Ken Forkish is, arguably, Oregon’s most famous baker. His James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Flour Water Salt Yeast, is often considered one of the best bread-baking manuals to come out in the last 20 years. His Northwest Portland bakery, the straightforwardly named Ken’s Artisan Bakery, is an iconic Portland destination for bread and pastries; on the other side of the river, Ken’s Artisan Pizza will still accumulate lines for its char-blistered pies, years after its opening. 20 years after opening Ken’s Artisan Bakery, however, Forkish has decided to retire, selling his two remaining businesses to his employees.
In a December 31 newsletter update, Forkish announced the sale of both Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Ken’s Artisan Bakery, as the baker steps down. Longtime employees Theo Taylor (general manager), Randy Dorkin (pastry chef), and Melissa Joubert (front of house) will take over the bakery, with a combined 43 years working with Forkish. He sold the pizzeria to Peter Kost, who also owns Carina Lounge in Northwest Portland; Kost has been “running the show” since Ken’s Artisan Pizza’s reopening in July. “I felt like this was the right time, because I wanted to make sure they were the stewards of the businesses going forward,” Forkish tells Eater Portland. “This is the right time for them; they’ve earned it.”
Forkish’s restaurant industry retirement has been in the works for years, in certain ways: First, with the closure of Trifecta in 2019, followed by the sale of Checkerboard Pizza this fall. In the last year, Forkish has tied up loose ends at the bakery and pizzeria: updating the crust and croissant recipes, for instance, and amping up fresh mozzarella production so each pizza comes with house-made cheese. “After closing Trifecta and immediately launching into the pandemic — all the pivots we had to do, dealing with all that stuff — it really set my own personal clock,” Forkish says. “I had some core changes I wanted to make at my pizzeria, and I did... We’re making the best pizza we’ve ever made at the restaurant now.”
Now that he’s left the businesses behind, Forkish will focus exclusively on his cookbook career: Flour Water Salt Yeast landed on the New York Times best-seller list in 2020, almost a decade after it initially hit shelves. Currently, Forkish is finishing up a sort of sequel to Flour Water Salt Yeast, exclusively focused on bread recipes; it’ll come out in September. But until then, he’s trying to slow down and recharge, and let the businesses with his name chug along without him.
“You’re not going to see that many significant changes at these places,” he says. “People shouldn’t notice I’m gone.”
Updated Wednesday, January 5, 2022: This story has been updated to include comment from Ken Forkish.