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Baking is Heavy Lift

story by Jennifer Tai

It is 11:30 p.m. and Josh Ryan is getting ready to go to work at Kirchhoff's, Paducah's oldest bakery. His wife, Sabrina, and step-daughter Sidney are asleep. He says goodbye to his dog Spot and cat Lucy before driving off into the night to make bread for a town that's just going to bed.

Josh, 38, is a partner with Ginny Kirchhoff Elmore, the great-great granddaughter of the original Kirchhoff. The bakery creates artisan breads, pastries and cakes, runs a bustling deli and supplies baked goods to small businesses and restaurants in town. Thirty-two years after it closed due to a changing economy, Kirchhoff 's reopened in 1997, thanks to Ginny and her father, Louis Kirchhoff Jr. This was the same year Josh started work as a "floater," doing odd jobs. Josh began learning the ropes and soon was baking bread. He became a partner 10 years later.

Josh is a workhorse, preparing dough, shaping bread and baking from midnight to around 6 a.m. He works 16 hours a day, has not taken a real vacation in five years and suffered through a herniated disk from heavy lifting a couple of years ago.

Nine months ago, the bakery hired Philip Rowland, a 24-year old culinary graduate. Josh hopes Philip will be able to lighten his load eventually, although the interim training period has resulted in longer hours for Josh. He hopes to hire a few more bread makers but does not know when he will actually be able to cut back his hours.

This is worrisome for his wife Sabrina.

"I just want to eat dinner together again," she says.

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Josh greets his stepdaughter Sidney at home after a 16-hour day at Kirchhoff's.

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Josh sits down to a late lunch with his family before heading off to bed. He has been up since midnight making bread for the town of Paducah.

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Josh is fast asleep at 5:20 p.m. He will be up at 11:30 p.m. for another day of breadmaking.

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Quinn Mitchell, a cook at Kirchhoff's Deli, grabs salads from the fridge on the left while customers browse the bakery counter out front, reflected on this window on the kitchen door.

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Josh chats with Mary Maness and Rory Moloney from Qualicum Beach, B.C. Mary and Rory are tourists in town, sailing in on the American Queen steamboat, which started its journey from St Louis.

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Josh Ryan, baker at Kirchhoff's, shares a laugh with his wife, Sabrina. The two have been married for 10 years and work at the bakery together.

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Josh does not remove his wedding ring when he works, mainly because it won't come off. This isn't the original wedding ring because the old one was "super traditional and just ugly". Sabrina, his wife, finally gifted him this ring, which has Celtic love knots. "I keep it on so Louis won't hump my leg," Josh jokes, referring to Louis Kirchhoff, the patriarch of the bakery.

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Josh takes a moment to sit and stretch his back. Several times s day he lifts steel mixing bowls that weigh up to 200 pounds. Before he had an apprentice, Josh would lift these bowls by himself. This resulted in a herniated disk two years ago. "Bakers must have strong backs and weak minds," he jokes.

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Josh waits at the door for the pizza delivery. He has been up 16 hours baking bread at Kirchhoff's.