Great Harvest Bread Co – the good franchise?
I was really, really surprised to find that Great Harvest Bread Co in Oakland, Ca was part of a large franchise with many locations across the country … including Alaska and Hawaii. As of this post there are over 200.
They seem to keep a low profile about it. At most, there are fleeting links on websites to the parent company.
The company started in Montana in the 1970’s. The bread was “ made with pure-and-simple ingredients and wheat purchased from local farmers” They seem a bit ahead of their time.
What all bakeries share …
Fresh-ground whole-wheat flour (ground at each store)
Made from scratch
No preservatives or artificial additives
The stores share some common breads but the website says “Each Great Harvest bakery is an independently owned franchise and as such recipes may vary bakery to bakery.”
There’s a large variety of different breads such as Dakota, Popeye, Swedish orange rye, White Cheddar Garlic, Woodstock, Cinnamon chip, Peach Pecan, etc.
The breads change monthly. The location in Everett, WA has a more extensive list of many of the breads they make in addition the monthly bread schedule. This location also makes dog biscuits
Here are the bread schedules for my local bakery, Anchorage (Chugach rustic bread and Alaskan blueberry jam) and Honolulu (Lilikoi Bar and orange creamsicle muffins). Some are in pdf format
Each shop has its own specialties.
One of my recent favorites is the Woodstock, a dark bread chock full of nuts and raisins that is almost like fruitcake.
Here's my report on my local Great Harvest
Oakland: Great Harvest Bread Co - Christmas Swedish Orange Rye (limpa) and other holiday baked goods
I live in the SF Bay Area which has almost as many artisan bakers as Starbucks. IMO, Great Harvest Bread is as chow-worthy as any of them.
Since retiring 2 years ago, I have rarely been to the nearest location (work was midway between GHB and home). They've been open 10-12 years or so, and have changed a lot in ways I would not have chosen. There are now sandwiches and soups to go, but a smaller variety of breads. Some of the ones I used to buy are apparently no longer in their rotation (like English muffin bread and potato-chive). I have nothing but praise for the honey whole wheat - although there are no preservatives I have kept it at room temp in a Rubbermaid container for as much as 2 weeks without mold or drying out. They use the same dough, I think, for the cinnamon swirl bread, which is heavenly when still warm from the oven, but once the sugar crust dissolves it is far less enjoyable. For a while they made whole wheat rolls which were good for burgers - not sure if those are still done.
Before it got out of Los Angeles a few years ago, I believe it was Great Harvest that used to come to my neighborhood's weekly farmer's market and consistently draw throngs of people around its stand. The sellers were ridiculously - no, INSANELY - generous with enormous, thick-sliced, delicious bread samples. That was enough to turn me into a very loyal customer who would always purchase at least two or three loaves a week. I miss them a lot.
The only bread I've had from GHB, I like quite a lot for certain things: Stuffing Bread, which is whole wheat with onion and sage baked in. It's available around Thanksgiving, and is good for making stuffing itself, or for sandwiches. That has been from the Oakland store, but I know it's available elsewhere.
I like Great Harvest Bread. Dakota Whole Wheat is probably my favorite bread from there. I like it as a bread just to eat on its own--not too fond of it as a sandwich bread except for peanut butter. I buy their Honey Whole Wheat for sandwiches from time to time. Pumpkin bread from GHB is also pretty good.
I worked at our local one for a while as I wanted to learn more about bread baking. They are franchises. The location I worked at was new when I was there, in its first year. There is a lot of traning and involvement from the Montana headquarters during the first year for owners. Most owners do not have previous bakery experience so go through extensive pre-openign training in Montana, other locations and then in their own location.
Owners however are given quite a bit of autonomy on how they want to run their business. There are a few items they must carry(honey whole wheat bread for example) that follow a corporate recipe. THere are corporate recipes avialable to them to plan their menus but they have freedom to develop their own recipes and menus as well as their business mature. As bakers we had fun playing and coming up with fun new ideas for seasons breads, sweets, etc.
Overall my impression(though short I only worked there about 6 mos) was pretty favorable of the parent company and as an employee at a local franchise. Probably one of the better franchise options out there, though not an inexpensive one.
I enjoyed the bread from the one in my hometown (in MA), but always found it to have a strong, yeast-y flavor that I got kind of sick of after a slice or two. I haven't yet been to the one in Oakland, where I'm living now, but I have noticed a strong yeast smell when I walk by it. Is this just the style of Great Harvest bread? Does it have to do with using fresh yeast?