us bake bread together
Friendship and faith are the recipe when two families
form a baking business
Baking bread involves
a few simple ingredients: seeds ground into flour, yeast, water and
perhaps a little honey or salt for flavor. For two northwest Missouri
families, the recipe for a successful business is similar.
Crowther weighs dough before forming loaves while her sister, Amanda,
rolls out pizza crusts at the Bread of Life Bakery, a family-owned
whole natural foods bakery in Stewartsville. The walls of the bakery
are decorated with murals of agricultural scenes that incorporate
Bible scriptures and quotations from the Book of Mormon.
Life Bakery in Stewartsville began with a seed of an idea — an
inspiration from God, according to its proprietors, Doug and Amy Middleton
and Kathy and Glenn Crowther. To that, the two couples added faith
to see the idea grow. Along the way, experience and good times shared
with friends have produced a savory result.
The bakery, which
first opened in a converted barn and is now located in an old storefront
20 miles east of St. Joseph, has tapped into a market hungry for
natural products. Bread of Life Bakery makes breads, cookies and
rolls from organically grown and freshly ground whole grains. Barely
four years old, the business delivers baked goods to more than
40 health food stores.
The idea to open
a bakery came to Glenn on a bus ride home from a religious retreat.
After several days fasting and praying, Glenn was unwinding while a
traveling companion slept several rows ahead.
|A variety of sandwich breads, specialty breads, cookies and rolls
are sold under the Bread of Life label at health food stores in the
Kansas City and St. Joseph area.
“In the middle
of the night, I heard this voice that said, ‘You need
to have a bakery,’” recalls Glenn, a former Air Force nuclear
weapons officer who earned his living managing a medical clinic. “I
thought it was my good friend. Then I realized he was asleep. I thought, ‘What’s
Like the Biblical
child Samuel who repeatedly heard a call in the night, Glenn’s
confusion continued when he heard the voice again. He checked the bus
bathroom behind him to see if someone there was playing a trick, but
the stall was empty.
When Glenn got home,
he told the story to his wife who assumed her husband was delirious
from fasting. Even so, he called the Middletons, friends from a Bible
study group, and told them the two families were destined to open a
terrible idea,” says Amy. “We
were stay-home moms and baked, but neither of us were good at bread.
Kathy made so-so bread and I made terrible bread.”
the two families that operate Bread of Life Bakery prepare for
a shift change, Kathy Crowther briefs Amy Middleton on the day’s
business while Amy covers the hair of her daughter, Anna Grace.
The two families met through a Bible study group and decided
to open the business together.
remained on the back burner for almost a year until Glenn and Kathy
attended an auction at a bakery in Plattsburg. There, they confronted
their future in the form of a room-sized baker’s oven.
recalls his conversation with Kathy when they realized no one
was bidding on the oven. “She said, ‘What if God wants
us to have it?’ I
said, kind of flippantly, ‘Hopefully, he’ll deliver
The Crowthers bid
$125 and won the oven. It took four days to disassemble the giant oven
and move it to the Middleton’s farm near Amity.
The two couples
had grown close through their participation in the Restoration Church,
an offshoot of the Community of Christ denomination. The families
shared an appreciation of natural foods, an adherence to a simple lifestyle
and the common experience of educating their children at home.
Middletons and Crowthers, both members of United Electric Cooperative,
desired to own a business that would allow them to spend time with
their children. It seemed only natural to join together to pursue these
|Kathy Crowther places
loaves of the bakery’s multi-grain
bread in a large commercial oven. The bakery produces about 1,000
loaves of bread each week.
“I think we
were supposed to work together as families,” says
has gotten so splintered. People don’t come together
Doug and Glenn converted
old barn to a bakery while Kathy and Amy worked on
bread recipes and tried to find customers for baked
goods they hadn’t even made yet. A friend had
tried unsuccessfully to secure a spot to sell baked
goods at the City Market in Kansas City, but Amy
made a pitch anyway.
“I called and
is what we make,’” recalls
Amy. “Well, we didn’t even make it
yet. We were just going to make it. He said, ‘Great,
we don’t have anything like you,’ and
he gave us the very middle stall at the center
at City Market.”
Making the bakery
operational took longer than expected and two days before their
first sale at City Market the bakery still didn’t
have any bread.
I made lots of breads in an attempt to get ready. We’d
do them in our home kitchens — and nothing,” Amy
says, reliving frustration of their failed
too flat. It’s not salty enough.
It doesn’t taste right.
out another bread book and opened a brand
new recipe. ‘Let’s
try this one.’ That’s our whole
removes warm rolls from a baking sheet. The bakery produces
about 600 cinnamon rolls and honey-glazed pecan rolls each week.
In addition to the
whole-wheat loaf, the bakers produce a variety of fresh
breads, all made from organic grains, ground
within a few hours of baking. Their multi-grain
bread features seven types of grain and seeds. “Totally Nuts” is
packed with walnuts. Flax bread is rich
in omega 3 fatty acids. Another bread is made from spelt, a grain some
wheat allergy sufferers find easier to digest. Amy and Kathy hope to
soon market a completely gluten-free bread for wheat-intolerant customers.
bakery also offers a number of flavored specialty breads, including
asiago cheese and spinach, black olive, cranberry walnut and
Ezekiel bread, loosely based on instructions
given to an Old Testament prophet, includes beans and lentils.
abound at Bread of Life Bakery. From the scripture verses
included in wall murals to the name of
the business itself, the owners’ faith
is ever present.
“The Lord says
that he is the bread of life. He
meant that he is the nourishment for our
souls,” explains Amy. “We
reflect that by making the most nourishing
bread for your body that we can.”
|Unlike most bakeries, Bread of Life grinds whole grains to make
the flour it uses in its baked goods.
bakery cannot thrive by bread alone,
though. Bread of Life also makes cookies,
pizza crusts and devilishly tasty cinnamon
and pecan rolls, all made with natural
But what most separates
Bread of Life’s breads and rolls
from other baked goods is that the grains are ground
fresh. Much of wheat’s nutrition is
in the germ, but few bakers use
the whole grain because flour with the germ intact won’t keep. Also,
the nutritional value of ground flour is lost rapidly through oxidation.
we grind the grain fresh, it’s the absolutely freshest bread
that you can get. It’s
fresher than what you make at
home in your bread machine,” Amy
soft. It has a wonderful, nutty
wheat flavor. It makes a wonderful
sandwich. And our customers love
Indeed, demand for
Bread of Life Bakery’s
offerings has grown rapidly.
The products are sold mostly
at health food stores in the
St. Joseph and Kansas City
area, though some is shipped
to retailers in Springfield,
Wichita, Columbia and elsewhere.
They even ship rolls to a coffee
shop in New York.
their rapid success, the
Crowthers and Middletons quickly outgrew
their barn facility. In 2005
they bought a former hardware
store in Stewartsville and converted
it to a bakery. The original barn
bakery will soon go back into service
to produce gluten-free bread.
The children pitch in at the bakery, lending a hand with everything
from forming loaves to slicing and bagging baked bread.
Meanwhile, the two
families bake about 1,000 loaves of bread and 600 rolls each week in
Stewartsville. The storefront bakery is a bustle of activity. Amy
and Kathy, assisted by Crowther daughters Amanda and Bethany, prepare
dough, form loaves by hand and bake. Noah Middleton and Luke Crowther
help their fathers slice and package bread or prepare for deliveries.
The younger children — Josiah
and Gabriel Crowther and
Elijah and Anna Grace Middleton — help with simple
chores like labeling when
not working on their home school lessons.
Twice a week,
fresh bread is delivered to merchants
as far away as Independence,
where health-conscious consumers
pay as much as $5 a loaf
for whole grain breads. One
such outlet is A-Z Fresh
Air Fair, a natural foods
store in St. Joseph.
“We feel it’s
the healthiest baked bread out there,” says Jim
Fly, the store’s
owner. “The other
thing is that it’s
a local product. As
a small independent
local health food market,
we want to support
appeal of a locally
owned business is not lost
on the bakery’s owners.
Kathy says they enjoy
meeting customers and, in turn, buyers gain confidence in the product by meeting
|Gabriel Crowther, 5, watches as his mother stacks cookies for packaging.
has a face,” she says. “Does Wonder
Bread have a face? I don’t know Wonder Bread’s face,” Kathy
you want a relationship
with someone you’re
trusting with the
health of your
getting to know
launching Bread of
Life Bakery has allowed
these two families
to grow closer together.
so wonderful to work with your sweetest, best friends doing something
that you love, that is good for other people,” Amy
Kathy, her partner
in the kitchen, agrees. “Every step of the way it’s
been a blessing.
It just seems like we’ve been guided to do this.”
For more information,
write to Bread of Life Bakery, 206 Main St., Stewartsville, MO 64490,
call (816) 669-1344 or log onto www.BreadOfLifeBakery.net.