“From hand to oven”
Wild flour bakery
Story and photos of Erin Boggs
All over the world, bread is a common bond that unites us all. While it’s not easy to find a true artisan bakery in the foothills, tucked away in peaceful Saluda NC, you’ll find Wildflour Bake Shop.
The bakery has a history of forty-one years. All breads, pastries and pizza crusts start with Wildflour’s hand-ground whole grain flour. The bakery also has a restaurant where you will find owner Debi Thomas and leader Kasey welcoming and serving customers from all walks of life. The menu offers many unique and creative combinations of flavors and ingredients for breakfasts and lunches. And on On Wednesdays and Fridays, customers also enjoy pizza evenings. In fact, the much loved Wildflour Pizza is the result of a family trip to Italy where they became determined to recreate an authentic pizza with us in Saluda.
“I love our pizzas. We make our crust by hand; we prepare the sauce ourselves. We use fresh produce for everything. Nothing is canned, nothing is frozen. My best friend, my daughter and I went to Italy and it inspired him. When we came back I worked and worked on the crust. My daughter Molly worked on the sauces. Then, after my son Abram came to work with me, he came up with new combinations and new flavors. My other son Simon, he always does pizza nights. That’s his thing, making pizza. They are beautiful! I think pizza is one of the things that has so many memories and stuff and was just such a group effort.
Born and raised in Indiana, Debi and her husband decided to move to Saluda after exploring different parts of the country.
“I graduated from Indiana University and at that point my husband and I decided we just wanted to pack our stuff, sell our little house and travel, and see parts of the country to see. there was a place that really looked like home. That’s how we ended up in North Carolina, and it was just the two of us at the time. After we got here and settled in we had five kids, so this is definitely our home and I love it, ”Debi says.
A self-taught bread maker, Debi began making bread on her own through trial and error.
“I was educated at university, I was still working. And when I got to my final year of finishing my student education and starting my masters in special education, I couldn’t find a job to fit in. And I decided to take bread orders. And so, at night, I would bake bread and take it. And so, he was just self-taught. In high school, Home Ec was probably my least favorite class. I really didn’t like it! But when I had my own place and I was alone where you didn’t study it for hours on end before you started mixing something, then I liked it, ”Debi says.
Sometimes change beckons in life.
“I taught special education in Indiana before I left, and then I came here and ended up teaching when I was here, and I loved the job. But one summer, a friend, Betsy Burdette, asked if I could help her cook the Mother Earth News breakfasts. It was forty years ago and there was no good whole wheat bread, you know? And so, thinking of the folks out there who would be on the news from Mother Earth, learning how to organically garden and compost and do all of these things, we thought, “Well, they won’t want white bread. ! “
“So we made our own bread and then Ken and Ann Hough came to one of the sessions and ate the sandwiches and things that we made and looked at us and said, ‘Hey, we just came from buy the old railroad house. This is is going to be the Orchard Inn. Would you make bread for us if we set you up with equipment in the basement, and then you can do something else? To this day, we still make bread for the Orchard Inn. There have been a number of different innkeepers, but we have always continued to bake their bread, which I am very proud of, ”says Debi.
This was in 1981, and very soon after starting at the Inn, the business began to flourish.
“When they offered us the opportunity over there at the hostel, we thought, well, let’s go! So I didn’t go back to teaching that year. We started the bakery and one of the first places to contract with us was the Fresh Market. And so, we had a pretty busy start, ”Debi says.
It was only the beginning. Soon they were also under contract with Ingles, IGA, Earth Fare and Harris Teeter.
“We made between 1,500 and 2,000 breads per week. This is entirely by hand from stone, grinding our grain, mixing it, weighing it, shaping it, cooking it and bagging it. So eventually the coffee part of our business started to get busier and it was just hard to keep up with everything. Debi said. First, they moved to a small apartment building on Main Street near the bank and post office, and to manage the large-scale bread-making operation, they also rented a building on the property where Now stands the bakery, then owned by JC Thompson. His lights would come on at three or four in the morning because “I was already cooking and he really admired her.” So we started talking once and he said as he was leaving this building that I should move in, because I was kind of building my business as he was slowing down with his.
So the decision was made to stop doing wholesale and simplify: “Which was a great decision because this cafe has continued to grow here. I liked it so much more. I appreciate it more than when you’re not stretched so tight. And you don’t really know people or see people. It’s very rewarding, very complementary. You get to know some of the people who come in all the time. After finding several private investors, Debi and her family were able to purchase the entire cluster of buildings where the bakery is located and where ten different stores now operate.
As you would expect, as a former special educator, Debi exudes a calm patience as well as a love for teach its staff how to bake bread. She enjoys many aspects of her day.
“It’s active and you get new ideas. I mean, I’ve been doing it for forty years and I’m always learning something new. And I feel like one thing we do well is this balance between creative and inventive food, while trying to keep it affordable. When people arrive at work, they rarely have training, especially in baking, because there are a lot of restaurants, but not a lot of bakeries. So I’m constantly teaching someone how to bake or how to help with breads. So yes, this educational aspect comes into play.
Indeed, a lot is being passed down from her teaching career to her business now.
“You learn to look at things from a different perspective because people learn so, so differently. I know that by teaching often, I had to get to know this child and what works with this child. Well, it’s the same here. You have to find different ways to teach people and what works for one isn’t necessarily good for the other.
“I’m teaching someone the bread and you get to the part where you fill it with flour, well it might be different from day to day, depending on the humidity that day. , the moisture content thereof. flour happens to be. It is a very tactile thing to do because, at the end of the day, you mostly watch how you feel. This is when you know you are done. It takes a lot of practice and persistence to become a good baker, as well as to pass the skills on to your family and a new generation of bakers.
Debbie says, “I’ve always told my kids, you know, when you grow up and find something to do, do what you love and love what you do. Don’t spend eight hours a day, five days a week, so you can get through your weekends, and work fifty weeks a year just so you can take your two week vacation. Find something that makes everyday work for you. Of course, it’s never perfect. Everyone has their good days and their tough days, but basically there are just no promises. Find something you love to do. You’ll probably do a better job anyway. So, I fell in love with it. Somehow I enjoyed teaching, but then I fell into it and found out that it was something that I really, really enjoy doing.