Walla Walla Bread Company fills a knead

It's not just about the dough; it's about serving the community.


WALLA WALLA — It’s more than just loaves of bread being formed at Walla Walla Bread Company on Main Street.

There’s an agreement between owner Michael Kline and the larger community, whether anyone else realizes it or not.

Kline — who looks younger than a man just shy of his 31st birthday, even at 7 a.m. —� has made a vow, along with his staff of six: Bread under his watch will be made with reverence and respect. Care will be taken to understand and feed the needs of each customer.

A need for excellence doesn’t seem affected by the fact that running the downtown bakery is one of two full-time jobs for Kline, who also serves as executive chef at CreekTown Cafe.

"People laugh," he said Friday. "I’m a little OCD ... I’m meticulous."

His career path attests to that energy. A graduate of the exhaustive culinary apprentice program at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado, Kline arrived in Walla Walla about four years ago to help open the now-defunct, high-end restaurant, 26brix.

After a year, new adventures called and he went to work at Basel Cellers in wine production, along with learning the finer notes of pairing wine and food, Kline said.

The sojourn offered time to decide what he wanted to do next. A vision of his own restaurant rose and fell with the economy, but the chef jumped at the chance to work at CreekTown Cafe — if only so he could find something else to do to complement that job, he said with a smile.

"That was part of the plan, to map things out. I’m an independent spirit and I believed I could make it work."

One answer rose high and on July 2, Walla Walla Bread Company quietly opened its glass door for business the day after interior renovation was completed at 225 E. Main St.

Although the official grand opening is Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., with free samples, the softer early launch allowed bakery staff to roll out a rhythm of working together and perfect the artisan recipes, Kline said.

For starters ... there’s the starter. Walla Walla Bread Company doesn’t use dry yeast to chemically raise its breads, he said over a boulder-sized tub of gray goo.

Instead the starter dough — a naturally fermented slurry of local grape skins, flour and water — was begun in January in preparation for opening day.

The mix is fed, or refreshed, daily at the same time and used in nearly every recipe to add a depth of flavor that is a "defining characteristic" of a specialized bakery, Kline added.

Details like that are the heart of the business, said Darci Johnson, general manager. Not only does the company take special orders — on this day, the aroma of garlic and sun-dried tomatoes wafted through the sunlight-filled space as the crew baked flavored baguettes for a customer request — but it produces breads suitable for religious and health restrictions, she said.

"A lot of people, more and more, are finding out they are allergic to wheat."

The bakery already bakes dairy-free bread among the two dozen varieties, and batches of gluten-free bread will come soon, she said. "Any thought or idea or request ... special needs, we’re working for those."

Meeting those needs will allow the company to establish trust in the community, Kline said.

"It’s about knowing what’s in your products that people can be sensitive to, doing things that are tasty but healthy for you. I don’t have any qualms about that."

The baker and his family are here to stay, he said. "We absolutely love it here. Walla Walla is our home. We’re raising our kids here."

And he’s no lone slice in this venture, Kline is quick to point out.

"I depend heavily on my staff. I have great expectations, but I believe they work just as hard as I do," he said. "I have passionate people. I try to surround myself with that every day."

For more information, call 522-8422.


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