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From combat medic to Washington County baker

Robert Bragdon survived military service to open a bakery with his wife

COURTESY PHOTO - Robert Bragdon signs the top of each bread loaf he bakes with a unique symbol. Before he could ride a bike or play baseball, Robert Bragdon learned to bake.

“My grandmother raised me and taught me how to do pretty much everything in the kitchen,” said Bragdon, who grew up in Cornelius. “The first show I remember watching was not Sesame Street. It was Julia Child.”

When he became a frontline combat medic with light Calvary duties for the U.S. Army in 2003, Bragdon found ways to continue his passion, even a world away in Iraq.

He remembers helping the culinary crew prepare meals at several army bases during his down time. But he missed baking. He would barter with locals to buy fresh eggs and vegetables. One day he bought a box cake and with foil and a pan borrowed from the base kitchen, he baked it on the roof of his Humvee when it was over 100 degrees.

“You find a way to do what you want to do,” Bragdon said. “You don’t stop, regardless of where you are.”

That applies to Next Dimension Bakery, the 1.5-year-old bakery Bragdon co-owns with his wife, Kristina, and operated out of their Forest Grove home. Or was — until the Bragdons received a letter from the Homeowners Association last week asking them to stop conducting business in their home. They are now looking for a storefront in Forest Grove.

‘Outside the limits’

When Bragdon was honorably discharged from the military in 2008, he decided to hone his cooking skills at his Hillsboro home by watching YouTube tutorials and reading books. Both disabled veterans, Robert and Kristina moved to Forest Grove in 2014 with their three children — ages 10, 12 and 13 — for the slower pace of life. Shortly after noticing a local need for cakes through the Forest Grove classified ads and Facebook, Kristina decided to use her entrepreneurial spirit — and her husband’s baking talents — to get their kitchen licensed. COURTESY PHOTOS - The Bragdons daughter and youngest son learned decorating techniques to help bake cakes for the Dilley Elementary School Halloween Carnival.

With no culinary degrees, the couple decided to open a business.

They now own and operate Next Dimension Bakery, a name chosen to represent their unique baked goods that they say “go outside the limits” of what people might imagine. Robert tries to go off the grid with his bird-seed bread, his baked-potato-sour-cream-and-chives loaf and The Willie Cake, a chocolate, gluten-free recipe from the year 1910.

“I like to bring back old recipes,” he said.

In addition, Next Dimension Bakery specializes in sculpted cakes and unique traditional and tiered cakes.

Bragdon’s sculpture skills blossomed as a teenager, when he sculpted half a dozen roses out of a special kind of foam outside of his sketch class at Forest Grove High School. The sculpting teacher saw his creation and invited him to try working with clay. He was hooked.

The year he returned from Iraq, he decided to combine his love of both baking and sculpting by creating his first sculpted cake for his oldest son’s birthday.

Next Dimension Bakery also bakes fresh breads and many other sweets without the use of chemicals and dough conditioners.

Business was booming

Since Next Dimension Bakery began last year, the business has snowballed.

Cassandra Cree, co-owner of The King’s Head Pub has been using Next Dimension’s home-baked bread for their sandwiches since the beginning of 2015.

“We love that they are local, it’s homemade, and that we are supporting the community,” Cree said. “The relationship works out well for us. Everybody loves it.”

Forest Grove resident Julie Perger appreciates what the Bragdons do. She recently hosted a corporate event and ordered rosemary ciabatta rolls and gluten-free cupcakes.This spaceship traveling across a star-speckled cake is an example of how Robert Bragdon combines his baking and sculpture skills for Next Dimension Bakery.

“They will tailor to your needs,” Perger said. “You don’t have to just order on their menu because they will customize for you.”

More recently, with the closure of Perfection Bakery inside Hank’s Thriftway in Hillsboro, the Bragdons decided to help out some of Perfection’s customers. Within the first week of doing so, their business went up 400 percent.

Many brides-to-be who had ordered cakes from Perfection were in desperate need for wedding cakes. In Forest Grove, Phil’s Subs needed someone to take over baking its sandwich bread.

The Bragdons took on both those tasks.

“We have a great understanding of what it takes to keep community operations like that going,” Bragdon said. “So we wanted to give back.”

Shaped by ‘awful things’

Bragdon said his family’s giving spirit stems from their close relationship to God.

“I led a traumatic life and survived a lot of things in combat that I should not have,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be where I am today without those awful things.”

Although baking keeps the family busy, they have managed to attend church at Life Christian in Aloha for the past two years.

Like Cree, the Bragdons love supporting the community with their giving spirit. They attend local farmers markets and bazaars. They buy local organic products and donate bread to Meals on Wheels and Family Promise, a nonprofit that provides food and shelter to homeless families.

“We are reestablishing and refueling the community directly,” Bragdon said.

But in order to expand their operations, donate more and sell their goods to other businesses, the couple needs more room.

When they got the homeowners’ association letter, Krisitina said, she thought, “Maybe this is the last straw, where it’s like ‘This is your answer. You need a storefront.’”

Kristina will be attending a six month fellowship to gain more business and culinary skills in the Dog Tag Bakery Program at Georgetown University this January.

With plans to raise their children in the community, they’re keeping their storefront search local.

“In the long run, we want deep-rooted ties to this community,” said Bragdon. And while the search for space might seem like one more rung to climb on the ladder, “we are looking at it as a forward momentum.”