BENICIA, Calif. - Nothing ever seems to slow down at One House Bakery, the kitchen is in constant motion and from savory to the sweet, smells that fill the air are a treat for the senses.
That is for everyone but head chef Hanalee Pervan.
"Somedays," says Pervan, "it’s unbearable."
For Pervan, nothing smells good, nothing tastes good. Thats even since she recovered from COVID back in January.
"Sometimes I get bread, it tastes OK," she said. "But then the crust turns to burning it’s like a weird trash bag rotting burning thing. It tastes terrible so I’ve stopped eating I’ve lost 22 pounds."
But that’s not the worst part because for Pervan.
Food is her happy place. Food is family. And as a long-haul survivor in many ways, COVID threatened to literally steal her joy.
"Since about 10 years old I’ve only wanted to be a bake," said Pervan.
One House Bakery started as a childhood dream.
A love for food won her competitions, took her to Le Corden Bleu, the Bouchon Bakery and French Laundry in Yountville, and finally years later to First Street in Benicia.
Three years ago, she made that dream a reality.
"We make everything fresh here," explained Pervan. "We mill our own flour we do fresh croissants everyday fresh bread savory food sweet food everything you can think of pretty much, my parents are my business partner."
"She literally puts everything she has into this place," said Morgann Johnson.
Johnson has worked at the bakery since 2018 and says it’s like being a part of a family "because it’s her dream and she cares about it and everyone and her community."
When COVID hit last year, Pervan said she did everything she could to keep the business going and keep them all safe with masks, sanitizers and strict protocols.
"I was so concerned my parents were going to get it I was so concerned my staff was going to get it and I was the one who got it," said Pervan.
That was before the vaccine was available. She still doesn’t know how she got it but when she lost her sense of taste and smell she patiently waited for it to come back.
"Maybe today, maybe today, maybe today," that’s what Pervan hoped.
But she admits, "that was terrifying and then it finally started coming back and I was like okay this is right in the timeline they said it could take six months to come back then it started coming back and it was completely wrong nothing was tasting like it should have."
Even now it’s getting worse and that’s been hard to cope with.
"I think there is a period of three weeks where I cried every day at work," she said. "I essentially would walk around with a bowl of food crying basically and saying can you tell me if this is enough salt, can you tell me if this enough acid."
She admitted: "It was a lot of crying and a lot of depression and a lot of shame and I was embarrassed that it was happening I wanted to be strong and I felt broken."
But she wasn’t broken.
More importantly she wasn’t alone.
She says she leans on her husband and her parents and she has surrounded herself with a great team.
"We have her back no matter what," said employee Zach Laskaris.
He calls working at One House Bakery, the "best job I’ve ever had in a kitchen."
Pervan’s mother, Catherine, said "watching her really grow and expand herself as a human being and not just as a chef and say I know I am going to have trust my team more and then me watching her do that is remarkable."
And so, every day you will find her here leading the charge in this new remarkable way.
"It’s such a different way to cook, you make a whole dish, you think this is what it needs to be this what it’s going to taste like and you ask everyone is this what it tastes like?" said Pervan.
And leading she says means speaking your truth.
After keeping it a secret for months, Pervan is now sharing her story.
"It’s becoming an important part of who I am as a chef and I didn’t want to feel ashamed or embarrassed anymore and I wanted other people to know if they are going through this that they aren’t alone."
Now she says she works every day understanding that food can still be love and still be about family. Even if she can’t taste it, and even if she can’t smell it.
"I do have hope, I have to hope," she says. "Because like you said food is my joy food is my happiness and I refuse to believe it’s never going to come back may have moments of really really dark sadness that it won’t come back but no I refuse to say it’s never going to come back."