Once an opera singer, now a baker. As Jonas Laughlin mourned the loss of his first career, a new passion emerged.
The gauntlet had been thrown.
Jonas Laughlin would have to make the perfect pain au chocolat-no easy feat for even the best pâtissier.
It would require days of preparation. Four, to be exact: One day to create the base dough, another two to fold in the butter, a third to cut and shape the croissant and a fourth for good measure. (Followed by 22 minutes in his oven.)
The end result would need a lightly browned crust that should crack and crumble with each bite, revealing 729 layers (exactly) of flaky, buttery pastry. In the center: a layer of gooey, melted chocolate.
Laughlin would spend those four days in his tiny Italian Village kitchen, mixing, rolling, shaping and baking several batches of his pain au chocolat to get one that was, as he says, "just so."
When he did, he delicately placed it in a box, along with a few more of his sweets, and sent it off.
When it reached Debbie Neimeth, the owner of Short North shops Happy Go Lucky Home and Happy Go Lucky Her, she had her doubts.
Neimeth's skepticism wasn't personal-she just happens to know a good pain au chocolat when she tastes one. When her store manager, Michael Erwin, told her about the authentic European pastries Laughlin peddled at local events, she said she wasn't sure they could stand up to the real thing.
Laughlin happily accepted her challenge.
At first bite, the croissant, with its rounded top and crinkled edges, exploded, sending a snowfall of crust-and Neimeth's doubt-to the floor.
"This actually really is perfect," she said. "This is amazing." The dream of a Laughlin's Bakery became a little more real.
Laughlin, 32, had been whipping up lavish sweets for years. From pies to muffins to, of course, croissants-his passion began, quite unusually, with a cold.
As a graduate student at the Boston Conservatory in 2005, Laughlin was studying to be an opera singer when the cold came. As it worsened, it attacked his voice, rendering his vocal chords unable to create music. He went to numerous Harvard doctors and had two surgeries over two and a half years before he finally learned he wouldn't sing again.
He was devastated.
"There were suicidal moments," he says. "I have to admit that. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with just because there was so much confusion … it just kills your soul."
As he mourned his singing career, Laughlin began to bake.
First came a chocolate cake, which he set about perfecting with a severity that surprised even him. But it was methodical, and he saw progress-something he no longer experienced as a singer.
"I sort of latched on to that because it was something I could control," Laughlin says. "That sounds a little severe, but that's true. I needed that control."
After the cake came the pastries, and he began sourcing recipes from family members and cookbooks to create the best possible version of each sweet.
In 2009, Laughlin and his partner at the time decided to make the move from Boston to Columbus, where Laughlin took up a position as a teaching assistant in The Ohio State University's School of Music.
On breaks, he started staging bake sales and setting up tables labeled Laughlin's Distinguished Baked Goods at events like the Short North Yard Sale-and, eventually, at Happy Go Lucky Home during Gallery Hop.
"He came and did that several times," Neimeth says. "And always with incredible success and amazing feedback about how great his pastries were."
Café del Mondo soon began carrying his goods, too.
Then, an opening. Neimeth got word that the space at 15 E. Second Ave. was available, so she and Laughlin did a walkthrough. He was enamored.
"The minute I walked into this space, I knew it had to be it," he says. "Then the process began of how do I make this happen?"
Neimeth would help, of course. She and her husband, George Barrett, CEO of Cardinal Health, were eager to invest in Laughlin's dream.
But he knew he'd need more-$35,000 more-so he turned to Kickstarter, an online crowd-funding platform.
His campaign went live on Aug. 1, 2014, with the hope of reaching his goal by Aug. 31. On Aug. 11, the day before Laughlin's birthday, donations hit $35,000. By the end of the month, Laughlin had raised $43,174 from 310 backers.
"I still remember running around the house screaming and yelling," he says. "It was just incredible."
Laughlin's Bakery opened on Dec. 6 to an eager audience of friends, mentors, former students and teachers.
"It was like the best day you could've imagined for yourself-and even better," he says. "It was wonderful."
He placed a plaque on the back wall of the bakery, showcasing the names of his supporters, an ever-present reminder of a generous community. And he made sure music was there, too. A lyre, a stringed instrument that's also a symbol of death and rebirth, is suspended in his logo and sits discreetly in places around the bakery.
This, Laughlin says, reminds him to keep believing.
"The way that things unfold in time and the way that experience and loss and success all lead to some great culmination-it makes you a spiritual person," he says. "It really does."