Owners inspired by simplicity of a hearty bread
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
When Kevin and Heather Knight were living in Seattle in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they frequented Grand Central Baking Company, a bakery in Pioneer Square. The Knights were drawn to Grand Central’s unique brand of artisan bread, pastries and café cuisine.
“We just came back from Europe, and Grand Central was the only place where we could find the bread that we were really missing from our trip. (We liked) the simplicity of a really good loaf of bread,” Heather said. “At that time, you weren’t able to find that style of baking that much.”
Kevin vividly remembers the first time Heather brought home a loaf of bread from Grand Central. He was an art student at Seattle Central Community College at the time.
“I cut off a big chunk of it and wrapped it in foil and took it to school for lunch, (along) with a big chunk of cheese,” he said. “(I thought), ‘This is so great. It’s so different from the squishy sandwiches that I’m used to.’ It was more hearty, more filling, and durable, so I could just stick it in my pack.”
In 1994, Heather and Kevin, both natives of Bainbridge Island, decided that they wanted to move to Eastern Washington, drawn to the Wenatchee Valley by the outdoor opportunities it offered.
They also determined that they would change careers — Heather had worked in finance and as a paralegal, and Kevin labored in the construction industry.
“We were inspired by (Grand Central),” Heather said. “We came (to the Wenatchee Valley) without a game plan, but we knew we wanted to have what we had in Seattle. We wanted a Grand Central Bakery, in essence — a place where we could get a really good latte and a sandwich with really good bread. (We thought), ‘Let’s do it ourselves.’ ”
They did just that. They opened Anjou Bakery near Cashmere in 1995, and since then have worked diligently to establish the business as a vibrant destination point for both Wenatchee Valley locals and travelers alike.
The bakery offers a variety of authentic artisan breads and pastries, in addition to sandwiches, coffee and a signature product – a fruit nut crostini that is now available in cafes throughout the West Coast.
“Our passion is artisan bread and artisan pastries,” Heather said. “Everything we do is focused on those things.”
Kevin serves as the bakery’s production manager, a role that allows him to oversee and train the company’s bakers as well as come up with new and creative formulas for breads and pastries.
He has acquired all of his bread baking knowledge from “reading and doing,” he said.
“He learned most of it on his own,” Heather said. “He can take full credit for really organizing the product in a way that is technical and accurate. He’s really learned a lot from experience, trial and error. We’re not culinary students.”
Kevin has also learned certain techniques over the years by absorbing information from other bakers and entering competitions. He has competed in the Bread Bakers Guild Team USA and California Raisin Marketing Board America’s Best Raisin Bread competitions in the past.
“I get inspiration from other bakeries and past traditions, and a lot of our creativity comes from past traditions and trying to interpret that to the modern day,” Kevin said. “We’re trying to make European style breads right here in Cashmere. That in itself, I think, is fairly creative.”
Beth Marotta, an East Wenatchee resident, and her family have been steady customers of the bakery for several years.
“Everything is good there,” Marotta said. “The super-crusty breads are great for dipping oil, and the pie crust on their Marion berry pie is unlike any crust I’ve ever had, except for homemade. Everything is made with exceptional quality. It’s hard to decide what to get. Once you try something, you’re hooked.”
The bakery has become a wholesale retailer over the last few years thanks to the success of its fruit nut crostini product.
About 10 years ago, the Knights began making the crostini from leftover loaves of fruit nut bread. The crostini proved popular with the bakery’s customer base, so Kevin and Heather continued to make the bread just for the crostini and began distributing the product throughout the Pacific Northwest, beginning with a few of the Knights’ favorite specialty stores in the Seattle area, including Pasta & Company, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and Town and Country Markets.
“We didn’t initially work with a distributor. I would go to a store and try to convince them to buy this product,” Heather said. “Now we have a couple distributors that we work with, but we’re by no means a giant. It was a grass roots thing, and it just kind of happened. It was a way not to waste something, and we discovered we liked it, and it did have a shelf life. We felt like it was a natural for a specialty food store.”
The bakery is located just off Highway 2 just east of Cashmere, and as a result receives a steady influx of customers who are traveling to and from the west side of the state.
However, Heather said the bakery doesn’t attempt to market its product to any one particular audience.
“We want to be part of the whole North Central Washington community,” she said. “We’re not specifically marketing to Seattle people, but the products that we have, maybe it’s a natural attraction (for) that person. The support that we get from the outdoor community (here) is great. We’re really proud to be appreciated by that community, because I think they’re health conscious.”
When the Knights purchased the property, the building was a fruit warehouse, so they’ve had to work extensively over the past 16 years to remodel the 4,500-square foot, three-story facility into a bakery.
For example, the tables in the bakery’s café area sit in the area where their son’s bedroom used to be.
Yes, Heather and Kevin initially lived in the building.
“The bathroom was over there,” Kevin said, pointing to a display case filled with pastries. “We were just winging it. Actually, I think we’re still winging it.”
The most significant challenge Heather and Kevin have had to overcome is their relative lack of business experience. They had no formal business training when they opened the bakery, so as a result they’ve had to learn virtually everything they now know about how to run a business after they opened the bakery.
“To be really candid, we really are creative, and we do have a certain type of energy, (but) we are not trained managers,” Heather said. “It’s quite complex to employ people, inspire people, to train people. For us, it’s been challenging. Having the experience of (working for) a company and working for somebody real inspirational would have been an awesome experience to reflect on. We’re not business experts by any means.
“The key, I think, is having a passion for something, and our passion is focused on artisan breads and pastries. We’ve always felt that’s one reason why we’re still in business.”
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