Busy days, but they rise to the occasion

To stock up for their holiday baking needs, ordinary folks head to the grocery store for a 10-pound bag of flour, a 4-pound bag of sugar, some extra eggs and butter and maybe a bag or two of chocolate chips.

Not Leslie and Ward Walston.

The Walstons, owners of Great Harvest Bread Co. in southTempe, could literally feed a small army with what’s on their shopping list.

“In December, we’ll go through about 60 pounds a week of chocolate chips, 150 pounds of cinnamon chips, about 400 pounds of fresh yeast during the whole month, and about 3,000 pounds of flour,” Ward said.

These ingredients, plus many more, are then lovingly mixed, kneaded and baked into the delicious breads, cookies and dessert breads that the bakery is famous for and that will appear on the holiday menus of  many southTempeand westChandlercustomers.

“The things that are popular during December range from the classic snickerdoodle cookie to dessert breads like pumpkin chocolate chip, pumpkin spice and something that I’ve never seen before—eggnog pound cake,” Leslie said, adding that gingersnap cookies, gingerbread, cranberry-orange bread and traditional yeast breads and rolls are also big sellers.

“It’s hard to say for sure how many we’ll be making, but last year we probably made 30 dozen snickerdoodles a week, hundreds of loaves of the dessert breads; for the other varieties of breads we easily bake 200 loaves a day during December, so it can be in the low thousands.”

When she and Ward got married around two decades ago, Leslie said the last thing on their mind was opening their own bakery. They spent 18 years inIdaho, where for a while they owned a Coast to Coast hardware store and spent time with their sons, George and Floyd.

“We fell in love with the Great Harvest products while inIdaho, so once we moved here, we decided we wanted to open one ourselves,” Leslie said.

Three years ago, the Walstons opened the location at1730 E. Warner Rd., Suite 1, in southTempe.

As Leslie describes it, the bakery is “a very happy business, where people are glad when they come in.”

“We don’t use frozen doughs or mixes, and everything is done in-house,” she said. “We make anything that you would tackle at home, but just on a lot larger scale.”

Although the days can be long in December for both the Walstons and their employees—10- to 12-hour days are the norm with some, including Ward, who arrives at 2 a.m. to begin baking—Leslie said it’s all worth it.

That’s because she and her husband know they are stirring up more than cookies and bread. They are also stirring up memories.

“Coming in here strikes an emotional chord for many people,” Leslie said. “Customers will say ‘oh my gosh, your bread is as good as my grandma’s,’ or ‘I remember helping my grandpa in his bakery when I was younger.’”

At times, Leslie said, the outpouring of emotions can strike an unexpected chord.

“Sometimes a customer’s eyes will well up with tears and they will say ‘this just brings back so many memories for me,” she said.

“To know that we are, on a very small scale, contributing to family memories and events is very satisfying.”

For more information, call 480-777-1141 or visit www.tempegreatharvest.com