Lois Mass has been making bread for almost half a century and wasn’t going to let a pandemic stop her now.

“How long will I keep doing it? As long as there’s life in my body,” Mass said. “I feel that these breads are so important, and especially now with this virus concern. People need to be the healthiest they can and eat anything that’s going to boost their immunity.”

When the Westgate Mall closed due to coronavirus concerns, the 76-year-old Brainerd resident rose to the challenge of finding somewhere else to sell her tasty carbs. She did — from home.

Lois and "Skee" Mass team up on slicing loves of fresh bread Thursday, April 30.  For Lois, the texture and firmness of the bread is very important. Steve Kohls /  Brainerd Dispatch
Lois and "Skee" Mass team up on slicing loves of fresh bread Thursday, April 30. For Lois, the texture and firmness of the bread is very important. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“People will pass me in the store somewhere and say, ‘You’re the bread lady! Hi, bread lady!’” Mass said of her newfound fame after renting retail space at the mall. “Everybody that has had my bread ... the flavors are like nothing you’ll have anywhere else.”

Mass cooked at Edgewood Vista for almost a decade and worked at Costco where a chance encounter with a Little Falls bakery owner gave her the idea to sell her homemade goods.

“I told him about how I make bread — grinding the grain and all-natural and chemical-free — and he just said you’ve got to market this because there’s nothing out there like it,” Mass said.

Mass began selling her non-genetically modified bread at farmers markets in the summer of 2018 based on his advice. She started with one market a week and expanded to four in 2019.

“We were pleased with the outcome of it … had a lot of repeat customers … that wanted to be able to get the breads in the wintertime. And so we were selling one day a week in Westgate Mall — we just set up tables in there — and then the virus hit,” she said. “Westgate closed.”

The wife and mother could have folded up shop with the coronavirus shuttering businesses far and wide, but the budding entrepreneur had flour in her blood or at least baking on her mind.

Lois Mass labels her baked goods, Friday, May 1, at her stand at the corner of Riverside Drive and Beaver Dam Road. With the pandemic shutting down most public events, Mass decided to sell from home until the farmers' markets open again. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Lois Mass labels her baked goods, Friday, May 1, at her stand at the corner of Riverside Drive and Beaver Dam Road. With the pandemic shutting down most public events, Mass decided to sell from home until the farmers' markets open again. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“When the snow was disappearing, we just thought, ‘I wonder if we could get by selling it right here in our yard?’ so that’s what we’ve done. We put the signs up. People that knew us knew this was Lois’ bread, and so that’s kind of how we got to where we’re at today,” she said.

Mass began baking in earnest in 1976 when she lived in Littleton, Colorado, and started milling her own flour. She now has two grain mills in her kitchen for the 50-pound bags of wheat grain she buys.

“Some neighbors of mine ground their grains and made their breads with that fresh flour, and that’s what influenced me to get started, so this is not something I just all of a sudden decided to do,” Mass said.

Mass said those with a sensitivity to gluten have even tried her bread without digestive problems. Wheat, barley or rye grain naturally contain the protein gluten.

“There are 27 vitamins and minerals in a little kernel of wheat. Our store-bought bread? All of that has been taken out, and then they replace it with synthetic vitamins and enrichments and lots of chemicals, lots of fillers,” Mass said. “My breads are free from all that stuff that’s unhealthy.”

Lois Mass displays some kernels of organic hard Red Spring Wheat in her hand before milling Thursday, April 30, in her kitchen. The grain comes from Montana where she said the climate and altitude creates a flavorful taste and texture to her baked goods. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Lois Mass displays some kernels of organic hard Red Spring Wheat in her hand before milling Thursday, April 30, in her kitchen. The grain comes from Montana where she said the climate and altitude creates a flavorful taste and texture to her baked goods. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Mass also makes caramel rolls, cookies, granola, carrot cake and angel food cake with her own flour. She also makes with it oatmeal, cranberry walnut, herb cheese, rye and onion dill breads.

“Most of my breads are $4 and I'm just kind of having a discount sale because of the virus and just trying to make it maybe a little more affordable for some people,” Mass said.

Mass began selling her homemade bread from her front yard with a table and a tent Tuesdays and Fridays after the mall closed because of her devoted following of customers, she said.

“We have a looped driveway, so it comes in on Riverside and goes out on Beaver Dam Road, so people can kind of drive through. They’ll stop and pick up what they want,” Mass said of her home at 14721 Riverside Drive.

Mass said she had to pay $35 to rent space each time she set up a table inside the mall to sell her baked goods before the mall closed and did not make much of a profit.

“We had a $200 day last week, so we were pleased with that,” Mass said. “But I think I need to put an ad in the paper because some of our customers don’t know where we are, what happened to us. They just knew we disappeared from the mall.”

Lois Mass slices a baby loaf of whole wheat bread Thursday, April 30, for morning coffee with her husband "Skee" at their home in Brainerd. Steve Kohls  /  Brainerd Dispatch
Lois Mass slices a baby loaf of whole wheat bread Thursday, April 30, for morning coffee with her husband "Skee" at their home in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Debra Lamecker met Mass at a farmers market about a year ago, and the 60-year-old property manager from Brainerd became enamored with the homemade breads that Mass makes.

“Bread is probably cheaper at the supermarket, but I go see her, especially because of the way she makes it. The effort that she puts into it, you don’t see that anymore,” Lamecker said. “My grandmother was a Mennonite and so I kind of grew up with the homemade breads.”

Mass made such an impression on the health-conscious Lamecker that she continues to purchase bread from Mass even after the mall closed.

“It tastes amazing. I would say it just tastes like real, whole, not artificial. There’s nothing artificial about it, and the way that she does it,” Lamecker said.

Lamecker said the No. 1 favorite bread Mass makes is the whole wheat bread followed closely by the cranberry walnut bread.

“We just bought a quarter of a beef from a private farmer in Pierz, so I think that’s going to be kind of my new thing nowadays. If it can be done local, I’m going to start doing my purchasing that way,” Lamecker said.

Debbie Lamecker holds a loaf of Lois' 100% Whole Wheat Bread and baked goods Friday, May 1, after stopping at her stand to pick up bread and a roll. Steve Kohls /  Brainerd Dispatch
Debbie Lamecker holds a loaf of Lois' 100% Whole Wheat Bread and baked goods Friday, May 1, after stopping at her stand to pick up bread and a roll. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.