I was encouraged to visit Jean and Dale Roberts, owners of the Great Harvest Bread Company at 809 Main St. by Bettylou Sandy, who I wrote about last year.
Bettylou told me about the amazing bread, and how their wheat is ground on the premises. I called and spoke to Jean, who agreed to talk about the business that she owns with her husband Dale. In addition to working full-time in the insurance industry, Dale gets up early every morning to make bread with Jean before he goes off to work.
Timothy Becker: Jean, what products do you offer here at Great Harvest?
Jean Roberts: Every day is different. We make seven to nine different breads every day. We make everything from scratch. We even mill our own wheat. We make 180-220 loaves every day. We also have five different flavors of scones, cookies, and quick breads like banana, pumpkin, chocolate fudge brownie, and pumpkin chocolate chip. We also serve coffee. I have been told that our coffee is the best on Main Street.
Timothy Becker: What do you have over on the shelves near the front window?
Jean Roberts: We have jams and mixes that you make at home such as chocolate chip cookie, pancake, corn bread and granola and trail mix.
Timothy Becker: How did you and Dale get started in this business?
Jean Roberts: The store opened in 1996 and we were good customers. We liked it so much that we used to wait outside for them to open at 8 a.m. We found out that it was a franchise and we looked into starting one somewhere else. When we submitted an application for a franchise, the company called and told us that the Manchester store was for sale. There were two other bidders. We were fortunate that we were chosen. We purchased the store in 2003.
Timothy Becker: Tell me about the franchise? I have never seen another one.
Jean Roberts: There are over 230 Great Harvest stores nationwide. Most are in the West. We are the only one in Connecticut. It's called a freedom franchise. We can put our own personal touch on the business. It is a requirement that we use their approved wheat berries that they have tested for quality. We mill the wheat fresh and use it within 48 hours. I can choose the mix of product. Every Great Harvest is different. The company provided very good training and they sent a representative to work with us for the first few weeks. The home office is in Dillon, Montana and they provide legal, management, and marketing support. There is also a website so that owners can help each other. We feel that there is great backing.
Timothy Becker: I know that you start very early. What is the baking schedule like?
Jean Roberts: I start at 3:30 a.m. and Dale comes in at 5 a.m. We start with wheat flour, water, and yeast and I create a sponge. Dale runs the mixer until all the breads are mixed. Then we start kneading the bread by hand. Then we bake the loaves. It takes about four and a half hours from start to finish. The freshly baked bread comes out between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m.
Timothy Becker: How do you advertise?
Jean Roberts: Most of our advertising is by word of mouth. We do set up tables at charitable events like the Relay for Life and we donate all the sales revenue to the charity. We also are open on Thanksgiving morning during the Manchester Road Race and all our sales go to MACC. That is how we advertise.
Timothy Becker: What is it that gets you up so early every day?
Jean Roberts: At home I was always the baker. I have a huge cabinet of cook books. I have always loved to bake. I also have a real sweet tooth. Dale said “let's go for it.” It all fell into place. Every day you are putting your all into your product. I can't just unlock the door and turn on the lights and be open for business. I like being creative. The freedom is what makes it fun.