Crumb Sourdough Micro Bakery: A Recipe For Change

March, 28th 2024
Lauren Leone
Read Time: 6 Minutes
Meet Simply Bread Co customer Kevin Grenz (@MeloBread)

Crumb Sourdough Micro Bakery: A Recipe For Change

March, 28th 2024
Lauren Leone
Read Time: 6 Minutes

In the heart of Oregon lies the vibrant foodie community of Bend. It’s here that big changes are happening, all because of microbaker and entrepreneur Jenny Berg. This passionate microbaker changed the culinary landscape of her state for all cottage bakers throughout Oregon.

Jenny, a lifelong foodie from Bend, OR, decided to take on baking as a hobby during the pandemic lockdown. With nothing but time on her hands, she decided to check off some boxes on her bucket list, and baking bread happened to be at the top. With a friend to point her in the right direction, she followed a tutorial and baked her first loaf. 

“It was super ugly, but it was delicious,” she laughed. “But it was so pitiful on so many levels”.

Despite the lack of experience, she felt like baking bread was one of her natural gifts. She stated that she didn’t have much baking experience prior, that she couldn’t bake a cake, and that her cookies were marginal. But there was something about bread baking for which she seemed to have a real intuition.

From there she was hooked, and she continued to bake in search of what she called a ‘unicorn,’ the perfect loaf. She was addicted to the challenge of it all, and the more she baked the more she gave away to friends, family, and coworkers. When the lockdown ended and the work day resumed, all she could think about was getting back home to bake.

This propelled Jenny to become her own boss.

With previous experience in self-employment and her spirit for entrepreneurship, she confidently entered the micro bakery business.

When it came time to pick a name for her micro bakery, Jenny searched for a name that would capture the essence of her town Bend. “The culture of Bend is very much a foodie community,” said Jenny. “I wanted the name to be snappy, catchy, one word, and Crumb was it”.

Full-Time Baker

Jenny started out balancing her micro-baking career while working part-time as an office manager for her general contractor husband. It wasn’t until recently that her husband retired with the plan of helping her grow the bakery business, to become a full-time microbaker.

Jenny bakes every Friday, and to do so, she starts preparing for her weekly orders on Wednesday which consists of running errands and procuring her ingredients. Thursday is the dough preparation day where she mixes and ferments around 100 loaves before they’re baked the following morning. After that, they’re picked up at two Bend downtown locations.

None of this would be possible without Zelda, her sourdough starter. Zelda supplies Crumb’s menu with sourdough classics like garlic and rosemary, and jalapeno and cheddar. But Jenny’s most popular loaf is her Zelda original, her take on a classic artisan loaf. 

To keep Zelda thriving, Jenny sources entirely locally grown and organic ingredients, and uses a blend of flours to provide her loaves with a great base flavor. Some of her sweeter menu items include a loaf with chocolate chips and her Zelda after-hours, a chocolate and cardamom sourdough loaf with rum-soaked cherries. “It’s kind of exotic,” she said. “It’s my most expensive loaf and it sells very well”.

The newest offerings on her menu are her sourdough focaccia  and par-baked pizza shells, and this month features a breakfast oat porridge sourdough loaf. Jenny attributes her confidence to branch out of her comfort zone and try new recipes to the Simply Bread Oven. She’s got her sights on sourdough scones, croissants and pain au chocolat.

“I feel way more confident in baking those kinds of things in the Simply Bread Oven,” said Jenny. “It gives me the confidence to branch out into sweeter breads or just different kinds of pastries.”

Trials & Tribulations

After an unexpected move 25 miles south of town, Jenny was able to grow her micro bakery to two refrigerators and two ovens in her new home kitchen. Because of this, she was able to double her output, but it wasn’t without its obstacles. 

“The biggest challenge was just moving, shutting everything down, and closing my porch pickups,” she said. “It was really disruptive because I was shut down for a month and a half”. 

She worried her customers weren’t going to want to travel for their porch pickups, and that she would lose her presence in her community and on social media. Another stressor was the Oregon law, which prevented her from doing wholesale and selling her loaves in local stores. 

As Jenny familiarized herself with the cottage food operator laws, she saw a glaring problem for microbakers. She realized that her gross sales cap was limited to $20,000, an income that couldn’t possibly sustain her family full-time. After doing research and connecting with a non-profit food freedom legal and activist organization, she rewrote the law and introduced Senate Bill 643 relating to food establishments in residential dwellings. Jenny was able to reach Oregon State Senator Tim Knopp who agreed to sponsor her rewritten bill. It passed almost unanimously, changing the landscape for microbakers across the state.

The new law went into effect on January 1st, increasing the gross cap to $50,000 and allowing microbakers to wholesale to retail stores and coffee shops. Jenny described this moment as one of her proudest achievements and empowered other microbakers to do the same.

“It is possible to change laws in your state, it really is,” she encouraged. “If you are not happy with your cottage food law in your state, you do have the opportunity to change it”.

Social Media Success and Competition

Jenny regularly shares her microbakery updates and menu items on her social media with her 22k followers. When asked about her social media success, she attributed it to a viral video over two years ago which caused her to gain hundreds of new followers every week.

To maintain that success, she emphasized the importance of posting consistently to keep her audience engaged. She admitted this was a struggle for her during her move.

“I had no new content to share and it was frustrating,” she expressed.

To keep up her social media presence, Jenny spends about an hour every day on her posts and stories: “People eat with their eyes, and you’re going to sell your customers on your image,” she said.

A key to social media success is all about keeping up with the latest trends, and baking sourdough has become a trend in itself in the last few years. Since the lockdown, microbakeries have popped up across the world left and right, and sourdough has undergone a revolution. And with that, it has brought competition.

“My initial reaction is to feel threatened,” Jenny said about the increase of microbakeries. “I feel insecure and scared because I want this to be my family’s livelihood”.

Instead of allowing her reaction to be scared and defensive, Jenny shared that she connects and networks with other local bakers to share ideas and learn from each other. She encouraged other microbakers to embrace their fellow community bakers and turn competition into cooperation.

Past, Present, and Future Microbakers

Offering advice to future microbakers, Jenny stressed the importance of practicing sourdough and investing in good equipment to produce a real artisan loaf.

She warned that with the trend of baking sourdough, too many people are jumping into the microbaking business without spending enough time perfecting the craft itself.

“Sourdough is a very special craft, and it’s called artisan for a reason,” she said. “I think everybody owes it to themselves as a baker and to your customers to put in the time to put out the best sourdough you can.”

She advised people interested in embarking on a sourdough-baking endeavor to practice baking until they can intuitively and tactically read their dough, identify the fermentation stages, and understand the chemical process of sourdough. 

When asked if there was any advice she wished she received as she started her baking journey, she insisted she wouldn’t change a thing: “You have to go on the journey and you have to learn from all your mistakes and your triumphs,” said Jenny.

Reflecting on the past and looking towards the future, Jenny hopes to continue baking from home and grow her microbakery to 150 loaves a week. She’s even begun dipping her toes into wholesale, and she has herself to thank for that.

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