The newest bread shop in town is redefining the whole wheat loaf.
For Bob and Jo Ann Garrett, scratch baking is a daily grind.
At the Great Harvest Bread Co., 807 Vt., where sacks of milled wheat are stacked floor to ceiling, transforming wheat into flour is the first step in making a loaf of bread. It's a process that takes about six hours from start to finish.
``This kind of bread you just can't do it on a big commercial scale. It takes too long,'' Bob Garrett said.
Between waiting on customers, the Great Harvest staff bakes their bread out in the open, at a massive butcher block table next to their ovens and cash registers. The process is as much on display as the final product.
By grinding wheat daily, Bob Garrett says his team of bakers turns out loaves that are moister and retain the flavor of the natural fermentation process in bread.
That's because they don't remove the wheat germ like mass producers whose bread must have a longer shelf life. The wheat germ oil that turns rancid when whole wheat bread gets old is also the source of moistness that contributes to the dense texture of a fresh Great Harvest loaf.
That's important since Great Harvest bread contains no added oil or fat and no dairy products. Honey and molasses are the only sweeteners, which also help keep bread moist.
``I hate to say it in Kansas but we use hard red spring wheat,'' Bob Garrett said.
Compared to the winter wheat produced in this state, the organically grown wheat the Garretts import from the northern plains is higher in protein.
``Therefore, it has more gluten,'' he said. ``For whole wheat breads to rise without having to add gluten, you need a high-protein wheat.''
Great Harvest dough also is made using the sponge method, which produces a relatively loose mixture of yeast, flour, water and honey. The dough is allowed to rise three times, over a period of five hours, before it's divided into loaves and baked.
The Garretts sell seven or eight different breads daily. In addition to their standards, which include honey whole wheat, premium white and light wheat, they rotate variations such as oatmeal poppy and cinnamon raisin walnut.
Mary Willems, a repeat customer who discovered Great Harvest shortly after it opened, said she and her husband, Hank, have tried several different varieties of the shop's bread. Oregon herb and pumpernickel rye have been among their favorites.
``A lot of it is the flavor and the texture of the bread,'' she said, noting that the bread contains no oil. ``You feel like you're eating healthier.''
The Garretts came to Lawrence to open their franchise after running the Great Harvest shop in Boulder, Colo., for 11 years. Great Harvest, which is based in Montana, has 107 stores.
Bob Garrett said they targeted Lawrence because they believed the community has high expectations and a deep appreciation for good bread.
``It fit in terms of the size of town, the type of town, with the university here, the level of income. The kind of towns that support microbreweries support bread shops because they've gotten used to quality,'' he said.
For his part, Bob Garrett said that he's happy to be a hands-on bread shop owner and that baking is the best part of the job.
``I like the physical process, the tactile sensation of it,'' he said. ``When you're done, you've got something you can hold in your hand and judge.''
Having an open work space also brings gratification because it allows the Garretts and the other three members of their baking team to see customers' immediate reactions when they taste a sample.
``This is just a right livelihood for me,'' Bob Garrett said, adding that he finds satisfaction in the simplicity of baking bread in a store front shop.
``It's not earth shattering. It's so local in its impact. I just love the smallness of it,'' he said.