The production of local sourdough bread is on the rise thanks to Brian’s Artisan Bread Co. in Atascadero.
Founder Brian Francisco logged many years in the corporate grocery world before switching gears to retail and manufacturing by joining San Luis Sourdough, a company that got its start in San Luis Obispo in the 1980s. While working there 16 years in a management capacity, Francisco also learned the ins and outs of baking production.
One of the key tenets he discovered was that no matter how you slice it, “once you learn that process, you don’t want to stray from it. There are no shortcuts to a consistent product. You can’t rush things, so most of the time you just have to be patient.”
Armed with that philosophy, Francisco launched Brian’s Artisan Bread Co. in March 2007 along with partner Susan Heiden, who also “brings a strong business background” to the table. The company’s original address was right next door to the current one, both in buildings that Francisco gutted and transformed into production facilities for his artisan breads.
At the beginning, it was just Francisco making the bread, so “for several months, a 3 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day was not unusual.” Despite the grueling schedule, however, there was just no way to hurry the three-day process along. Much of that effort involves attending to the wants and needs of the sourdough starter — the living foundation of both the flavor and texture of this particular type of bread.
Because the sourdough starter is a natural leavening agent, no commercial yeasts of any kind are used to get the bread dough to rise.
You use time, letting the sourdough sit and develop and do its thing. It behaves best when it’s pampered in a climate-controlled area such as those at Brian’s Breads. Eventually, the trained eyes of Francisco and his staff will recognize the point at which the bread’s pH levels and “sourness” have developed, and the loaves are baked off.
Sourdough bread bowls were the first product to roll out under the Brian’s Artisan Breads label, and Francisco marketed them to Morro Bay restaurants to use for serving clam chowder. He still has many of those accounts, and estimates that the company bakes about 40,000 bowls every six months.
As demand for the artisan breads grew, other flavors and shapes eventually joined the sourdough lineup.
In addition to the bread bowls, there are now rolls, sticks, baguettes and sliced loaves. You can also get sliced cracked wheat sourdough loaves, sliced cracked wheat rosemary loaves, and rosemary sourdough rolls and sliced loaves. (French bread and wheat bread are also produced specifically for restaurants.)
Today, Brian’s Artisan Bread Co. has 19 employees and six delivery routes that distribute the loaves to restaurants, groceries (Spencer’s Fresh Market in Atascadero was the first to carry the products) and delis from Paso Robles to Buellton to Lompoc.
“The community has really embraced us,” said Francisco. “We understood from the beginning that it really takes community support, and that having a good staff is essential. We’ve gotten good word-of-mouth, and I think we provide a consistent product and service to go with it. Still, it’s humbling to get good feedback — it’s a nice feeling.”