Getting a rise out of old-world bakery model in Sidney

‘Oscar’ the bread starter poised to be around for years.

  • Jan. 22, 2015 7:00 a.m.

Alan Foy

Customers at Sidney’s Thrifty Foods can now enjoy the warm aroma of baking bread and a wealth of delicious from-scratch bread and baked goodies at the store’s new artisan bakery, The Hearth. It’s a move that sees the grocer hearken back to the feel of small bakeries and old-world techniques.

“Old is new,” said Meghan Parkhouse, bakery category manager for Thrifty Foods. “We’re going back to old school baking and getting away from mixes and frozen dough. It’s something we’re very proud of.”

Though the store had been making breads from scratch for years, the open-counter design of The Hearth gives customers the chance to actually talk with the people who spend their days elbow-deep in dough.

“We thought, let’s remove the walls and show people what we’re really doing,” said Parkhouse.

“The feedback and passion for food from our customers has led us down this path. We’re happy to get back to our roots,” said store manager Kurtis Francis.

“And there’s a lot more than just bread,” he added, gesturing to the rows upon rows of custard-filled tarts, creamy Nanaimo bars, elaborately iced doughnuts and crumble-topped muffins.

Especially exciting is the addition of a new team member to the bakery: Oscar, the gooey and warm bread starter that, ahem, gives rise to all the artisan breads and croissants in both the Sidney and Admirals Walk Thrifty Foods.

Brought back from San Francisco bread experts as a dry starter, Oscar was nurtured back to life by Red Seal baker Seth Gustavson, and is well looked after. He has a ‘breakfast’ of flour and water every morning to replenish what the bakeries take out for their daily breads and could, conceivably, go on to become one the grocer’s longest-standing employees.

“There are families in Europe certainly, who will keep these starters going for generations,” said Erin Coulson, communications manager.

As time goes by, Oscar will take on a more distinct local flavour, with the mineral content in the water, air pressure and humidity on the Saanich Peninsula all contributing to his particular taste.

Bakery manager Alan Foy is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Oscar, among other raw materials.

“It’s awesome to get back to the sourdough breads. They’re my favourite,” he said. “It’s great to get back to much better quality with more natural ingredients.”

Foy has been in the bread business for close to 40 years and his expertise is evident as he moves seamlessly through the organized chaos behind the counter.

When asked what’s it’s like to have Oscar in house, Foy smiled.

“We have a good working relationship,” he said. “He doesn’t give me much grief.”

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