Baking up something special for 25 years of old-school ways

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Grainharvest Breadhouse partners Hubert Wurm, David Nötzold and Roland Berchtold celebrate 25 years in business on May 3 at their Waterloo location. [elena maystruk / the observer]
Grainharvest Breadhouse partners Hubert Wurm, David Nötzold and Roland Berchtold celebrate 25 years in business on May 3 at their Waterloo location. [elena maystruk / the observer]
Warm, just out of the oven pretzels and seed-covered loaves might just be the greatest thing since sliced bread. In fact, the art of baking traditional loaves and other such goodies could put that old saying to bed for good, at least according to the owners of Grainharvest Breadhouse.

“If it’s done right, slow fermentation in an old-school way, bread is not a bad thing. The typical bread is loaded with sugar, quick fermentation and gluten added to it. You have to keep it simple. Slow fermentation gives you high lactic acid, gives you natural digestibility … whole grain instead of just white sifted flour. People wouldn’t have allergies if the bread was done right all along,” said co-founder Roland Berchtold.

A quarter of a century ago, Hubert Wurm and Berchtold came to Canada armed with a sense of adventure and a business dream. The Grainharvest Breadhouse Inc. triumvirate of partners – Wurm, Berchtold and David Nötzold who joined as a third partner in 2009 – are looking back on their humble beginnings of bringing the best of artisan bread-making.

Hailing from an Austrian town on the German-Swiss border, childhood friends Wurm and Berchtold never expected to fall in love with the country that later brought them success. The land of hockey and maples was supposed to be the first stop on the road to travel, but the pair never ended up leaving.

“We just wanted adventure. Me, personally, I just wanted to do something different, get away from home and see the world a little bit before I settled down,” said  Wurm of the two founders’ decision to come to Canada.

The two got their start working for a year at a German bakery in Toronto before moving to Waterloo and starting Grainharvest. German-born Nötzold grew up with a family owned bakery business in Berlin and also trained as a baker, coming into the fold to also handle more of the company’s growing marketing base.

Now, celebrating 25 years is quite a milestone, the partners agree.

“I tried to find a statistic on how many businesses make it to 25 years, and the latest statistic I could find was that nine per cent of businesses make it to 10 years,” Nötzold said.

A few dozen costumers showed up to the opening of their first Waterloo location on November 27, 1989. Since then, business has grown, as has the company’s link with the communities it serves. For 20 of its 25 years, for instance, Grainharvest Breadhouse has created the official K-W Oktoberfest pretzel. It has also cultivated a long-time presence in the townships at the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, the Robin’s Nest in Elmira and other local haunts such as the Crazy Canuck, Conestogo’s Blackforest Inn, Heidelberg’s Stemmler’s Meats and Cheese and the Runway Café in Breslau, to name a few. The company also supplies many restaurants and companies across the region and as far afield as Ottawa.

Soon after their first store on Lexington Road in the north end of Waterloo took off, a Kitchener location on Lorraine Avenue opened, and a few years later a Kitchener-area café and catering operation followed.

Still, the bread needs of modern man have changed significantly over the years, and the company has found ways to adapt to their customers while keeping traditional quality in the innovative products it offers. The bakers started the Circle of Life Bakery, a division specializing in wheat-and-gluten-free baking. Local ingredients are used when possible.

“That was the benefit of working in Toronto for a year. We kind of learned that we can’t just do what we did back home, we have to adapt,” Wurm said of the Canadian twist on the European craft.

Parallel to its business successes the company gives back to the community by donating products to the food bank and various local charities. Ten cents of every large pretzel sold in its stores and at special events, for example, goes directly to the KidsAbility Centre for Child Development.

All breads are preservative-free. In classic bread-making style, sourdough breads are baked with the original starting culture brought to Canada in 1989.

Today, the times of baking all night and arguing who will stay up to open the shop in the morning are over, but all three partners still put on an apron every day.

Sure, there have been some setbacks on the way to success, as recent as the fire that last year destroyed the main building at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market, the owners concede. Their market stand was burned down along with those of dozens of vendors.

It’s the communities Grainharvest serves that the partners credit with their success.

“We are looking forward to what lies ahead. We are currently in a temporary location at the Farmers Market and when the new market building will open next year, we will have a better and bigger stand to serve our customers” said Nötzold.

Celebrating 25 years in business, Grainharvest will hold an open house on Saturday May 3 at their Waterloo location at 105 Lexington Rd. from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Elena Maystruk
Elena Maystruk was a journalist at the Woolwich Observer where she covered news, business, sports and human interest beats. She has previously worked with university and independent publications in Toronto, covering everything from the city music scene to the local branch of the Occupy movement. She is a long-time community enthusiast and volunteer in Waterloo Region and part of the 2012 Media Studies graduating class at Guelph-Humber University. Maystruk is currently a staff writer for the Strathroy Age Dispatch.