Columbia City Bakery Chases Flavor, Not Fads

Owner Evan Andres with some of Columbia City Bakery's outstanding breads.
 
For decades, Seattle has enjoyed the status of being home to some of America’s greatest bakeries. Names like Grand Central Bakery and Macrina Bakery & Café come to mind as leaders among the nation’s artisan bread community.
 
Columbia City Bakery owner Evan Andres, a three-time semifinalist for James Beard’s coveted Outstanding Baker award, knows the Seattle scene well after baking bread here for the past 20 years. He baked for Macrina and Tall Grass Bakery prior to opening Columbia City in October 2005.
 
His shop may be small, but it continues to produce some of the best bread in the country. Bon Appetit magazine heralded Columbia City’s baguettes for being among the top 10 best in America, and locals voted their baguettes as best in Seattle in the city’s first-ever French Fest in 2013.     
 
“We really try to push that line everyday with what the flour can handle,” Andres says. “We try to take it to the edge. We want it to be the best experience for the person who came into buy our bread that day.”

His ingredients are simple: flour, water, salt and starter. They start baking at 4 a.m. every morning, seven days a week. Bread is delivered daily to restaurants downtown and in the Ballard neighborhood of northwest Seattle. Wholesale accounts represent roughly 90 percent of total sales.
 
“Walk-in bread sales have never caught on like I thought it would,” says Andres, who grew up in Berkeley, California, where he learned an early appreciation for great bread. “Overcoming convenience is pretty hard, and people are only going to pay so much for a loaf of bread.”
 
A baguette at Columbia City sells for $5.50. They also produce a sourdough baguette and seeded ficelle (similar to a baguette but thinner).

Andres particularly loves the pain de campagne, a mild sourdough made with unbleached wheat flour, whole wheat flour, whole rye flour, wheat germ, a natural sour starter, sea salt and water. A large batard goes for $10.50, or $6 for a half. Their San Francisco style sourdough, Columbia City Sourdough, and a walnut levain are other popular naturally leavened breads on the daily menu.

“I’m not chasing any of the latest fads,” Andres says. “We chase flavor. Our customers can really tell the difference between a fresh loaf of bread, and that serves us well.”
 
He is excited about the attention the artisan bread community is receiving from what appears to be a growing number of food lovers in America who appreciate local bakers who produce great bread. He’s a big fan of breads of the world (his shop sells Volkornbrot, a German rye), and he is impressed by the work of Washington State University’s Bread Lab led by wheat breeder Dr. Stephen Jones.
 
“What they are doing is super amazing,” Andres says of the work by The Bread Lab to bring more value to local wheat and grain farms in the state. “All of this flour was being shipped out of the country, and now we are enjoying many more sources of local grain.”

For him, Andres says his goal remains the same: Produce great flavored breads every day. He has one retail location and is pushing to add a few more retail drops.

“We are super small,” he says. “We have one delivery van and two routes. We’ll be here 12 years in October. Training bakers is my challenge. It seems like we are always building a team of bakers back together. It’s hard to find skilled bakers and, when you bring someone new in, the experience starts paying off the second year. Then you have to hope they stay. The alternative is staying so small that it’s just you.”