Welcome to The Sourdough People, where we celebrate the art of sourdough baking and the community it nurtures across Canada and beyond. Today, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Burnt Toast Bakery, a gem nestled in the heart of Okotoks Alberta. Founded by the passionate and talented Christa Hanna, Burnt Toast Bakery began from a simple act of kindness and has grown into a beloved local business. In our exclusive interview, Christa shares her journey from gifting sourdough loaves to friends to establishing a thriving bakery. She delves into the challenges and triumphs of balancing work and family life, her sources of inspiration, and the deep connection she feels with the sourdough community. With her commitment to quality, community, and the craft of sourdough baking, Christa’s story is a testament to the power of passion and perseverance. Join us as we explore the evolution of Burnt Toast Bakery, the lessons learned along the way, and Christa’s exciting plans for the future. This interview is a must-read for sourdough enthusiasts and aspiring bakers alike, especially for those who may want to start their very own micro-bakery and do sourdough bread sales.
Christa, can you recount the journey that led from gifting sourdough loaves to friends to starting Burnt Toast Bakery in Okotoks, Alberta?
It was one day in particular when I brought a friend of mine some sourdough because she was having a horrible day. She had never tried my bread before. She called me later raving about it, saying that her husband is super picky about sourdough and that mine is the best he’s ever had. And then she said the words that I had heard several times before. “You need to sell this!” I was always hesitant because I thought that if it were to become a job, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much anymore. But then she took it one step further. She told me she would pay me to make her a loaf. At that moment, something switched in my brain. All of a sudden, my passion was validated. Purposeful. And maybe I had finally found “what I wanted to do when I grew up”. I started posting on Instagram that I had sourdough available, and the rest is history!
In what ways has your love for sharing bread evolved into the full-fledged passion that Burnt Toast Bakery represents today?
Giving is my passion. So when the opportunity arises, I donate loaves or other baked goods when I can. Recently, there was a fundraiser for a family in town who is going through a horrible time as their son has terminal cancer. I donated baked goods for the fundraiser in hopes that it would help their efforts. In the process of giving back, I connect with my community and other businesses. It’s this connection that fuels my passion for my business.
As you juggle the roles of a baker, wife, and mother, how do you find harmony between your business and your personal life?
Harmony is definitely the goal, but I haven’t reached it yet. At least, not the way I would picture harmony. It is a constant journey of figuring out how to balance and juggle everything. This is something that has always been hard for me, but even more so now that I own and operate a business all by myself. But it’s only through starting my business that I discovered that I have ADHD and Dyslexia. I am so grateful for learning this so that I can understand what I struggle with and where I need help. I have an amazing support system from my husband to my kids, and my parents and sisters who live in town. My mom loves helping me bake, clean, and run markets. I am so grateful for this time we have together. Sometimes, you just have to take a step back and practice gratitude, even in the midst of the hard. And other times, it means making adjustments that better suit my family and my mental health. Being an entrepreneur, and a bakery owner is not for the faint of heart.
With music as your initial creative outlet, have you discovered any similarities between the rhythms of music and the rhythms of baking?
You know when you’re listening to a song that you can get really into? You can feel it, and it becomes almost meditative. That’s like baking for me. The art of mixing, stretching, folding, shaping, scoring, and baking are all like that for me. Like, the best song you’ve ever heard.
Your family’s tradition of baking and making homemade goods must have left an imprint. How do those early influences manifest in your bakery’s creations?
My mom loved baking and cooking. I would wake up to her making cinnamon buns for us for breakfast, come home for lunch for a hot meal, and eat delicious dinners. My grandma was also always cooking, baking, or knitting something. I have a very creative family. But my passion for baking only emerged when the pandemic hit.
Was there a defining moment when you realized that your sourdough baking could be more than just a hobby but a viable business?
I wouldn’t say there was a defining moment, but more like a bunch of tiny moments. Like, every time I get a new order. Or putting in all the hard work of prepping for a market and seeing my products fly off the table. I know it’s normal, but I am constantly feeling imposter syndrome. It’s a hard job, and I am constantly trying to find ways to make it viable and enjoyable, especially when it becomes less fun, or I’m making more mistakes than usual.
Sourdough is often described as a labor of love. What is it about this craft that, in your experience, resonates so deeply with people?
I would say that it’s because it’s a form of meditation. It’s slow, it takes patience, time, and technique. And once you get to know your sourdough starter and your dough, it’s like making a good friend who you love to spend time with. It’s a true labor of love. This is why you see people patting the dough after shaping, or folding.
Could you share some of the must-have tools or brands that are integral to crafting the perfect loaf at Burnt Toast Bakery?
I have so many favorites! I use the Goose lame from Wire Monkey, and I love it. Makes scoring so easy, and the design makes it safer to replace blades. Bannetons (proofing baskets) are a must-have for a bakery like mine. Of course, my Simply Bread Co. oven. It has changed my life! Even when I make mistakes, the bread turns out beautifully. But the thing that makes my bread the most special is the ingredients. I mostly use The Scottish Mill organic flour, but I also use Our Heritage Wheat Co flour which is a heritage grain called marquis wheat and good for people who are gluten-sensitive. I have a sourdough starter dedicated to making sourdough for people who can’t have other types of flour. I also use flour from Ground Up Eco Ventures which upcycle barley taken from the brewing process in beer and turn it into flour, as well as coffee grounds that they make into coffee flour. I have used other local ingredients from Ghostly Garlic, Tangle Ridge Ranch, and Hubtown Brewery, just a few amazing local businesses around Okotoks, Alberta.
The sourdough community is full of passionate artisans. Are there any influencers or fellow bakers you feel a kinship with or draw inspiration from?
I have made some pretty great friends in the sourdough community. Some whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting in person! Bryan from Foodie Bryan and I are friends, as well as Kristen from Homestead Bread, and Lisa from Gluten-Free Sourdough by Lisa. I’ve also had the privilege of meeting Laila from The Early Rise SF in San Francisco. Not only that, but Okotoks, Alberta, where I reside, is home to an amazing French bakery called French 50. Besides making lovely friends there, I can honestly say that I’ve never had more delicious pastries. They have all inspired me and made me a better baker.
How has being a part of the wider sourdough community influenced the way you run your bakery?
In every way. I see how others take orders, how many bake days they have, and their processes – some I have tried, some I have not. I’m always looking for new ideas to run things smoother and bake more efficiently. If only life were a little more predictable. 😉
Dalmeny’s homemade traditions have shaped your baking philosophy. How does being based in Okotoks, Alberta, now influence Burnt Toast Bakery?
Okotoks is full of people who value supporting local businesses. They value handmade/home-baked goods and love sourdough bread. Not only that, but the business community is so supportive, and collaborative. I am not the only sourdough micro-bakery in town, but there’s enough to go around, and my motto is never competition-only collaboration.
How did the unique challenges of the pandemic inspire you to adapt and grow your baking style and business approach?
There are a lot of small businesses closing their doors. The cost of rent, and utilities have skyrocketed. The thought of expanding to a brick-and-mortar is daunting. And as hard as it is to have a bakery in my home kitchen, I prefer it to being anywhere else. It’s a lot less risky without the overhead, and being away from my family that much wouldn’t be worth it.
Throughout the growth of Burnt Toast Bakery, what lessons have you found most enlightening?
I’ve learned that I don’t have to do everything perfectly all the time. Most of the time, my standards aren’t my customers’ standards. I have the most incredible customers, by the way. They are so kind, gracious, and forgiving. I’ve also learned that taking breaks is the healthiest thing for my mental health, and in turn, my bakery.
What future projects or ambitions do you have for Burnt Toast Bakery as it continues to grow within the Okotoks community and beyond?
Oh, this is an exciting one. I haven’t even made it public yet. So here goes…this year, I will be teaching the basics of sourdough to anyone who wants to book a class and have me teach them in their home. Besides that, I hope to continue to offer Weekly Specials which will challenge me to keep trying new things.
To those who’ve just discovered Burnt Toast Bakery, what piece of advice would you offer as they begin their own sourdough journey?
Eat your mistakes. You will have lots. Try again and again, and share!!! There’s nothing better than sharing your freshly baked bread with friends and family even if it’s a flop!
Thank you for joining us on this delightful journey into the heart of Okotoks, Alberta, with Burnt Toast Bakery. We hope Christa’s story has inspired you as much as it has us, highlighting the love, dedication, and community spirit that sourdough baking can foster. As we continue to celebrate and support micro bakeries and sourdough artisans across Canada and around the globe, we invite you to share your favorite local bakers with us. Use our intake form to tell us about the cherished micro bakeries and sourdough bakers in your community. Don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for regular updates, promotions, and announcements, ensuring you stay connected with the vibrant world of sourdough baking. Lastly, follow us on Instagram at @sourdoughbread.ca to join our growing community of sourdough lovers.
Together, let’s keep the tradition of sourdough baking alive and thriving!