As a wildlife student at Humboldt State, Berit Meyer often snuck away to the library where she spent hours thumbing through old recipes and cookbooks. After graduating in 1981, a family friend gifted her a beautiful book on gourmet chocolate desserts — how did they know? she wondered. Thirty-seven years later, Meyer is still baking everything from amaretto cheesecake to chocolate-dipped biscotti to sourdough baguettes at Humboldt County's own Ramone's Bakery and Café.

Along with Brian Ferguson, Meyer's husband of 28 years, the couple own six Ramone's locations and oversee some 130 employees. Talking about their success — in both the bakery biz and marriage — the couple quickly answers that there's no magic secret. "So many people are in for the short run," explains Ferguson. "But you have to keep going."

click to enlarge LEÓN VILLAGÓMEZ
  • León Villagómez

With chapters on love, baguettes, marathons, coffee, daughters and horses, Ramone's is a story baked into the culture of Humboldt County. Humboldt State University alums and homesick locals daydream about molasses cookies and pink champagne cake after moving away. And when catching a flight at the Arcata-Eureka Airport, travelers can savor a cup of Ramone's house-roasted coffee before they depart or the moment they return. While Meyer and Ferguson love to travel as well — France, Mexico or wherever they're running a marathon — Meyer explains, "We're Humboldt people. We're not going anywhere."

The summer after college, Meyer wasted no time starting her business with former partner Barb Jewell (née Berkemeyer) and Tom Pagona of Tomaso's Specialty Foods. Located where Café Nooner sits today, the trio called their restaurant Ramone's Opera Alley Café after Remo, a local Eureka street character recognizable by his faux leather and chapeau. Meyer walked around the linen-covered tables each night, displaying a large silver platter of her house made desserts to every table.

After a few years, Pagona moved on to his next entrepreneurial endeavor and the two women brought in French chef Jean-Louis Hamiche (now of Blue Lake Casino) to cook dinner. Meyer remembers that until he started baking baguettes, she'd walk to the bus station twice a week to pick up fresh sourdough from San Francisco. "We still use his mother's recipe from France," remembers Meyer with a laugh.

By 1986, Ramone's opened its second location — still in operation — on E Street in Old Town. As the business started to expand, Meyer credits Dennis Rael of Los Bagels for putting her in touch with a consultant who introduced them to fast-paced world of Bay Area restaurant auctions. "To this day, we can't resist a good deal," says Ferguson. Meyer used the Bay Area shopping trips to also expand on her baking prowess, taking a few classes and staying at her mother's, which was conveniently located near the world-famous Cheese Board Bakery in Berkeley, California. "When I started, I could make a muffin but I didn't know how to bake bread," says Meyer. Collecting tips from generous chefs and bakers, Meyer would make the long drive home with a new buttercream recipe or chocolate glazing technique in her back pocket.

In 1989, Dennis Rael made another life-changing introduction when he invited both Meyer and Ferguson to a potluck. Both active in the Humboldt culinary scene, they had already spotted each other at Ramone's or the North Coast Co-op, where Ferguson was a baker. Married within a year — they just knew — the couple's wedding guests cautioned the love birds against their plans to bring Ferguson into the business. "People asked if we were afraid to be together every day at home and at work," says Meyer. "We couldn't imagine anything better!" After a year, Ferguson joined Meyer as the co-owner just as Ramone's was getting ready to open a third location.

click to enlarge LEÓN VILLAGÓMEZ
  • León Villagómez

With another person to share the load and answer the phone when catastrophe struck, Meyer gave birth to their first daughter in 1993. She remembers lying on her bed with her newborn and three staff schedules spread out across the bed. People kept telling her to take time off. "Yeah, yeah," she'd reply. But as the business continued to grow — today Ramone's offers catering, bakes custom wedding cakes and roasts its own coffee beans — Ferguson handled most day-to-day operations, giving Meyer time to be a mother and "stay in the mix" in the bakery.

While Meyer and Ferguson both believe in hard work, their life outside of Ramone's is rich with their meditative hobbies, travel and family. Between them they have 10 marathons under their belts and Meyer has ridden over 4,000 endurance miles on Tezona, her horse of 22 years. "Our typical evening is to toast a baguette in our little countertop oven, put out a little cambenzola and salami, and open a bottle of wine," says Meyer. The couple keeps an orchard and chickens at their rural home and laugh when talking about the kitchen they've been remodeling for 10 years. For all their accomplishments, the couple is most proud of their two very artistic daughters, the employees they've kept for 10, 15, even 20 years and the community vibes at their most successful location, Ramone's Café on Harrison in Eureka. "It's a place where people can bring their kids in, a place where people can talk to each other," explains Ferguson. "We've tried to create a bridge for the community."

Fresh coffee and good baguettes are certainly something everyone can get behind.

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