One of my many food fantasies is that I’ll someday own a small cafe—just a breakfast and lunch joint where your coffee mug is topped off every three seconds and the food is unpretentious and comforting. At Mary’s Cafe we’ll do all the baking in house. There will be homemade bagels slathered in cream cheese, scratch english muffins topped with melting butter and blackberry jam, and piping hot paninis made from homemade focaccia. For dessert? Triple chocolate cake, and flourless chocolate cake, and molten chocolate cake topped with chocolate fudge and homemade ice cream… oh, and maybe a chocolate chip cookie or two.
Granted this fantasy hinges on my baking experience, which consists primarily of baking the cookie recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chips bag a thousand times or two. (I don’t care what people say—it’s ok to use the recipe on the back of the bag.)
Fresh-baked bread is one of the simple pleasures in life. I consider myself a free-basket-of-bread connoisseur, but I’ve never been behind the scenes at a cafe (or a bakery for that matter). That is until last month, when I got the opportunity to knead some dough at the Great Harvest Bread Co. in North Charlotte.
Great Harvest is a national franchise, but each location is independently owned and operated as an individual small business. Melissa, the owner of the North Charlotte Great Harvest, says this business model gives each owner freedom to tailor their store to meet their specific market. For Charlotte, this means pumpkin chocolate chip muffins and lots of pepperoni bread to please us northern transplants. (Insert wide eyes and belly rubbing here.) Melissa’s store is now baking gluten-free bread and is also introducing a new Strawberry Lemonade muffin this month.
Once I arrived at Great Harvest, I was given a GH t-shirt and put to work kneading dough with the rest of the team. I’ve kneaded dough before… in the privacy of my own kitchen with no supervision. I had intentions of writing all about the steps involved in kneading the perfect dough ball, but it turns out many of mine weren’t up to par. Melissa says the key to making great bread is PRACTICE, followed by more practice, good ingredients, fresh yeast, and PRACTICE. Sounds like I have an excuse to bake some bread this spring!
Cinnamon chip is one of the most popular items at the North Charlotte location. Here are a dozen or so loaves waiting for their turn in the oven:
The smell of the pesto parmesan swirls was intoxicating. I had to take one home. And I did, of course.
The honey whole wheat loaves are another one of Melissa’s top sellers:
Check out the ingredients list on the Honey Whole Wheat and Farmhouse White bread. Each has a whopping FIVE ingredients. No crazy concoctions you can’t pronounce–just flour, honey, yeast, salt, and eggs. That is how bread should be made, folks.
Besides the bread, there were lots of sweet treats in process:
Tell me this doesn’t look divine.
Did you know Great Harvest offers *free* samples of their daily specials? Just walk on in and try before you buy. Trust me, once you have a taste you will need to take some home with you.
I think I look right at home here!
I dare say, getting to work behind the scenes has taken my love of bread to a whole new level. I admire the guts it took for Melissa to make the move from the corporate world to opening her own bakery. She says sometimes you just have to take a chance! Spending the day at Great Harvest showed me that running your own business is no piece of cake (and good thing because cake isn’t on the menu at GH), but when you are pouring your energy into something you are passionate about it sure does make the day sweeter.