The Sourdough Boulangerie
Located: 6453 Omaha Blvd.
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Shawn Saunders is on the second go-round of owning his dream business, and this time he figures it will last.
The 44-year-old baker opened The Sourdough Boulangerie in January 2014 and has seen substantial growth during the last year.
Saunders is a native of Colorado Springs, a 1991 Doherty High School graduate and a believer in the “local and sustainable” idea, which is printed on his business card.
His professional life has been spent in the food and restaurant industry, and he was the owner of Shawn’s Bakery from 2004 to 2009, until the Great Recession forced him to close the doors and again work for others.
But Saunders’ dream of owning a bakery business didn’t die with that setback.
“What sings to my heart is making bread,” Saunders said, breaking into a smile. “I always wanted to start my own bakery. When the economy tanked, it hurt a lot of businesses. I had about 25 customers at that time, but we had to shut it down. I did whatever I had to do to pay the bills.”
He worked for a handful of local restaurants as a chef and baker, but never forgot about his dream. In late 2013, he finally told himself, “I’ve got to go back to what I love.”
His break came while having a cup of coffee at a local downtown spot now called Bella’s Bakery & Cafe.
“The owner asked what I would do to help them, and I said, ‘Have my bread.’ We made a deal where I would use their kitchen to bake,” he said.
The Skirted Heifer soon became his customer, as did Ranch Foods Direct, and Saunders found himself needing more space.
“I worked out a deal with Mike Callicrate, the owner of Ranch Foods to work out of their breakroom,” Saunders said. “I was baking in that 300-square-foot space for almost three years.”
By then, he’d acquired a dozen accounts and lots of equipment, which prompted a move to his own space, at 6453 Omaha Blvd., in July 2016.
Saunders said his 2017 revenue would be about $125,000 — an increase of approximately 30 percent over 2016.
“We’re growing, and that’s amazing,” he said. “The feedback we get from our customers is overwhelming. It’s humbling.”
Saunders said The Sourdough Boulangerie communicates with its customers through its Facebook page, although a company website is in the works.
It employs a delivery driver and also sells out of the bakery. Saunders said his bread is sold at three other locations: Ranch Foods, Willamette Market & Deli and Lu Style Local Goods.
Saunders said he wouldn’t supply bread to everyone.
“They have to do everything right. I don’t want to supply to someone if I won’t go there to eat,” he said. “They have to source local whenever possible, and have a good staff and chef. We want it to be a quality product or we won’t put our name on it.”
Saunders said he uses sourdough starter and that his products are healthier because of a longer fermentation process — as much as 24 hours.
“Sourdough starter has huge health benefits,” he said. “And the longer fermentation process helps break down the wheat so your body can process it.
“More and more people are becoming aware of what they eat, and we try to provide healthy products. Everything we use is grown organically. We don’t use canola or soy or corn oil here in the bakery; we only use rice-brand oil, which is [without genetically modified organisms]. Everything we use has to be GMO-free. James Africano, the chef at The Warehouse, introduced me to that idea.”
The Sourdough Boulangerie produces about 50 products, including cookies, pastries, cinnamon rolls, muffins, coffee cakes, lemon bars, pecan bars, brownies and specialty breads.
“We want to grow this to be a destination location, no matter where we’re at,” Saunders said. “Probably 25 percent of our [walk-in] business comes from our downtown customers driving out here, even though this is considered Kansas by a lot of people. We’ve got some loyal customers.”
His brother, Greg Saunders, who is eight years younger than Shawn, is his trusted operations manager.
“Shawn called me three months after starting his first bakery,” Greg said. “He has taught me everything about the business. We’re all about trying to give our customers a higher quality product.”
They now supply 20 restaurants, including The Steak House at Flying Horse, The Warehouse, McCabe’s Tavern and Mother Muff’s Kitchen and Spirits.
“We’ve done four years and we’re not slowing down,” Shawn said. “We’re getting busier and that’s a great thing to see.”