Date January 14, 2008 at 11:00 PM
When Sage Bakehouse co-owners Andree Falls and Amy Cox met in Dallas, Andree was running her own restaurant and Amy was completing a Master's in neurobiology. Both had been coming to Santa Fe to hike for years before they chose it as an ideal place to live. When they decided to open a bakery, the fact that they had no idea how to do it didn't deter them in the least. They approached Michael London, a well-known baking connoisseur in upstate New York. After settling on a mutually agreeable financial arrangement, London, a former English professor who believes that the most romantic thing one can do is bake good bread, proceeded to teach Falls and Cox everything about the baking business - from ingredients to equipment. "He's still a resource for us," Andree says. "Michael is very well-trained and well-traveled. It's tapping into a world class source of information."
One of the first colossal tasks that Andree and Amy faced was assembling the oven. Fresh from France, the steam-injected contraption arrived in Santa Fe in 3,000 parts, and took six men, three storage sites, and one week to put together.
Assimilation into the community, including finding the perfect staff, also took time. "We had to build trust from scratch," confides Andree.
Sage Bakehouse opened in June of 1996, and served 300 people on its fifth day in business. By the end of August, the company had grown ten times over. Originally baking 200 loaves per day, the bakery now produces 3,500 to 4,000 daily. "We're very lucky to be well-received," Andree asserts gratefully.
The success of Sage Bakehouse owes much to the complimentary working styles of its two owners. While Amy is naturally gregarious and deals directly with the public, she also has a natural ability to fix things, which comes in very handy when dealing with the bakery's large machinery. Andree is the organizer, and she plots everything from the number of loaves that will fit into the oven at one time, to the complex baking schedule. "Once you mix the dough, it's like a plane up in the air." Andree reveals. "There are also so many variations - the amount of water depends on the temperature and the flour harvest, and this influences how long the dough ferments."
With 150-250 pounds of dough per mixing bowl, it takes 12-16 hours just to blend with special mixers. Other secrets to the famous Sage Bakehouse flavor include the fact that the dough is scaled by hand, which doesn't compress the bread and release gases. "We need that gas for fermentation, which creates flavor," Andree states. The bakery also doesn't use yeast in its naturally leavened breads.
The Sage Bakehouse menu now features their renowned Farm Bread, Pane Paisano, Sourdough, Whole Wheat Farm, Kalamata Olive, Pecan-Raisin, Rye, and Chipotle-Caciotta. These offerings have been supplemented with sandwiches (chicken, black forest ham and gruyere, tuna, and roasted bell pepper), quiches (Lorraine, Provencal, and spinach), pastries, including croissants and pain au chocolat, tarts (apple and pear almond), muffins, scones, and cookies.
Today, the majority of the bakery's employees have now been with the bakery for five to six years. "In six years, we have never had a day that we did not bake or deliver bread. We have a staff on-site 24 hours a day. We deliver to Santa Fe 365 days per year, to Albuquerque every day except Christmas and New Year, to Taos every day except Sundays, and to Los Alamos, Las Vegas, and Abiquiu several times per week."
In the future, Andree will be content if things stay exactly as they are. "After years of growth, our products have reached saturation point," she says. "We now have reached an equilibrium."
It might be argued that, on the basis of their customers' palates, Sage Bakehouse has also reached perfection.