Dining With Denise Neil

Passed over for 200 jobs, Wichita entrepreneur starts bakery in her apartment kitchen

When Kim Lange moved to Wichita from Stillwater, Oklahoma, last year, she wanted to find a job similar to what she’d had — doing tech work for the police department.

Her husband, Preston, had taken a job at Wichita’s Textron Aviation, and she wanted to find something where she could utilize her experience and her degree in marketing.

Over the course of 7 months, she put in about 200 applications she said.

“I wish that was an exaggeration,” she said. “I was having a really hard time finding anything. I never got any interviews or calls back.”

Dejected and wanting to bring in money, Lange turned to a passion she and Preston had developed as students at Oklahoma State University — a container of fermenting, wild yeast.

Lange now is the owner of a tiny but up-and-coming sourdough bakery called Next Leaven, which she runs out of the Wichita apartment she shares with her husband.

Kim Lange specializes in sourdough boules at her Next Leaven bakery. Courtesy photo

She officially launched the business in April, making about 53 loaves and boules a week, which she sells from a booth at the Old Town Farmers Market every Saturday morning. Most weeks, she said, she sells out, and she’s developing a following.

Though Lange didn’t grow up baking or cooking, she and Preston watched YouTube videos about sourdough starters and were fascinated by the scientific awesomeness of it. As a spur-of-the-moment project, they decided to make some, which is done by mixing flour with water at a specific ratio then feeding it with more flour and water regularly for a long period of time as it ferments.

Sourdough starter, they learned, is not easy to make and even harder to perfect, but it results in a bread with a distinct sour flavor, chewy texture and crispy crust.

“I enjoyed it,” she said. “I think the process is really cool. And I think baking is awesome in general, the way it allows you to be able to make something delicious you can enjoy every day.”

Most casual bakers keep a jar of sourdough starter around. Kim has three gallons of it. She feeds it water and flour daily to make sure that she keeps the “good bacteria” healthy. It takes about 200 grams of the starter for a batch of eight regular-sized boules. Each loaf of sourdough sandwich bread takes about 50 grams of starter.

Next Leaven Bakery sells sourdough boules and sandwich loaves. Courtesy photo

Making the bread is a big project, Lange said, especially in her apartment kitchen. She starts baking her bread about 5 p.m. on Thursday evenings, and she finishes it in time to set up her booth at the Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.

The boules are especially popular and feature a soft, chewy inside with a satisfying crusty exterior. It’s ideal for making a variety of comfort food favorites, she said, including grilled cheese sandwiches, french toast and avocado toast. Her favorite way to use her bread is to top a slice of boule with mashed up tomatoes and fresh basil. It’s also good topped with eggs or turned into croutons when it starts to get stale.

“I like mine with a nice, fluffy texture,” she said. “I don’t like ones that are so hard it cuts your mouth. I like to keep mine really nice and soft but sturdy enough to be used for a sandwich.”

Slice sourdough boule is such an ideal vehicle for grilled cheese sandwiches, Lange said, she’s considering adding them to her menu later in the market season.

Lange said she hasn’t ruled out expanding the business in the future. But for now, she’s doing all she can from her apartment kitchen.

“It’s a very time intensive thing, and there’s a reason I don’t offer anything other than sourdough,” she said. “I”m the only person doing it.”

Next Leaven Bakery

What: A new sourdough bakery in Wichita

What’s for sale: Large sourdough boules ($10), small boules ($7), sourdough loaves ($9)

Where to find it: Owner Kim Lange sets up at the Old Town Farmers Market every Saturday morning

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.