LOGAN—Some say bread is the staff of life. For Bill Oblock it is much more. It's art, it's science. It's what he loves.
The only problem is convincing others to love it too.
John Reichert, head baker and one of the three 'Crumb Brothers,' shaping bread dough at Crumb Brothers Bakery in Logan"The biggest challenge for us is to get people to try something different," Oblock says of his newest venture, Crumb Brothers Artisan Bread.
Considering the popularity of the handmade bread, with its hard crust and chewy interior, Oblock is addressing that challenge. The business sells out daily, shipping fresh bread to the Salt Lake Farmers Market and restaurants throughout northern Utah, such as Bambara and Fresco Italian Cafe.
Creating a niche with high-quality, all-natural bread has been the key to success, according to Entrepreneur Magazine Group.
"Run-of-the-mill bakeries have a tough time making it, especially in larger cities," the group's guide to bakeries says. "You have to have a 'hook,' offering more to the public than a typical bakery."
In an increasingly tight market, bakeries have to differentiate themselves, adds Peter Franklin of PeterBread Consulting. Of the 80 bakeries he has advised, including Crumb Brothers, no two business plans have been alike. "It's just like starting any business that is relatively high risk," Franklin says. "For those people like Bill, who has done his homework... it is still not blue sky because you never know what reality will bring."
In March, Oblock opened his 4,600-square-foot, environmentally conscious bakery in a historic part of Cache Valley and is producing between 500 and 600 loaves per day. Not bad, considering all the bread is made by hand. But Oblock says this solid start is just the foundation of a bigger plan.
By next year, he and his "Crumb Brothers"—head bakers John Reichert and Josh Archibald—hope to sell 1,500 loaves a day. Designs also are in place to use more of the bakery as a retail store, where customers can enjoy a pastry with juice or coffee.
Before venturing into the bakery business, Oblock worked for 20 years in the restaurant industry, including ownership of Logan's Grapevine restaurant.
He says his million-dollar investment in the new bakery—including $50,000 for an oven capable of baking 300 loaves at once—came from a desire to move from the high-paced demands of being a restaurateur to the more specialized, low-key business of baking bread.
Now he and his partners spend hours perfecting various recipes.
"We are serious about bread, but we don't want to come across as being above everybody," Oblock says.
That attitude may be the drive behind two other Oblock goals: Making as little impact on the environment as possible, and creating a space his employees can enjoy.
To meet those goals, Oblock and architect Joyce Popendorf have strived to develop an energy-efficient operation. Their building's large windows are designed to reflect sunlight onto high ceilings and a geoexchange system uses energy from groundwater to heat and cool the structure. Oblock also uses natural gas vans to transport his bread around the state. "I wanted to have the architecture come through in what we do," Oblock says. "It is about being responsible for what you do with your resources."
Tasty stuff—I've sampled the products of a few bakeries of this type, one in Seattle, one in Phoenix, and the one in this story. That they consider 300 loaves at a time to be "low-key," however, seems pretty crazy to me, but then baking a single loaf would probably make me feel insane.
Great Harvest may not fit the "artisan bakers" mold specifically, but their honey wheat bread is simply insanely good. If there's a location near you, stop by and enjoy a sample slice in the store, free for the asking whether you buy or not.