...what a delightful experience it was. I had the great good fortune to visit with Heath Wendell and Marlo Evans owners of Slow Dough Bread Co. This handsome bread-making duo wowed me with their enthusiasm, knowledge and overall joie de vivre for their business and the art of making the best bread in Houston (my opinion, but one bite of their bread will make you a believer).
|Heath Wendell and Marlo Evans|
I learned from spending an hour with Heath and Marlo, about fermentation, slower is better, paths being found, passions being realized and bread making at its finest. I also learned new words, Couche: the name of the type of linen that is used when the dough is rising, Biga: the term for fermented dough starter, LaVain: the term for the fermented sour dough starter. Biga is made from flour, water and yeast, LaVain is more complicated, starting with green organic grapes (Heath's preference) wrapped in cheese cloth, soaked in water for 10 days, (the grape skin attracts the yeast floating in the air), grapes removed from the water, the water is the basis for the starter. It is usually only made once, kept alive, added to, etc. Amazing!
|Dough rising, sitting on Couche|
Heath and Marlo's paths intersected one day at The Tasting Room, romance was the starter, fermenting then flourishing into a joint venture of mutual respect and desire, growing a business that has integrity and spirit. Heath was a recent transplant from Chicago, doing consulting work for area bakeries and Marlo, a native Texan, was getting her graduate degree in acupuncture. I'm sure serendipity played a hand, because Heath's enthusiasm for his craft soon had Marlo very interested in the fine art of bread making. The two set up shop, Marlo working on the branding and business creative and Heath making sure that the quality of the bread being produced is of the highest quality.
Slow Dough Bread Co. has been in business for almost four years. Their first bakery was in the Heights in a small 2000 square foot facility with one mixer and one oven. It was clear that with sales growing and the word getting out about this fine bread that a larger facility was needed, so they moved into the 10,000 square foot former La Madeleine bakery. La Madeleine moved their operation to a 200,000 square foot facility on the East coast. The good news is Heath and Marlo were able to move their operation to an already established bakery, with ovens, mixers, slicers and walk-in refrigerators at the ready.
The business was growing, but how to manage it all. Marlo took the opportunity to apply to the Goldman Sachs program called 10,000 Small Businesses. It is an initiative set up by Goldman Sachs to help small businesses grow and create jobs. There were 90 applicants, but only 32 slots. Marlo got in and she says it has been extremely helpful. Not only is she surrounded by other small business owners, who have similar questions and concerns, but the classes are set up on a two week rotation, so what is discussed in class can then be applied directly. This program is teaching Marlo how to grow their business in a smart way. A way that will create jobs in the Houston area and keep them from making decisions that could stunt their rising business.
|Jalapeno Cheese dough|
Heath and Marlo believe whole heartily in their product. It is so obvious by the care in which they run their bakery. Heath is a fifth generation baker, learning his craft from his maternal grandfather, but it wasn't until a 14 month stint in Paris working under Yves Desgrandes that Heath felt the spark for baking that he had seen in his grandfather all those years. Heath realized that he loved to bake and baking is what he wanted to do and that, that was okay. He did say that the respect that the French give their bakers is incredible. That walking down the street with Yves Desgrandes was like walking down the street with a celebrity. Everyone knew him, greeted him. Heath said that he is not looking for stardom, that he wants continue to hone, refine, his craft, to provide the very best bread possible. I would have to say that I think he is pitch perfect.
|Buns to be!|
I asked Heath why he decided to stay in Houston. He said that Marlo, Houston's weather and the fact that Houston had a need for a large bakery, is what convinced him to stay. Believe this or not a lot of bake goods that we eat in Houston are not from Houston, they are shipped in from other cities like New York and Chicago. Slow Dough Bread Co. services 225 chefs in the Houston Area. Heath says they are his bosses, each one of them. That it is his job to get them the bread they need, the quality they need, when they need it.
|Beautiful bread, all.|
Oh, another thing I learned, that the slower the fermentation of the dough and the slower the dough is allowed to rise, is the key to the enormous taste and texture of this bread. Houston is lucky to have Heath and Marlo. I look forward to seeing them continue making their bread, sharing their enthusiasm, knowledge and craft.
|One of the ovens. It is much larger than it looks in this picture.|
|Dryer shakes flour off the Couche|
Listening to Heath and Marlo talk about Slow Dough reminded me of a much used phrase by Joseph Campbell, "Follow your bliss." I really believe that reaching inside ourselves and finding that spark, that joy, the thing that makes us happy is the key to our overall health and success.
|Star of Hope Mission receives the left over bread at day's end.|
Quote of the day: "You can tell how good a restaurant is, by the quality of the bread they serve." Taavi Mark.
Just a quick note: You can buy Slow Dough Bread at Georgia's Market. There a Georgia's Market at 12171 Katy Freeway (I-10) and at 420 Main Street (Downtown) and enjoy it at 225 restaurants in the Houston area.
Slow Dough Bread Co.
8728 Westpark Dr.
Houston, TX 77063