COVE — When one thinks of a rising business, Teahouse Bakery can be added to the list. The home bakery specializes in sourdough bread and cookies made of flavorful whole grain flour, all created by Sarah West of Cove.
West, who came to La Grande in 2006 from Madison, Wisconsin, founded Teahouse Bakery in 2018.
Teahouse was a name inspired by West’s love of tea and her late mother, who “was a soulful baker and tea fanatic,” West explained.
“Since then tea and her recipes have continued to be a meaningful source of connection between us,” she said.
Initially, West’s business focused on the promotion of teas, usually via “pop-up” tea cafes. But the pandemic had a way of reshaping her business plans, and some people, who had tried her baking, asked if she would be willing to sell them her baked goods.
“So my focus quickly shifted from teas to baked goods, especially sourdough bread and cookies, which I delivered to La Grande and Cove through subscription services (Bread Club and Cookie Club).”
She wondered then if she should change the name Teahouse to something else.
“I considered changing the name last year, but I got feedback that customers liked the name, so I decided it still makes sense because everything I make goes really well with tea,” she said.
West, who has a bachelor’s degree in literature and an associate’s degree in horticulture, has a background in the food industry. She also had a small farm and managed a farmers market.
“I initially got interested in bread baking and whole grains via my work in the farmers market world in Portland,” she said. “As a market manager, I also met a lot of bakers and got to visit their bakeries and learn about their businesses.”
West has grown her bakery business with minimal advertising, relying on social media, word of mouth and selling at farmers markets and local events.
“I’ve focused on building visibility through partnerships and collaboration,” she said.
“I’ve taught both whole grain and sourdough bread baking with Art Center East for several years and do most of my ‘pop-up’ bake sales at their facility.”
She also partners with Nella Mae’s Farm in Cove and Platz Farm in Union, using their farm stands as pick-up locations for her bakery customers.
“I purchase as many ingredients as possible from local farms, and I do a lot of trading for fruit and other ingredients that make their way into the baked goods that I make,” West said.
Last year, she contacted Ethos Bakery of Richland, Washington, where they use locally grown flours, and she spent three days baking with their team to learn more about running a full-scale bakery while connecting with other bakers in Northeastern Oregon who are just as passionate about whole grains as she is.
“Ethos is starting to mill larger quantities of Eastern Washington grown wheat, barley and spelt, and bagging some flours for retail sale, which I have just started offering at my bake sales,” West said. “They have plans to significantly grow their milling operation in 2023, and I’m excited to work with them to bring these flours to our community.”
West added that when she started the bakery phase of Teahouse, she promised herself she would only continue as long as people were receptive to whole grain baked goods. If they weren’t, she wasn’t really interested in being a refined-flour bakery. Happily, many of her customers told her that it’s hard for them to go back to white flour after eating her baked goods.
“I take that as my greatest sign of success,” she said. “I am as interested in inspiring people to bake with whole grains as I am in selling my own products. This business comes out of a great love for the flavors and textures of the grains I use.”
Not surprising, her business tagline is “Flour is flavor!” She goes to great lengths to source flour from regional mills that has been grown and processed with the preservation of flavor and nutritional quality in mind.
“My goal is to grow into an artisan wholesale bakery,” she said. “I would like to make bakery products for cafes, restaurants and stores in Northeast Oregon, sourcing as much local grain as I can.”