consumed in moderation. With loaves like those from Relax, the bread is hardy enough and has enough flavor, even on its own, that even a little goes a long way.
Ian and Tara met during a study abroad program, while attending Santa Rosa Junior College. After six weeks in Granada, one week in Portugal for a school break and another six weeks in Madrid, Ian and Tara had developed a strong friendship. However, they did not start dating until seven years later, after both attending the same college, when “life aligned”, as Tara puts it, and have now been married for two years.
Ian was born in San Francisco but moved around as a child due his father’s work as a minister. He spent his formative years in upstate New York, in the Albany area, before returning to California in 1999.
After a short time in San Rafael, Ian’s family moved to Petaluma in 2000, where his father had joined a new congregation. Ian graduated from Casa Grande in 2005 and then attended SRJC, where he met Tara. He went on to study International Relations at San Francisco State University with the hopes of working abroad.
With the economy in recession upon his graduation, Ian took a job with Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito, which fed another of his passions – cycling. Eventually, he went on to manage the Mike’s Bikes in Petaluma and then again back in Sausalito before deciding to attend SRJC’s culinary program in 2015. And although he did not take the baking tract, the only baking class he did attend ended up being his favorite.
After the JC culinary program, Ian landed a position at Woodfour Brewing in the Barlow in Sebastopol, a kitchen with a reputation for turning out “much better than pub grub.” Later, he would move on to the kitchen at the Girl and the Fig, just off the Square in Sonoma.
“I learned a lot about moving around in a kitchen, time management, putting together menus and maximizing space,” Ian said. These would all be valuable skills once he decided to start baking bread at home in their tiny apartment kitchen.
Tara was born in Oakland but spent her first couple of years in Washington state before her family returned to California. The family relocated to Santa Rosa before she even started school, to be closer to her aging grandparents, who lived in San Leandro.
After attended the JC, like Ian, Tara attended San Francisco State University, where she studied sociology. But again, the economy was in the doldrums upon her graduation in 2009 so she continued with retail, as she had through school. She worked her way up through the management at Nordstrom’s, working at many of the Bay Area’s historic locations, including Hillsdale, Stonestown and the downtown location, across the street from the Market and Powell Streets cable car turnaround. She would eventually leave Nordstrom’s for a three-and-a-half-year stint at Sales Force as a recruiter.
When Tara was 27, she decided she wanted a different career path and so took some time off and traveled before moving back to Sonoma, where her parents still lived. She would eventually attend Dominican University in San Rafael for her teaching credential, before going on to earn her masters. In 2014, she started teaching 3rd grade at a charter school in Marin, where she still teaches.
“It was towards the end of 2017 when I took some of Ian’s bread to share in the school breakroom,” Tara said. “Everyone said it was really good, so I had to ask, ‘good enough that you’d buy it?’” The answer was an overwhelming yes and so the path was set.
“It was perfect,” Ian said. “We were engaged to get married the follow summer, so I saw this as a great way to help save for the wedding. I was still working five days a week at the Girl & the Fig but would spend my two days off baking.”