Long Live the BreadBoard, Your Gift to You & Your Community
August 13, 2013 Matt Salis - Owner, Great Harvest Bread Co. of Denver
It is the single most important piece of the puzzle that is the Great Harvest Bread Co. of Denver. It sits prominently in the front and center, and it is our hope that it is the first thing you see when you step through our door. It takes center stage in what is sometimes a three ring bread and sandwich circus. It is the undisputed star of our little show. It has grown to its place of prominence from a useful though lack luster start as a large butcher-block-like surface atop four steel legs. It is as important to us as the royals are to the English. Like the British monarchy, it carries no power for decision making yet mesmerizes some because of the beauty of its mere existence and the tradition that it represents. In the case of the queen of our castle, it is a delicious and fragrant beauty representing authenticity, kindness, generosity and memories of loved ones or childhoods or just a nice slice of an otherwise mundane day. It is what we call the BreadBoard, and it is the reason we love doing what we do.
We truly feel blessed and honored that you have shown an interest in our neighborhood bakery. When you visit our store, we hope the first thing that you hear is a warm and genuine greeting. Whether you are the only person in our lobby, or join a hoard of hungry bread and sandwich lovers already enjoying a visit to our bakery, we sincerely try to greet each and every one of you. We do this for two reasons. First, it is just a fact of retail that customers once greeted feel that their presence has been acknowledged and they will not be ignored until they go away. Second, it is just a nice thing to do. Our greeting is not, “What can we do for you?” or, “How can we help you?” It is, “Hello.” A greeting. That is all. It is sometimes funny to see peoples’ reactions to our greeting, especially when we are very busy. We might shout, “Hello!” from behind the sandwich making station to the 20th person in line as they enter a crowded mass of humanity. They look confused or embarrassed and call back, “I think these people are in front of me.” McDonalds and Starbucks have trained our society that our first interaction in a step up to the counter and order something world should be to tell some barely interested clerk what we want to put in our cake holes. Regardless of your opinion of Wal-Mart from a political or employee welfare standpoint, they have one thing right. Hiring someone to simply tell customers, “Hi, we know you are here,” is genius from a retail standpoint. I am not going to claim that every Wal-Mart associate from top to bottom cares that you just entered one of their many, many stores. But Sam Walton and the formerly retired person they hired to greet you both care that you are there. They are trying to create a certain culture…trying to remove one of the barriers to you becoming a Wal-Mart fan. So too, we are trying to make you feel welcomed and let you know we are glad you chose to stop into our bakery…whatever the reason is that you are here. This is pretty much where our similarities to Wal-Mart end. We do not have on our long list of life goals crushing small businesses as we blanket the country with bread one community after another through hard nosed business practices and a distribution network whose lifeblood is logistical superiority. We have a family, a community of friends, a life, and that just seems like a little more work than we have the energy or desire to tackle. Besides, it is much more rewarding to see your smile when you come see us and hear us greet you at the door.
After your greeting, we desperately want to introduce you to our headliner. Our BreadBoard full of 100% whole grain goodness is eager to please as we ask, “Would you like a slice of bread?” We give you all of your available choices while often highlighting the bread that is warm or our personal favorites. On the surface, this single question, this offering of the bread, might seem simple. For us, however, it is a way to connect to our beloved Denver community through this bread that we baked with the use of methods developed literally thousands of years ago full of authenticity, tradition, simplicity, and love. Our bakers are thrilled when the bread is as good as it can be. Bread baking is much more of an art than it is a science when the first step in the process is to rub two rocks together to grind wheat. This is no mass produced factory bread. There are temperatures, moisture contents, grind coarsenesses and atmospheric conditions to consider when blending just the right amount of our 100% natural ingredients together for just the right amount of time to make it all worthy of our pride and your appreciation. When it all works right, our bakers take a little pat on the back and a sense of pride in a job well done and joyfully share what they awoke at three something in the morning to prepare for you. They toss a hot loaf of straight from the oven bread on the BreadBoard for a community to enjoy.
That last paragraph (or maybe this whole thing) might sound a bit over-romanticized to you. Maybe. Sometimes when I get on a roll I go a little too far. It does, however, serve an important purpose. We want you to understand what our BreadBoard is and what it is not. It is a vehicle we use to share the thing we take the most pride in making with the community that gives us all we need to survive and even thrive. Our slices of 100% whole grain goodness are gifts. They are free of charge, they are offered with a smile and it gives us great pride and joy when you take us up on our offer. It is easy to lose sight of this pure and simple explanation for why we slice free bread the way we do. Sadly, our BreadBoard has become counter to our evolving culture. That is why we try not to be disheartened by the skeptics among us who think they know why we do what we do…think they know what our BreadBoard is when really they only know what our BreadBoard is not. It is not a really great marketing ploy designed to hook people on the bread and magically suck money from their wallets. It is not a sample board designed to convince customers that one variety is better than another. Nowhere in the list of our BreadBoard’s intended purposes is anything about guilting people into buying once they take a free sample. For that matter, it is not a sample at all. It is a gift…no strings attached…none spoken…none implied. In fact, one of the greatest joys we experience running this business is when a gift of a slice of bread makes an impact on someone’s day. There are many people in our community who are having a rough time and find that a visit to our bakery complete with a warm slice of bread slathered with butter and dripping with honey is the best five minutes of their day. We can have a lousy day for bread and sandwich sales, can receive a letter from the government about another way they have found to tax or regulate more money out of our pockets and the oven can break (we only have one big one and we kind of need it to work all the time). Even with this trifecta if unfortunatness, think of the look of relief and happiness on the face of that down on their luck neighbor and just try to not have a contented night sleep.
I am as pure a capitalist as you are likely to find. We fully understand that operating profit comes from sales revenue minus expenses. While it is more heart warming than I can describe to see a five year old child so excited about their slice of Honey Whole Wheat that they might literally explode right there in our lobby, we still understand that we have to sell enough bread at the right price to cover all of our expenses (including free slice gifts for five year olds) and have enough profit to provide a good life for our family. For us, there is no question about whether or not to give free slices. We would sooner sell the bakery and move on down the road to life’s next exciting adventure then to stop giving bread gifts as a cost cutting measure. For us, it is just a cost of doing business. Just like paying our employees, it is a cost we are happy and proud to incur. It makes us chuckle when loyal customers turn down our offer of a warm, delicious slice of bread because they do not want to see us, “give away all the profits.” This to me is as laughable as the idea of taxing big oil companies because they make too much money. Taxes are an expense to big oil companies just like free slices of bread are an expense to our little bakery. What do big oil companies do when their taxes go up? They raise the price of gas at the pump and pass the tax on to us, the consumers. The same is true in our little business. The bread we give away to our community is paid for by you, our loyal customers. While it feels great, I mean really great, to be the slicer of the bread and the hander overer of the gifts, we are really just the ring leaders in our circus. We sell the tickets and train the acts and keep things moving along as smoothly as possible. But in the end, if no one is there to buy the tickets, the show cannot go on.
This means that it is you – our customer – that keeps the wheels turning on our little community outreach. You buy the bread and sandwiches and you pay for the free gift slices that we beam with pride as we distribute on your behalf. Your support of your neighborhood bakery not only keeps a dozen people employed and keeps a small mom and pop shop in business, it puts smiles on the faces of five year olds and shines a little light in the day of some for whom life might be a little gloomy. You are part of the solution. Now, do not get too big for your britches. You are not going to solve the homelessness problem or end world hunger or teach all five year olds the value of community or the nutritional value of authentic, real, whole, honest foods. You are, however, helping a local small business do its little part in our community. That should make you feel good. That should help you sleep. That should make you proud to accept our offer of your free slice of whole grain deliciousness that you are giving to you (by way of us). That is your bread and your butter and your honey. Slather and drip away with pride. Get some butter on your sleeve and some honey on the seat of your car and do so with enthusiasm. Let the stains left behind serve as constant reminders that you are part of the solution and not the problem. Let them also remind you to go buy some more bread or at least enjoy another free slice that you already paid to enjoy. Besides, a single honey drip stain makes you look like a slob. Multiple honey drip stains make look committed to a worthy cause. Munch and slather and drip your way to whole grain community cause commitment. Even if we do not cure anything, the devotion to trying will sure taste good and feel even better.
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Great Harvest Bread Co.
765 South Colorado Boulevard
Denver, Colorado 80246
Open Mon. - Fri. 6am - 3pm
Sat. 8am - 3pm, Closed Sun.