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Baking With Intention

brets-buns

All work and no play isn't good for anyone. That's why five years into his career as a speech therapist, Bret Todd started looking for a creative outlet. Bret was no stranger to the kitchen. His dad and his uncles worked in kitchens at some point in their young lives, and Bret's father did a lot of the cooking for the family. Bret himself enjoyed cooking, so he decided to give baking a shot.

Bread baking reminded Bret a bit of the brewing he did in his younger years. He found similarities working with yeast and grains. When he improved his technique he got his cottage food permit which allowed him to bake and sell bread from home. As he started to burn out more at work, he began selling bread.

In January of 2020, 2 months before the Covid outbreak, Bret officially started Wild West Baked Goods. Once Covid hit, he had to meet his speech therapy clients online. Working with kids remotely took the joy out of his work as a speech therapist. He fast-tracked his decision to make a career shift. The first markets he participated in were here at the Business of Food's indoor winter marketplace in the fall of 2020. He then branched out to the Batavia and St. Charles farmers markets during the summer of 2021.

Bret initially made a variety of sourdough loaves, but Bret has found his niche in traditional Scandinavian products and has connected with his heritage. His cardamom buns are his most popular product. They are similar to a cinnamon bun but not as sweet and as Bret says, they don't have all the goop on top. Bret now makes two sizes of cardamom loaves in addition to the buns. Another Scandinavian item is his Swedish limpa, which Bret describes as "a traditional yeast-risen loaf with wheat, rye, and malted barley. Flavored with orange and toasted, fresh ground fennel and caraway."

Bret used the market experience to gain a following, get feedback on his products, and see what products sold. He did well enough that the idea of getting a wholesale license soon followed and Bret became a member of the Mill River Cookery. He was surprised by how fast he grew his business and how quickly it felt normal. He started doing most of his baking at night and that too feels normal.

Interestingly, Bret grew up in rural Indiana on a farm. There were no bakeries around and some of the items he bakes he has never tasted previously. For example, he baked Swedish Lussekatter, a saffron roll for St. Lucia Day without ever having known what this saffron roll should taste like. He did pretty well though because they sold out quickly!

The name Wild West Baked Goods appealed to Bret for a variety of reasons. His preferred reasoning is that he "watched part of a Ken Burns documentary and it talked about the West as a place to tell a story. The excitement of the unknown, the vast spaces, the opportunity, and even danger make it a great backdrop for stories."

Bret bakes with 100% organic products and the flours are all local. It's his concern for the environment that gets Bret a gold star for his packaging, which is some of the most sustainable we have found. He uses unbleached butcher paper to wrap his bread and unbleached cardboard boxes for his buns. He also uses compostable twine to tie it all up. Avoiding plastic means that customers can't see what they are buying, but his customers thank him for being environmentally conscious.

Another fun fact is that Bret uses a stamp rather than a plastic sticker on his packages. He designed the stamps himself and then carved them from wood. His current logo is not his first one, but it better represents the Scandinavian products he bakes. It is called the Web of Wyrd. It's a Norse symbol that depicts the interconnectedness of the past, present, and future. It seems appropriate for a new business that has been morphing and growing.

When he left behind speech therapy, Bret felt a bit guilty because it is a "helping career." It was hard for him to think of leaving it for a career in baking, which many people may consider to be of lesser value. However, he feels good about preserving traditions and preventing some products from going extinct. His customers tell him that his breads and buns remind them of their grandmother's kitchens and family traditions.

This winter you won't find Bret at any markets. He takes orders for delivery Wednesday and Sunday, and on Saturday he stocks his product at the Gift Box, a store specializing in Scandinavian items, on State Street in Geneva. A popular item currently is his Norwegian julekake, a traditional Christmas bread made with fruit.…

With two small kids at home, Bret has to be realistic about his baking business paying the bills. To that end, he has a few ideas to advance his business over the winter. He doesn't have all the details ironed out yet, but he indicated that he has some plans relating to Fika.

What is Fika? According to Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, "Functioning as both a verb and a noun, the concept of fika is simple. It is the moment that you take a break, often with a cup of coffee, but alternatively with tea, and find a baked good to pair with it. You can do it alone, you can do it with friends. You can do it at home, in a park or at work. But the essential thing is that you do it, that you make time to take a break: that's what fika is all about."

Bret may be looking to change the world one fika and one cardamom bun at a time! ...

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