The Essential Baking Company
Producers: George DePasquale and his team of artisan bakers
Located in: Seattle
Supplying PCC since: the 1990s
Supplies PCC with: Wonderfully fresh, locally baked organic breads.
Only the best: The Essential Baking Company's Seattle bakery is certified organic, and each loaf is baked with an abundance of organic and local ingredients, including local rosemary. PCC was one of Essential's first major accounts.
Time to move: Founder George DePasquale knew it was time to move into larger digs in the late 1990s when space became so limited, they were forced to commandeer company offices so the dough would have a place to ferment. "Every day we would kick the office people out and turn up the heat for the bread. All of the walls were lined with finished loaves waiting for the drivers to pick them up."
A sustainable legacy
When meandering through Essential Baking Company's home in Fremont, the welcoming smell of warm, freshly baked bread is dense and omnipresent. Flour particles drifting through the open space lend a vague, softened quality to the air — like some sort of photographic effect.
A diverse group of bakers are gathered around a table in the center of the room. There are murmuring voices and subtle patting sounds, as each ball of dough is hand-formed into a loaf. Racks laden with crusty, rustic bread, fresh from the oven, await the hands that will carry them to their final destination. Busily orchestrating these stages in the lives of many of Seattle's favorite loaves is George DePasquale, Essential Baking Company co-founder.
The starter for Essential Baking Company's recipe for success was begun in 1994. Jeff Fairhall, founder of Essential Foods, had a conversation with DePasquale about starting an organic bakery. DePasquale, who had been a baker for decades, relocated to Seattle from the San Francisco Bay area to become an integral part of the adventure.
Essential Baking Company's first home was in a 3,800-square-foot basement in Fremont. Fairhall and DePasquale started by selling their bread at a booth in the Fremont Sunday Market. The first day they made 400 loaves of bread.
"It snowballed from there," DePasquale remembers. "The first couple of years were really nuts." In the beginning, DePasquale did all of the baking, Fairhall managed the business, and they had one delivery truck driver. "PCC was one of the first accounts we really wanted to get," DePasquale notes.
PCC has been a steady retailer of Essential Baking Company bread all along, selling popular favorites like Rosemary Diamante, Fremont and Columbia, and specialty loaves like Sweet Perrin Bread. After several years of kneading the business, Essential Baking Company was making thousands of loaves a day and had 30 employees.
The company started to pop out of its old location like a loaf left to rise too long. DePasquale laughs as he recalls, "We had to ferment the dough in our offices. Everyday we would kick the office people out and turn up the heat for the bread. All of the walls were lined with finished loaves waiting for the drivers to pick them up."
When the current location at 1604 N. 34th in Fremont became available in 1998, they jumped at the opportunity. DePasquale points out an old photo on the wall; it's a picture of the same building when it was Buchan's Bakery in the 1920's. After refurbishing the 14,000-square-foot building, Essential quickly grew into its new home.
When you walk in the front door of Essential Baking Company, you can see through an archway (that is if you can take your eyes off the luscious pastries in Essential's retail storefront) to the rustic Spanish oven, where hundreds of loaves of Ciabatta and Pugliese bread are hand-baked every day. "The builder came from Spain and literally drew a circle on the ground using sticks and string and started laying bricks," DePasquale says with a still-lingering note of amazement.
They now use several ovens, the newest of which cranks out 360 loaves per hour. Essential's bread production ranges from 9,000 to 13, 000 loaves of bread each day, almost entirely formed by hand. This keeps 230 employees busy, including 55 bread bakers and three dozen pastry and dessert bakers. Organic ingredients are used whenever possible. The bakery is certified organic by the USDA.
Though George DePasquale doesn't get much time to do the actual bread baking anymore, he's always glad for an opportunity to cover a shift and commune with the bread dough. "I've been a baker my whole adult life," DePasquale notes. "The most rewarding part of my job is still seeing the bread come out of the oven. You take a few simple ingredients and put them together and get something wonderful."
By Alicia Lundquist Guy, Sound Consumer, March 2003. Updated February 2010