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CASUAL Liberty Loaf & r & & r & Great Harvest Bread Company is a growing national franchise that looks and feels like a neighborhood operation: cheerful little storefronts with an emphasis on quality food, good customer service, educating the public about the benefits of whole-grain foods, and a firm commitment to the community.





As South Hill residents have known for nearly 30 years, GREAT HARVEST crafts baked goods -- bread, cookies, cinnamon rolls -- and sandwiches featuring a variety of their popular breads. The new Liberty Lake store is thriving under former 29th Avenue location owner Jacque Sanchez and business partner, Ross Umbdenstock, who met more than 15 years ago when she coached his older sister in soccer.





Sampling is encouraged at the Country Vista location, which is just past Liberty Lake's Home Depot. A two-pound bread loaf ranges from $4 for honey wheat, white or light wheat, to $4.50 for more complex-grained breads, like the cinnamon chip or hearty whole grain (sweetened with molasses versus honey). They also sell loaves featuring cheese (my favorite food group), like the cracked black pepper and Swiss. With comparable supermarket loaves at $3 and upwards but rife with preservatives, Great Harvest offers a healthy alternative at reasonable prices. Shelf-time for their bread is about a week, says Umbdenstock, who notes that after a day and a half, Great Harvest donates their bread to local food banks.





Sandwiches ($6-$7) featuring their in-house breads lure the lunch crowd, with standard selections like ham and cheese and specialties like the pepper blue roast beef and Tuscan chicken panini.





While you linger over loaves, satisfy your sweet tooth with cookies (oatmeal and the chocolaty "no-bake" are favorites), muffins, scones and cinnamon rolls ($1-$2). A full espresso bar and small seating area make this location an ideal neighborhood spot to relax and reap the harvest of the baker's art.





-- CARRIE SCOZZARO





Great Harvest Bread Company, 21651 E. Country Vista Rd., Liberty Lake, Wash., is open Mon-Fri, 6:30 am-6 pm, Sat 6:30 am-5 pm. Call 891-9336.





TRANSITIONS Farewell, Hello


The beginning of a new year is the time to evaluate where we are and what we're doing -- thus the perennial optimism of the New Year's resolution. Businesses engage in this annual introspection as well, making January a time of transition in the food biz. And this year is no exception.





In Cheney, KAFKA COFFEE closed down back in December, but the caffeine addicts of EWU needn't panic -- Cabin Coffee opened in the space this week. This is a case where one ending leads to a new beginning.





Also in that category is the closure of CIELO BAKERY's retail operation on Northwest Boulevard. While I personally lament the loss of access to Erica Teague's famous peanut butter and jelly bars, she says she has closed the retail side of the business in order to focus on her growing wholesale business. Cielo's sweet lineup is available now at Huckleberry's and at area restaurants including Olive Oilz on the South Hill. (And perhaps Cielo's closure translates to an opportunity for the reappearance of my waistline.)





One of the biggest surprises is the closure of MERITAGE, which has served breakfast and lunch to downtown workers for a little more than a year. The restaurant brought some of the favorites from Vin Rouge down to the workaday crowd, along with imaginative sandwiches, salads and comfort food with a creative turn. We'll miss seeing Sandy and Rhonda at lunchtime.





We're sad to see these businesses close, but we don't think this is part of an ominous trend. Plenty of new restaurants and food shops have opened within the past year, and several more are about to spring forth. It's part of the seasonal shift, a realignment. Our inner optimist says we've got a whole year of openings ahead.





-- ANN M. COLFORD








EVENTS Mardi Sake


The Sand Creek Grill in downtown Sandpoint has some special events planned this week, starting tonight (Thursday) with a SAKE TASTING, five-course prix fixe dinner and Japanese music played on marimba from 5:30-7:30 pm. Next Thursday, Jan. 31, is the crowning of the King and Queen of Mardi Gras during a New Orleans-themed dinner, with live music to set the festive mood. And the Sandpoint 2008 MARDI GRAS continues on Saturday, Feb. 2, with crawfish, other Southern-style foods, and live music from the Swing Street Band. Call the Sand Creek Grill (208-255-5736) for details.





-- ANN M. COLFORD

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