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Hidden Gems: Meet Hannah Sadler of Grain + Honey Bake Shop

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hannah Sadler.

Hi Hannah, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I never had a dream of owning a business- I just wanted to learn how to do something new. I’m serious.

In 2019 I set a New Year’s Resolution- to learn one new thing. I’m a good cook, but no one had ever taught me to bake. I watched Jenna Fischer (Pam from “The Office”) on her Instagram stories trying to figure out how to make sourdough bread, and I decided I wanted to learn how to bake. I was going to start off with sourdough.

Sourdough baking is notoriously difficult for lots of reasons. Creating and maintaining a sourdough starter, learning how to read the dough at various stages throughout the baking process, and understanding how hydration, humidity, temperature, and other factors can all impact the finished product… I devoured online videos, recipes, blog posts, constantly learning and researching, all while experimenting in my kitchen in January and February.

The feeling I had when I baked my first loaf of (edible) sourdough bread was AMAZING. I became obsessed with replicating it, trying new recipes, and expanding my knowledge. I’d take stuff into my coworkers at my office job in Nashville and get their feedback.

I found a recipe for sourdough cinnamon rolls and made them for a family get-together. When my husband Drew tried them for the first time, he got REAL serious and said “Hannah, I think you can sell these.” This was the end of February- by the second week of March we’d come up with a business name, registered for a business license, started the Instagram page, and bought the website domain. I like to think of myself as a whole-asser, so if I’m going to do something, I’m all in.

I started taking orders for bread from neighbors, then from their friends, then from people I didn’t personally know. I was baking out of my house around the schedule of my full-time job and being the mom to a one and a half year old.

I started setting up at the local Farmer’s Market in Robertson County and other community events during the spring and summer, and the business took off.

In May 2019, I moved my operations to a rented commercial kitchen space.

In June, I stepped down to part-time at my job, in July I signed a lease on my own commercial space.

In August, I quit my job in Nashville.

September, we started the buildout of the commercial bakery kitchen, and we opened our brick and mortar store the first week in October 2019.

We’ve been in business for coming up on two years, and the community has been incredibly supportive. I started off with a staff of one (myself) and we’ve grown to three full-time staff and three part-time staff. We’re proud to bring fresh bread to our community every day.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Considering I had no previous experience in the foodservice industry, professional baking, or business management… It’s gone ok.

The first year things just happened so fast. In seven months, I went from learning how to bake to running a full-blown bakery. That year was so emotionally and physically draining. I had to put all of my energy and brainspace into getting this thing off the ground, and it took a toll on my mental health. There was no sense of balance in my life – I wasn’t being my best self, the best wife, or the best mom during that time. My husband and I talked about it and I was like “well, I’d rather give it 150% right now for the first couple of years so that when our son gets a little older, I’ll have more time to be a human.” But that still didn’t make up for the 14-16 hour days working in and on the business or the fact that I didn’t think about anything else in the whole time period. It was brutal. I still don’t understand how I did it.

Once we got the first year behind us, things operationally started getting easier – finding a rhythm for production, honing the craft, etc. But in January 2020 once I started bringing employees on to payroll, that presented a whole new set of challenges. I struggled, and still do, to be the kind of manager the business needs. I have trouble asserting myself when things aren’t up to standard or an employee keeps making the same mistakes because I don’t want to be the type of boss that flips my shit on employees. I’ve struggled finding the balance of communicating effectively, clearly. and firmly about what my expectations are, and having the follow-through to check that they heard me and are implementing the changes I asked for.

I say a lot to my husband “I wish it was six months from now” because I’ve always felt like there are just so many more things I’ll know and feel comfortable with in the future. It’s frustrating sometimes because I hate how long it takes to figure things out. I’m kind of jealous of franchises and chains- the business comes with a playbook on how to run things operationally, how many staff hours are needed to run the place, where to order ingredients from. I’ve had to learn those things while actually DOING them- and it’s made for some hard and expensive lessons. I overstaffed the bakery last summer and had to let someone go because of my mistake in hiring them when we couldn’t afford to keep them on for the long term.

Things like that just eat away at me. I’ve been forced into becoming a reformed perfectionist- I just can’t put that much pressure on myself to get it right all the time because there are SO many things that I have and will continue to get wrong.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Grain + Honey Bake Shop?
The most important thing about Grain + Honey is that our mission is to provide the local community with an experience that reminds them that the best things in life are meant to be shared with the ones we love.

Grain + Honey is a counter service bakery, and we specialize in sourdough products. We make sourdough breads, bagels, cinnamon rolls, baguettes, and croissants. We also do foundational pastries like cookies, muffins, scones, brownies. We are definitely NOT a high-gloss, boutique bakery. We don’t do cakes or super fancy stuff. A lot of our recipes are in the spirit of things your Mamaw used to bake, and we’re proud to evoke feelings of nostalgia and joy when customers enjoy our products.

We’re known for our cinnamon rolls, our jumbo blueberry muffins, our Springfield Sour (the house sourdough), and our cranberry walnut oatmeal cookies.

What sets us apart is a couple of things. The first is that we are a 100% from scratch bakery. No pre-cracked eggs, no pre-mixed flours, no pre-bought buttercreams or anything like that. It’s more work, but I know that it comes through in the quality of the final product, and that’s really important to me.

The second thing that sets us apart is our business model. I started out of my house and doing pop-up events and farmer’s markets. Even though we have a brick and mortar, we still set up at the Robertson County Farmers market every week. We also added the Gallatin Farmers Market, we set up at special community events in the Middle Tennessee area, and we are also the bread vendor for MarketWagon, which is an online Farmer’s Market serving the Middle Tennessee region, all the way from Bowling Green, KY down to Franklin, Tennessee.

It’s important to me to meet the community where they are, and that means getting out there and staying involved with the community. Everyone deserves fresh bread.

I’m proud to be Robertson County’s community supported bakery. We love our neighbors and friends, and they love us right back. We’ve run two successful Kickstarter Campaigns- one to purchase a 30 qt mixer for the shop and another to purchase a tabletop dough sheeter. The community has been so supportive, even when I was just starting out of my house, and it just feels like they’re invested and rooting for our success.

What are your plans for the future?
We’ve grown a lot of staff-wise in the almost two years we’ve been open, and my goal is to get out from under the operations of the business in the next couple of years.

I want the business to run with the same quality and vibe and customer experience as it was started with- but without me having to be there every day. There are so many small business owners are basically chained to their business for years and years, but I can’t do that for the sake of my mental health.

I have a great team. We’re fully staffed on the Front of House, and I’m really excited for when we get in the position to be able to hire another full-time baker. Bread baking is a lost art, and I feel like we’re bringing that back. I want to be a place where up and coming bakers from Middle Tennessee can learn about the art of bread and all the mystery and challenges and fulfillment it brings.

If you were to ask my husband, he’d say that we’re planning to open a second location of Grain + Honey in the next five years. A year ago, I would have said “absolutely effing not,” but as I learn and grow and get more confident in myself and in what this little bakery can do- I could be talked into it. 🙂

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