Bread has long been a contentious issue. Iconic cookbook author Julia Child once asked, “How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” James Beard echoed her sentiment: “Bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods, and good bread with fresh butter the greatest of all feats.” Bread aficionados are constantly in search of perfectly flavored loafs with the right amount of crumb, crust and chew.
They need look no further. Entrepreneur Kim Tavino and her son, chef and baker Ryan Fennessey, have made their artisan bread company, Sprout Momma Breads, a family affair. Their signature bread, made from ancient grains and sprouted from non-GMO wheat berries, was followed by buttermilk molasses, spent grain, Amish milk, spelt and many other varieties in the form of loaves, boules, bâtards, focaccias and a seasonal brioche for Easter.
As a nutritionist and fitness trainer, Tavino has put her passion and her money where her mouth is. “When I first started baking bread, I was afraid of yeast,” she says with a laugh. “I'm a health coach, and I made the bread as a gift to clients and put it in a gift basket. I started by making white bread, but then I came across sprouted grain bread. My clients began asking for more bread. I worked for one year experimenting and tweaking my recipes and through my mistakes, some of which came out like paperweights. I experimented with cinnamon cranberry, herbes de Provence, and it all stemmed from there.”
Sprout Momma Breads first started with a stand at the Honey Horn farmers market, followed by one at the Bluffton farmers market, and then grew to include the Port Royal and Savannah farmers markets. Soon after, Tavino began supplying area supermarkets, gourmet food stores and upscale restaurants. The local Whole Foods, which requires rigorous standards from vendors, now carries the breads. And Tavino is quick to point out that without the help and support of Chris and David Martin, owners of the Piggly Wiggly at Coligny Plaza, her company would not have a properly certified kitchen to generate the hundreds of loaves needed to supply the ever-growing demand. "David and Chris are very good friends, and we appreciate everything they have done for us. People want to see small businesses thrive,” Tavino says.
Once Sprout Momma Breads established a loyal following and the demand grew, Fennessey, who has a culinary background and was a chef at Sigler's Rotisserie in Bluffton, worked to develop flavor profiles and explored ingredient sourcing and the financial side of the business. “At first, Ryan was hesitant about working with mom,” Tavino says. He now works with his mother full time as a business partner and tests new recipes, develops new breads and oversees the day-to-day operations with assistant Ken Bastian.
“We've been best friends for 10 years, and Ken is just as dedicated to our company as mom and I are,” Fennessey says.
That dedication drives Fennessey to obsess over bread.
“The bread is all about the fermentation, the rise, and making sure it's consistent,” he says. How does Fennessey come up with new flavors? His process begins by becoming “fixated on an ingredient or flavor,” and then he will spend several weeks cross-referencing, doing research, tasting and “then I will create a version that we can bake. We will tweak it, and sometimes it’s fine the first time and sometimes we need to keep going until we get it right.” By using all different types of flours, from kamut to potato to spelt, and different types of rye, the company continues to expand its offerings.
“We're striving to get to the absolute bones of old-style baking — challah, baguettes, boules — and we're baking the most ancient types of bread and cross-referencing different techniques to call it ancient grains,” Fennessey says. “We use King Arthur flour, which has a higher protein so it makes a nicer loaf. My personal favorite is our marbled rye. Our customers are very adventurous. I recently developed a bread using bamboo charcoal and our customers love it.” That bread is jet black and deliciously decadent.
This spring, Sprout Momma Breads will expand its presence at high-volume farmers markets in Columbia and Charleston. And more restaurants have been knocking on the breadmakers’ door. The long-range plan is to open a brick-and-mortar Sprout Momma Breads — and clearly, their timing couldn’t be better, what with celebrities such as Oprah proclaiming, “I love bread.”Over the years, comfort food has evolved into macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, chicken soup … but bread has really been the queen of comfort food all along. Where would so many things we love to eat be without it?