Choosing bread was a big leap of faith for Leo Walters.
The former engineer-turned-breadmaker saw that faith bountifully rewarded, however, when Glorious Artisan Bakery opened in April in a historic building on the edge of Browne's Addition.
There, Walters and a small team bake rustic, naturally leavened loaves, which can be paired with a variety of fresh, extra virgin olive oils and gourmet balsamic vinegars also sold there.
"A year ago I was with my boyfriend and making a meal, and discovered I had some cooking skills. From there I started to connect the dots of following your passion and bliss, and that felt right to me," Walters recalls. "It's bread, but I have this yearning and desire to help and serve people, and bread is the medium to do that."
Before opening Glorious' bakery and retail space, Walters rented kitchen space at Madeleine's Cafe downtown. He began selling his loaves last summer at area farmers markets, and to some wholesale customers. Many of those early accounts still serve Glorious' bread, including Perry Street Brewing, First Avenue Coffee, Pathfinder Cafe, the Wandering Table and the bakery's current neighbor, Ladder Coffee & Toast.
"It was an incredible reception. I almost always immediately sold out, or within an hour" Walters says of those farmers market days. "It got me to see and think about the impact this was having on people. I knew I baked good bread, but I didn't know, at the time, the instinctive nature that bread has to draw people to the table and commune around something."
Craving that community connection, Walters drew upon his Christian faith and prayed to find the perfect location. He even passed up another space that didn't feel right before discovering the Riverside spot that is now Glorious' home.
There, customers can stop in during later-than-usual retail bakery hours, which Walters intentionally set to cater to those stopping in for a fresh loaf on their way home from school or work. While the bakery is open later, the baking starts early, at 3 am.
Walters' first foray into breadmaking happened about a decade ago, setting him on a path of experimental baking at home and later to attend a class on sourdough at the San Francisco Baking Institute. Between then and last year, however, he says he put his breadmaking passion "on the shelf" for about five years.
Each day, Glorious stocks its bread rack with its signature rustic country bread ($9) and hearty seed bread ($10), the latter made with toasted sunflower, pumpkin and flax seed. Specialty loaves ($10) rotate weekly based on the season, such as a toasted walnut-cranberry, fig and fennel and toasted sesame. Glorious also bakes a gluten-free loaf ($10) using brown rice and sorghum flours.
"What makes our bread different is that we use not only this wild yeast, but a really long fermentation of three days, which adds a lot of character to the bread including the crust," Walters explains. "We're big crust fans. A lot of flavor is added to the bread itself" from the crust.
To complement its bread, Glorious stocks a collection of ultra-fresh extra virgin olive oils and gourmet vinegars from California-based Veronica Foods, which imports both products from countries around the world. In addition to its affordable prices, Walters chose to partner with the importer because of its reputation for buying only the freshest and purest olive oils in an industry that's often unregulated, leading to the sale of cheap product marked as olive oil but that's been diluted with cheaper oils.
Sampling Glorious' bread, oils and vinegars is heavily encouraged, and Walters daily sets out bowls of fresh bread and samples for dipping. Both oil and vinegar can be purchased in 200 or 60 milliliter bottles for $13 and $5, respectively. A sampler pack of the 60 milliliter bottles, in any combination, is $18.
Glorious currently carries more than a dozen olive oils and balsamic vinegars, many of which are infused with other ingredients. Vinegar choices include Sicilian lemon, cranberry pear, traditional, fig, vanilla, lavender, cara cara orange-vanilla, blackberry ginger and a soon-to-arrive maple.
For the oils, Glorious offers Tuscan herb, blood orange, butter and chaabani (a dried red pepper), along with non-infused oils made from the Picual, Chiquitita and Hojiblanca olive varieties. Flavor profile cards for each oil and vinegar can help customers envision how to cook or pair each with specific dishes and ingredients beyond bread.
"We're very big on the culinary journey and how people can explore the oils and vinegars and rustic bread and spreads we make to go along with it," Walters notes. "We set out to create an environment of walking into grandma's kitchen."
In the near future, Walters hopes to offer tasting classes and other events at Glorious centered around its bread, oil and vinegar. He's also a big proponent of olive oil's health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and disease prevention.
"In Italy there is a culture of drinking it like a fruit juice," Walters says. "I hope to help change that mindset and perception of how its incorporated into our diet." ♦
Glorious Artisan Bakery • 1516 W. Riverside • Open Wed-Sat 11 am-7 pm, Sun 10 am-5 pm • howglorious.com • 720-7546