A good loaf of crusty artisan bread is difficult to come by in Wichita – odd, many local foodies note, since Wichita is the Wheat State’s largest city.
But a farm girl from Peabody with a degree in milling science and a professional-grade bakery in her garage is helping to change that.
In January, Sharon Entz, 37, started a bread-baking business called Crust & Crumb Co., which she operates out of her small attached garage on the back of her 1930s bungalow in Newton.
Since then, she’s been earning an enthusiastic following for her fresh loaves of sourdough, baguettes and ciabatta, which she stocks in smaller Wichita and Newton grocery stores and sells wholesale to restaurants and coffee shops throughout the region.
Earlier this summer, she began bringing her bread to the Old Town Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, and each week, she’s sold completely out of bread – no matter how much more she brings.
“A lot of people are amazed that they can get crusty bread in Wichita,” Entz said. “I’m really happy to see that. I get lots of e-mails from people thanking me for the bakery.”
Entz learned to bake bread growing up on her family farm. The family was self-reliant, growing its own vegetables, butchering its own meat and baking its own bread.
“We didn’t go into town and buy a lot of things, so baking bread was one of the things we did,” she said.
When Entz decided to attend Kansas State University, she was intrigued by the milling sciences – the study of flour production. She graduated with a degree in milling sciences and management and immediately went to work in the milling industry.
Her career put her in flour mills across the country and the world, and she was the head miller for one company.
But she burned out on the corporate world quickly and found herself wanting to get back to the kitchen. She considered going back to school to become a chef or a pastry chef.
Instead, she decided to combine her knowledge of flour and her knack for baking and go into business for herself.
She spent a month taking classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute, where her instructors advised her to try to find an internship in a bakery. The best bakers can’t learn to form perfect baguettes, they said, until they’ve done it thousands and thousands of times.
So Entz took that advice, landing an internship with Madison Sourdough in Madison, Wis. She was there for several months, and on an average day, she figures, she formed between 2,000 and 3,000 baguettes.
Entz returned to Kansas, ready to start her bakery. She enlisted the help of a friend with graphic design skills to make her logo and labels, and she bought an industrial spiral mixer and a deck oven with steam injection that can bake 32 loaves at a time. Entz can produce 170 loaves a day in her garage kitchen, which also has a giant rolling table, bags of flour piled along the walls and an under-construction “dough retarder” (read: refrigerator) in the corner.
She started by taking samples of her loaves to independent, small grocery stores and asking them to sell her product. Entz bakes fresh bread Wednesdays through Saturdays and delivers it daily to Food for Thought, Green Acres and Whole Foods in Wichita; to Prairie Harvest and Mojo’s Coffee Shop in Newton; and to Lincoln Perk in Hesston. She takes the old bread away and replaces it with fresh – often still warm – loaves before noon each of those days.
Entz’s customers also are restaurant owners. She provides the bread that Public at the Brickyard uses to make its mufaletta. The popular Ad Astra restaurant in Strong City uses her bread. Mojo’s and Leaf, two coffee shops in Newton, also use it.
Amanda Hague, who owns Ad Astra, said she started using Entz’s bread after she was unable to keep up with making her own. She makes a grownup grilled cheese and a hot ham and cheese using Entz’s focaccia, which she makes only for her restaurant customers.
“It stays fresh and has a lot of flavor to it,” Hague said. “And Sharon is so easy to work with and easy to get along with.”
Entz’s most hectic and profitable day is Saturday, when she hauls her loaves to the Old Town Farmers Market. She said she’s been amazed by how well she does there and that the customers just keep coming until she’s sold out. But she pays for it the day before, when she puts in 16 hours of baking, gets four hours of sleep and then heads to the market to put in an eight-hour shift.
Entz’s plans are to keep expanding her business slowly but steadily. She hopes to outgrow her garage bakery and move into a bigger, commercial space. She envisions a day with employees, more restaurant accounts and maybe even bigger grocery accounts.
“I’m scared to grow too fast, but at the same time, I’m excited about it,” she said. “I like to dream about it.”