Rising Early: (From left) Diane, Heidi and Dana Roark begin baking bread at 4:30 a.m. daily at their Great Harvest Bread Co. location in Katy, TX.

Heidi Roark’s dream of opening a bakery came true in 2012 when she invested in a Great Harvest Bread Company franchise in Katy, TX. “Since I had never baked commercially, it made sense to partner with a brand that could provide a marketing platform and a template for how to run a business,” she said. Soon Heidi’s parents Dana and Diane retired from their careers to help her run the store and the family branched out to selling at area farmers markets, including the Westchase District farmers market.

Montana wheat, local control

While Great Harvest Bread Company is a chain franchise with more than 200 bakeries and cafés across the United States, each location is given the latitude to customize everything from the store’s layout and design to what products it sells, based on seasonality and customer feedback.

“Great Harvest supplies our wheat, which comes from Montana and is tested for protein content, moisture level, baking qualities and taste,” Heidi said. “Other than that, we get all of our other ingredients – such as white flour, oats, raisins, meats, etc. – from local distributors. We also resell some local honey and jams from vendors in Katy.”

“What’s nice about Great Harvest is that I don’t have a set menu; I’m allowed to shape what I sell based on the community we live in,” Heidi said. “At times that can be tricky because someone can come in looking for an item that another store offers that we don’t. But for the most part, we’ve learned to give our customers what they want the most.”

Dong the heavy lifting: Heidi Roark mills her unprocessed wheat flour daily from 60-pound bags received from Montana.

Quality and variety

The Roarks start baking at 4:30 a.m. and their store, located at 1623 South Fry Road, is open weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We mill our wheat onsite every day and we only use fresh ingredients with no preservatives, so it’s true farm-to-table bread,” Diane said. “We use everything within 48 hours so that the bread still has all of the live nutrients in it. Everything we sell we make from scratch, hand-kneading the bread. We’re not pulling any of our products from the freezer.”

Heidi is on site every morning to supervise her baking team and ensure quality control, so that if something’s not just right, it’s baked again. She estimates they bake between 100 and 150 loaves per day. “We’ve been able to branch out with our variety while still maintaining quality,” Diane said. “When we first opened, we were only making six different kinds of bread daily. Now we’re making 10, plus four types of scones, a half-dozen kinds of cookies and three to five types of muffins as well as Savannah Bars, brownies and bread pudding. Also, we offer corporate catering and gift baskets. King Cakes were a big seller for us during Mardi Gras this year.”

Viewing farmers markets as a mobile extension of the store, Diane estimates that the six markets they staff each week make up about a fifth of the business’s revenue. Dana brings about 15 varieties of bread, plus “In addition to normal foot traffic, I see about 10 to 12 regular repeat customers each week,” he said. “Sourdough is popular at the Westchase District market, as are some of our sandwich breads. It’s fun to get to know certain customers and to make sure you have their favorites on hand when they come by our tent.”

Dana adds that while some regular customers don’t always buy from him every week, they do stop by to say hello. “They tell me they still have bread left over from their previous purchase, but they thank me for being there. That makes me feel like we’re really making a difference in the community. It’s fun to see when people are passionate about our food.”

Great Harvest Bread Co.

1623 South Fry Road