Free Loan feeds Kosher sourdough business

PHOTO: Sara Levine takes a loaf of her sourdough bread out of the new deck oven she was able to purchase thanks to Jewish Free Loan of Greater Portland. You can view a video of Sara discussing that aid at


I first “met” Sara Levine in a weekly online update from the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market, where I learned about her kosher sourdough bread that’s baked right here in Portland. To be able to get the bread so close to my home sounded too good to be true. I soon found that her bread, and now her pastries and focaccia, are incredibly good.
After enjoying months of high-quality baked goods, I met with Sara at her parents’ home, where her oven is located.
Surprisingly, she actually doesn’t like sourdough. 
“It took me a couple of years to start eating my own bread on a regular basis,” she says. She adds that her starter and dough “doesn’t feel as sour. It’s more of a sweet, milky flavor than a sour, vinegary flavor.” 
The breads she bakes are more in the European than the American sourdough tradition. Sara says that her exploration of sourdough started as a “scientific pursuit on how to keep it (the starter) alive, keep it happy and make healthy bread for my kids to eat.” 
Initially her business was an event company. She transitioned Baked by Sara to focus on bread because “it’s so miraculous that you could take … the most basic ingredients in the world – water, flour and salt – (and) make something so beautiful and change someone’s day.” 
Sara feels it makes her a part of someone’s life, almost sitting there at the dinner table and nourishing her community.
She took her bread to the next level when Covid hit, and her other jobs weren’t giving her “soul nourishment.” It gave her a chance to meet new people without worrying about physical contact, communicating through texts. It gave her a new life and mission. She decided to be kosher-certified to serve her immediate and broader community. Having a bakery is a marker for a flourishing community. She agrees it is “community-squared” from her original sense of baking.
She started baking with two Dutch ovens, producing 20 loaves a day, but it would take a full day to do so. For her birthday, friends bought her another Dutch oven, but even with the extra one, her husband pointed out that she was barely sleeping over two-day baking sessions because of the attention bread-making takes.
For various reasons, her father built a wood oven, which enabled her to bake 18 loaves per load. To bake 70 loaves took a full day, but her father had to wake up at 2 am to get the fire going. The temperatures were inconsistent inside, though she credits having the “best customers” who didn’t mind getting an extra-toasty loaf. Then, however, the oven started burning internally, her dreams literally going up in flames.
To continue baking, she turned her attention to relatively “affordable” deck ovens. 
Then a friend told her about the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Jewish Free Loan program. The process was “really quick, really easy,” and the oven arrived relatively quickly thanks to the Federation’s help. Now she can “pull 240 loaves in the time it took to pull 70, with a lot less labor.” Sara added that “it’s been the biggest godsend.”
It’s clear that she needs a real bakery space and is working on it with a friend. They hope to open a bakery/pizza shop, one that will welcome the community to come and gather, with her father as its pâtissier. Sara would like to offer an organic line, but only if she can keep the costs down as she’s conscious of her customers’ budgets. The kashrut certification cost is low since her ingredients are so simple. As Sara put it, she’s a “bakery that happens to have kosher items.”
What advice does she have for future entrepreneurs? “If you feel you can do it, definitely do it … but learn how to manage your time, preferably before you decide to commit,” she says.
It is clear Sara loves what she does.  Check out her website at For more information on Jewish Free Loan, visit

Sara Safdie retired from teaching college English and moved to Portland. She is a writer, copy editor and member of the Federation’s Climate Action Committee. On Jan. 16, she will talk about sustainability at Congregation Neveh Shalom.


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