I know it's the beginning of a new year and everyone is probably doing their usual New Year's resolutions to be better, eat better and all that. Which is great, don't get me wrong. But sometimes I feel that people put too much pressure on themselves at the beginning of the year to stop eating sweets, or breads or whatever it is that they love. And I think you shouldn't deprive yourself of things you love. So this year, instead of giving things up - make a resolution to eat better versions of the things you love instead. Go organic, ditch the artificial colors and eat more whole grains!
So, I thought this was the perfect time to share my interview with Prager Brothers. I found this organic bread bakery during one of my recent trips to Carlsbad, CA. I am always searching for organic options whenever I leave town. One thing I miss most (since becoming an ingredient snob) is actually eating out and trying other people's food! I'm sure all chefs will agree with me that sometimes it's just amazing to eat something good that you didn't have to make. So, I reached out and I got invited to take a tour of the bakery with Louie Prager, the brains behind the operation. While I was there I got to try a few things - like the Soft Pretzel, their Shorbread Cookies and their Country Loaf. I also got to chat with Louie, and Delaney and I actually learned a few things that we didn't know. Bread is not our specialty (well except eating it) so it was really cool to see the things and changes that Louie is doing in our food industry.
Mimi: When did Prager Brothers start?
Louie: In 2012 we started in our backyard, baking bread and selling it at Farmer's Markets. Then we got a retail space shortly after. And we recently moved into the space we are in now. We have the retail space here, with a bakery in the back and we have the space next door which is mostly storage and where we mill our own flours.
M: That's amazing you mill your own flours! Do you sell a Prager Brothers brand of flour here in the bakery?
L: We plan to. We are actually going to build a smaller retail bakery in the front part of the space next door. It will be more of a community space and we plan to offer classes. Then we'll sell our flour there.
M: Did you go to culinary school?
L: No, I studied biology. I learned a lot about the environment and what's happening. So we use a lot of whole grains here. There's a small group of us (Artisan bread bakers) that meet up once a year up in Washington. We're trying to bring back strains of whole grain that have become extinct. We have our own mill here, so we can buy a lot of grains straight from farmers and mill them here.
M: Why are whole grains so important to you, and such a huge part of your business?
L: Whole grains are a big thing. There used to be hundreds of variety of grains and with everything that’s taken place in the past within our food industry, those varieties have shrunken down to about 3-4 varieties of wheat. Some have fallen out of existence on their own, some are hanging in there. But there’s Bread Lab up in Washington and a small group of us that are trying to bring them back. Breading old grains with new varieties, trying to make things that work for farmers today. The grains have amazing flavor, nutritional value and whole grain is actually a super food in itself. And grains are actually a great whole food source. We can grow a lot more food for our growing population through plants, than animals. Grains have gotten a bad rap, but we’re trying to change that.
M: It's Prager Brothers, so does your brother work here too? Did you start it together or was this your idea?
L: Yes, he does. Although today happens to be his day off. I started baking first up in San Louis Obispo where I studied biology. My brother studied music in Santa Cruz (plays guitar and sings). We both finished school and we both ended up coming back to Carlsbad (we grew up here). We’re both really into the outdoors and neither of us could find a job. So, I started selling some bread at Farmer’s Markets that I would bake mostly in my backyard. And it went from one Farmer’s Market to two, and then my brother started helping because it quickly out grew what I could do by myself. Then we got our first employee, she would show up to our parent’s house and take the bread down to the Farmer’s Market. When we out grew the backyard then we got a retail space.
M: How many employees do you guys have here now?
L: It fluctuates a little, but there's about 30 people total including my brother and myself. About 10 of them are super part time, they might do a Farmer's Market or deliver a couple days a week and that's it.
M: So this is a shot in the dark, but do you make Gluten Free Bread, or do people ask for it?
L: Yeah, some do but we don't make it.
M: I'm sure some people that are gluten free can eat your breads because of the higher quality of flour and be okay right?
L: Yeah a lot of that. Because of the fermentation and organic whole grains they will eat our bread and are okay with it.
M: What is your favorite? How do you like to eat it?
L: The Miche is my favorite bread. I eat a lot of just bread with butter, and I like grilled cheese sandwiches.
M: Is there anything you want to add?
L: It’s about quality, and being focused on retail is super important. Where food is heading people want to eat better food, so they need to buy it straight from the producer. And if people are doing that, the producer can afford to use better ingredients, and they can afford to use better techniques which means more labor. We value our staff so much. It’s definitely harder as a business owner to train people, especially today with so much technology. I feel so many younger people aren’t interested in doing something more hands on. Machines are great for some things, if they can do the same thing a person can and that person doesn’t have to break his back doing it. I just think there’s a food movement happening right now. And I think there could be a lot of really necessary changes and a lot of possibility for Artisan food to create a lot of jobs. It will be an opportunity to for people to make a living doing something creative and using their hands.
M: I couldn't agree with you more on that. I hope it happens for all of us!