Who: Andrew Elia, Jeff Appareti & Geoff Jensen
What: Genuine Bread Co.
Where: Santa Barbara, California
What other gig demands feeding people daily, staying up late, waking up early, even leaving parties to check on things? If you think I'm talking about parenting a small child, you're not far off. This is the "baker's life" of Genuine Bread Co. comprised of three friends in Santa Barbara, California who turn out twice weekly batches of the most delicious artisan bread you've ever tasted.
Genuine Bread Co. officially launched this past Spring, but the connections and interest in food for all the partners has been percolating for many years. Geoff, Jeff and Andrew work together to make about 100 loaves of bread per week. These three met in college at Westmont (in the hills of Santa Barbara) and went on to the Bay Area and other locales post graduation. After graduate school, while pursuing other careers and interests, the three friends reconnected at a party in Berkeley. There was magic in that evening and somehow a bread idea was born. Fast forward a few years and a lot of trial and error, "glorified biscottis" as Andrew described to me, and you have a honed and perfected hand-kneaded slow-rise dough.
The three friends divide and conquer their individual duties with enthusiasm and a healthy dose of charm. Geoff just finished baking school at San Francisco Baking Institute. Andrew's been rocking out the loaves on his own for a few months, just keeping up with demand. Jeff leads the web development and the numbers for the business and everyone cheerfully sells their standout product. Theirs is an inspiring story of friendship, dedication, synergy and crusty tangy bread, divine on its own or, as I like it best, toasted and slathered in butter and jam.
The Test Workshop
Genuine Bread Co. currently bakes their bread in a commercial kitchen at a community center in West Santa Barbara. The space is about 800 square feet and it gets the job done. Their kitchen is not spectacular; it's decked out with a wood fired oven and reclaimed wood and chic barn lamps, and it's so ordinary and humble, which actually makes it fabulous. It shows you don't need an amazing space to make an inspired product. It's basic, suits the company's needs for now, and is close to home for all those midnight dough rising checks.
The Secret Sauce
Experimentation has been the secret sauce for this new company. From add-ins like walnuts and cranberry, a variety of seeds, or jalapeno and jack cheese, to more structural changes like temperature of water, humidity of day, rise time, baking temperature, Andrew is always tweaking, adapting and honing to make the best possible bread. No day is the exact same as the previous, and bread baking certainly keeps this crew on their toes. A loaf of bread is an alive being, one that these three try to tame and let live. The tension is fascinating!
The Business Plan
I was first intrigued by Genuine's bread subscription service. Similar to a CSA, customers can buy into the concept in advance and pick up their bread once or twice weekly at the leading coffee shop in town. You can also buy their breads without prepaying while the loaves last (they fly off the shelf pretty fast!). As many of us head towards getting dairy and fresh produce from the farm, it makes perfect sense to add a good loaf of bread to this mix. Bread is available in a whole or 1/2 loaf at $8 and $4.
Between the friendship between the the business partners and the collaboration with Santa Barbara coffee shop The French Press, Genuine Bread Co. is very much a community in and of itself. No aspect of this business functions on its own and a great deal of this endeavor's success is due to the community support. The owners of The French Press were part of the encouraging whispers that brought the Genuine Bread Co. into existence. This part may sound familiar if you read the profile on 24 Blackbird Chocolate a few months ago. The fact is that local wine and organic produce have been a part of the Santa Barbara gastronomic landscape for about 30 years or more, but locally-made, fantastic bread, coffee and chocolate are relatively new to the scene here. The city has embraced and celebrated all of these edible delights with fervor. It's a wonderful way to start a Saturday, at the farmers' market, having a coffee and picking up some bread for the week.
6 Quick Questions for Genuine Bread Co.
1. Favorite online resources for your kitchen?
The Fresh Loaf and BBGA are two great resources for bakers of all levels. The wide range of dialogue and collaborative online community on these sites provide new opportunities for learning each time I visit. Oh! And breadpeople.tumblr.com. Just trust me on this one...
2. The one thing you can't live without?
3. If you could spend a day with anyone, who would it be and why?
Hmm...it's kind of not the right answer but it would be awesome if I were Owen Wilson's character in Midnight in Paris!
4. What's in your Google reader?
I don't have one set up! Should I?
5. If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it?
Pay off my student loans and build the perfect commercial kitchen space and start an underground club.
6. What is the best way to taste your bread? Any accompaniments or tasting notes we should be aware of? One of the driving philosophies behind the bread that Genuine Bread Co. crafts is that each loaf should possess the intrinsic ability to impress the palate if eaten as is. With that being said, like all things, one's imagination is the greatest accompaniment to our bread!
Visit their website → Genuine Bread Co.
Thanks, Genuine Bread Co.!
(Images: Leela Cyd)