When Casey Hardi and Zoe Mitchell met working at a little bakery in Davidson, Calif., they never would have imagined that, just a few years later, they would be living in Hood River with a backyard full of ducks, their own business and a booth at the farmers market.
“It’s been sort of a crazy ride,” Hardi said.
After working together for a little while at the bakery, Mitchell and Hardi started seeing each other. Baking was a huge part of their relationship, Hardi said, and was one of their favorite ways to spend time together.
“We realized we were compiling this gigantic list of recipes … and kind of decided that it was something that we might pursue as a business,” he said. “And then it just sort of happened that we were both unhappy in the positions we were at at work and wanted to do something different and something that we had more control over.”
That led Hardi and Mitchell to launch Bran & Ash Bakery in August 2020. After incorporating, it took about two months to start producing and then another two months to get their products rolling out, as they had to build a customer base, Hardi said.
Bran & Ash started using a Community Supported Bakery (CSB) model, meaning they sent weekly boxes to subscribers. They also had the occasional pop-up.
The pair saw some success in Davidson, but as they both neared graduation, they knew they wouldn’t stay. And, sure enough, when Mitchell got a job in Odell working for Wyeast Labs, they took the plunge and moved the business, and themselves, to Hood River.
The transition was easier than they expected, Hardi said.
“We’ve only been here a month now, but we were able to get all of our licenses and everything squared away in that time, because we already did it once. So it’s kind of simpler now,” he said.
They also have a great space to work in: the kitchen at Columbia Gorge Community College in The Dalles.
Mitchell found an ad for the space online, and so the duo got in touch with the kitchen manager, Tammy Huffman, who was more than willing to send them pictures of the space and help them get set up.
“It all just kind of fell right into place after that,” Hardi said. “It was really, really simple and just very smooth.”
Hardi has been coming to the space multiple times a week to bake. A lot of what he bakes, they sell at the farmers market in Hood River. They first vended at the market on Aug. 7 and were surprised how quickly they sold out of most of their products. They were also surprised by how accepted they felt by the community.
“All the vendors I was next to were awesome,” Hardi said. Like they’re super sweet to everyone at the market. It’s so different [than Davidson]. The culture here is so different in terms of business and food … It just feels like everything since we’ve gotten here, even before we got here, just leading up to this, has been so welcoming. And so everyone’s so excited for us, which is very cool.”
Hardi said they hope to continue to integrate into the community, maybe making bread for CGCC’s cafe. They also have made pastries for a few local shops upon request, and would love to do something like that more permanently, Hardi said.
Additionally, they also use locally sourced ingredients and try to make sure everything is sustainable, he said. They often use ingredients from the farmers market itself, get grains from local mills and grind those grains themselves.
Once market season ends, Hardi said they will likely return to a CSB model, but they may do other things as well, depending on what the community wants and needs.
“I’m just excited to see where things go,” he said.
Bran & Ash Bakery can be found at the farmers market in Hood River on Saturdays, and on their website at branandash.com.