Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Adri Greenspan, Lead Bread Baker of Dear Grain, located in Hamilton, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Dear Grain is a sourdough bakery based in Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario. Our bread combines a slow fermentation process (12-36 hours) with high levels of hydration (83%+) to produce nourishing loaves that are ultra-digestible. We also pride ourselves on our use of organic and heirloom grains to uphold great quality and taste.
The two most important benefits of a high hydration bread are longer shelf life and higher digestibility. A basic sourdough usually falls within 60-70% hydration. At Dear Grain, we've spent many hours perfecting our process and recipe to achieve a loaf that is 83%+ hydration. This results in bread that is super digestible and has a shelf life that is 3-5 days longer than most bread.
In addition to sourdough bread, we've created a line-up of sourdough pastries, cakes, and sandwiches. Our shops feature gourmet products that pair well with sourdough (think spreads, sauces, dips, charcuterie, cheese, and tinned fish) so that we can really be a one-stop mecca for all things bread. Our customers are food lovers who want to feel nourished by what they're consuming!
Tell us about yourself
I was a vegetarian cook for 12 years before I entered the world of bread. While working as a private chef for a family, I started making bread inspired by Chad Robertson from Tartine. The bread was so well received by the family and friends and friends of friends that the idea of a bakery was born. I had obviously made bread before during my time as a chef, but something really unlocked when I started playing and experimenting with sourdough. While I've already learned so much in the past 4 or 5 years I've been making bread professionally, it seems like I'm only scratching the surface when it comes to unlocking the grain's potential.
Why bread? Well, I feel that bread has built a bit of a bad rap in modern times. It has been seen as empty calories, lacking in nutrition, or simply a vehicle for other foods. At Dear Grain, we're striving to change this. If you think about it, people have been coming together to break bread for centuries. And it once held a place at the centre of the table. So for us, bread is intrinsically linked to feelings of community, nourishment, and connection. We want to highlight the relationship between farmers, bakers, and the broader community, to invite people to experience the range of flavours offered by different grain varietals across seasonal and regional wheat.
The frustration of buying stale bread inspired me to create bread that stays fresh. In the process of sharing this bread, the people who tasted it literally cried, laughed, "fell in love," and were deeply fulfilled in a way that inspired us to continue creating this experience. Fresh bread out of the oven melts butter but also minds and hearts. 😍 Ultimately, Dear Grain is not just about the bread itself. It's about what is delivered through the bread: nourishment and fulfillment developed over time from the moment the grain sprouts on the farm, then is processed through the millers and shaped & baked by the various hands of our baking team. This "time" is the magic/essence that's usually unseen by most but felt by all who taste our bread. For us, "bread" is not just a concept and end product but a living process.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Building a team is, without a doubt, the biggest and most rewarding accomplishment. When I first started this business, I was alone. I was working 16-20 hour days for three months. Then my wife joined me, and sometime after that, Ben, who at the time was our morning baker and 3.5 years later, is learning the role of Lead Baker. Since the day we started five years ago, our team has grown to 14 in the bakery and seven more in our Toronto store.
As the team grew, we all of a sudden felt like a team. Dear Grain was no longer just me as a Baker, but Dear Grain was a team. And not just a team but a self-led team. From the beginning, my vision was to build a team of people who care. I did not want to be a "boss" chasing after people to make sure they followed through. I wanted a team that knows the work and is responsible enough to do the job together. With freedom comes responsibility, I say. And this is a work in progress. It requires a certain type of individual that values the freedom to be able to hold the responsibility. I think we did a good job of getting there. It is still a work in progress, but the key is open communication and mutual care. The transition was from me as an individual caring for the bread to caring for a team that would care for the product and our community.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
I find that balancing the needs of the business and the needs of the employees is one of the toughest challenges for an owner who wants to create and maintain both a healthy business and an open and caring culture.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Pace yourself and your goals. The tendency for new owners is to jump all in, full force, and burnout. It's OK for a limited period of time, but you will burn out too quickly. Build a strong foundation, and lift-off will soon follow.
- Your business is only as good as your team. Find caring, passionate, and intelligent team members that are aligned with your vision and values. Train them well and let them do their job. Your job is to support them, guide them, care for them and help them grow, nurture them on the one hand but hold them accountable on the other. Reward them when they do well. Your team is more important than your product. Without a great team, it is nearly impossible to grow.
- Have a clear vision that can be relayed to your staff and customers. Make sure all decisions align with the vision. Make the vision for your tangible business, work your way back from the desired end result, and ask yourself, what need do I want my business to fulfill? Look like? Feel like? These tangible goals and visions are then easy to integrate into daily decisions.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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