Luke Opperman developed a love for baking at just 4 years old while helping his mom bake bread for the family. Now as an adult, he is still just as enthralled with the process and experimentation of baking, but possibly even more so by the connection to community it offers.
Opperman and his wife have lived in Milledgeville for a little more than seven years. Opperman, who is originally from Washington, said he and his wife faithfully enjoyed attending the downtown farmer’s market after moving to town. They began thinking of ways that they could contribute something to the market they were enjoying so much.
And so, Our Big Oak bakery was born about five years ago. It’s a small bakery that gets its name from one of the trademarks of the southern community the Oppermans now call home.
“We were looking for a short memorable name that was kind of based around our property here in Baldwin County, and there was a big oak looking out the corner of the window here,” Opperman said.
A computer programmer by trade, Opperman has turned his love for baking into a part-time business. More recently, the business has expanded into offering online orders and weekly pickups of the breads and pastries that locals have come to love. But that shift from baking for himself and other family members to baking for paying customers wasn’t something that happened overnight, he said.
“It really was a long, slow evolution from that sort of utilitarian family baking to realizing that I could do a little more,” he said.
Much of his inspiration comes from bakeries that he has visited that also have great cookbooks such as Bake In The Day Bakery in Savannah, Sister Pie in Detroit and Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.
While honing his craft throughout the years, he began coming up with ways to get a little fancier and to make that shift to begin baking for family, friends and special events. It wasn’t until moving to Milledgeville that he said he really began looking at baking as a way to engage with the community, but that has been one of the things he has enjoyed the most. He said he’s grateful for the customers Our Big Oak has and the connections that he’s been able to make with them through his business.
“It really has met my goal of meeting people in the community,” he said. “Certainly, the farmer’s markets have been a great way to get to know people outside of our circle and to have that personal connection.”
One aspect he loves most about baking is the experimentation that comes along with it. Last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he used the downtime to revamp several of his recipes. He enjoys refining recipes and responding to customer requests for variations.
And, he also just loves the process of baking. He said many of the breads he makes take 20 to 30 hours to come out of the oven. It gives him a lot of time to focus on the physical act of rolling out dough and paying attention to its progress.
Our Big Oak offers several different items. Some of the most popular are variations of sourdough loaves, three different variations of croissants and several other breads including baguettes, focaccia and bagels, as well as fruit pies, fruit muffins, pastries, cookies and more. Opperman said he tries to use as many local ingredients as possible, whether it be herbs, fruits or figs for filling.
All breads are baked fresh to order. Orders are taken online at www.ourbigoak.com between Friday and Tuesday. Customers interested can go online and place their order on those days and then pick them up in Milledgeville on Thursday afternoon at The Market Collective on Wayne Street.
Opperman said he’s thankful to Donna Collins at The Market Collective for the space she has offered for the order pickup.
“She’s been very supportive of what I’m doing and offered a space so that people could come and have all afternoon to pick it up,” he said.
Opperman also does special orders for events. He can be reached through the website, by email at email@example.com, or by phone at 530-330-5853.