This was first published in the April, 2006 issue of the Left Hand Valley Courier in my "Vicinity and Beyond" column, where I visit local businesses of interest and write about my experiences. Since I do bake all my own breads, it was interesting to see how these were made on a larger scale. But it's still small batch baking compared to the loaves in the grocery store.
To me, bread is almost magical. Take some flour and some water, add some yeast (or for sourdough, wait for it to just appear), knead it for a while and soon it changes from lumpy and sticky to smooth and elastic. Leave it sit around for a while and it grows.
It’s even more fun than that. Flavor it with herbs or cheese or seeds. Shape it, stick it in a pan or bake it on a sheet. Slash the top with pretty patterns. The varieties are endless. And the good news is that you can have fresh-baked bread, without the need for you doing any kneading.
Great Harvest Bread Company in Longmont bakes bread daily “from the best possible ingredients” according to Matt Stanek, who owns the franchise with his wife, Marin.
The bread contains no preservatives and is made from scratch each day. Even without preservatives, the bread has a long shelf life – Stanek said that the honey whole wheat bread will last seven to 10 days.
In a back room is a grain mill with stone grinding wheels that can turn 180 pounds of wheat berries into whole wheat flour in about 45 minutes. Giant mixing bowls hold enough dough for 50 loaves of bread at a time, and there’s a mixer to do the work. The oven looks deceptively small until you realize the trays rotate.
Stanek noted that although the business is a franchise, the stores are all individually owned, and the owners have a lot of freedom when it comes to making bread varieties. In Longmont, you’ll find a dizzying array of regular breads and a schedule of specials that change monthly.
Of course you’ll find white, wheat and rye bread, but there are breads made from specialty flours, like spelt, as well as whole grain bread and sweet breads, too. You’ll also find brownies, quick breads, scones, cookies and muffins.
If that’s not enough, there are holiday specials, like pies for Christmas and Thanksgiving and a chocolate-cherry bread for Valentine’s Day. Last Easter, there was a bunny-shaped bread that was almost too cute to eat. Stanek said that many people hollowed out the body and used the bunny-bread for dips.
You can get fresh-made sandwiches, too. And no one escapes the store without being offered a slice of bread to sample. After all, part of the company mission statement is “be generous.”
Bread samples aren’t the end of Stanek’s generosity. He said that seldom does a week go by that he isn’t involved in some sort of charity event, whether it’s by donating gift baskets or bread or by running a special sale, like the recent “Grains for Brains” promotion that donated money to a local school. Last year, Great Harvest ran an event for Katrina victims, which Stanek described as, “The most overwhelming thing I’ve been involved in.”
He stressed that a big part of his business success is employees. He said that because of his employees, he has the best customer service around. And the employees seem to be happy, even offering to work as volunteers for the recent “Grains for Brains” event.
Besides organized charity events, Stanek also donates his day-old bread, which still has a long shelf life, to shelters and food banks.
Especially interested in things that benefit children, Stanek tries to stress the importance of whole grains in the diet and the “real importance of starting the day with a good breakfast.” When the events involve children, he will try to send whole grain breads.
Stanek’s ownership of the Longmont Great Harvest just celebrated its one-year anniversary. “This is truly a commitment for us,” he said, explaining that they are part of the community and plan on sticking around for a long time.
There’s going to be a lot of baking going on.
Great Harvest Bread Company is at 1100 Ken Pratt Blvd. in Longmont. Call 303-772-9090 or see http://www.longmontgreatharvest.com/ for more information.