Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Creative Approach

Companion Baking Co.

Companion Baking Co. , the product of Jake Holler’s passion for made-from-scratch baked goods, was launched in early 2015 and has been expanding upon the artisanal bread scene in Central Ohio ever since. Holler, who holds an art degree from Columbus College of Art & Design, had no previous professional experience when he decided to take the plunge into baking and went to work honing his new craft at some of the top restaurants and food trucks in town. Coupling his creative background and love for carbs, he has built his brand doing things the way he likes and making adjustments on the fly.

I visited Holler at the start of a six hour baking spree at Just Pies in Westerville, which offers him a commercial kitchen space to rent the day prior to market. As he poured the blob of sweet and airy dough out of its container onto the work surface, I began firing off my series of questions. I asked if Companion Baking Co. is a solo endeavor and, in a world of tempting flour-based treats, what makes his venture unique. Holler explained that he, along with his girlfriend Adele Ardrey, typically share the baking responsibilities, then divide and conquer at local farmer’s markets. He continued that, prior to selling a single bagel, they were thinking about the creative side of the company and what would set them apart from the rest; not only their products, but how they presented themselves artistically to their audience. The first logo dreamt up by the duo was inspired by the couples Boston Terrier, Gertrude. Although she was an adorable mascot, the mark quickly became confusing for customers as they began asking if the bakery goods were meant to be enjoyed by four legged friends. Rather than letting their dream go to the dogs, they listened to the feedback and changed their design. Then, came the decision of what to bake.

The base for all of the Companion Baking Co. products is wild yeast sour dough that Holler says give their products a creamy texture and “umami-type flavor”. During my visit, he was in the process of making baguettes, bagels, focaccia, and bialy for the next day’s farmer’s markets. The bagel varieties being prepared that evening included activated charcoal (which adds a smoky flavor, turns the bread a rich black color, and aids in digestion), and a more traditional everything. The focaccia and bialy are not standard fare, but instead topped or filled with unique flavors (think savory options like jerked eggplant and sweet selections such as lemon curd with raspberries). Further seasonal selections including breads with ramp pesto fillings or the addition of beets to the dough to give it a beautiful purplish red hue have some traditionalists puzzled, while others are more than eager to try the unique eats. Holler’s motions were that of a seasoned pro, smooth and efficient, as he formed the baguette dough and then allowed it to rest and proof, all while explaining that he isn’t one to follow food trends. Like many, he wishes we could move beyond the “local” discussion, to a point where it was a standard as opposed to a concept that has to be continuously reinforced. He noted that his items are not gluten-free and, to him, a bagel minus the gluten is more like a crumbly muffin. Companion Baking Co. is constantly experimenting with different ideas for their offerings, and simultaneously never being quite satisfied with, and tweaking their branding. Although they are happy with the direction things are moving, they would like to streamline their offerings while still having seasonal selections. What’s important to them is quality and affordability, not necessarily what is trending in the world of food.

Today, Holler’s hectic schedule is enough to make the traditional 9-5er dizzy. If he’s not forming balls of dough, he’s curating an art show, or working on his next round of logos. If you ask me, it’s his laid back attitude combined with a not-so-serious brand and killer breads that sets Companion Baking Co. apart from all the rest. A paper fortune tossed into every customer’s bag is further proof that they don’t take themselves too seriously and the kitschy token is just another unique approach that builds relationships with their customers. You can visit Companion Baking Co. at the Clintonville, and Worthington Farmer’s Markets. They hope to expand beyond these venues and sell to such wholesale locations as Skillet and the Bexley Natural Market, but for now they will keep doing what works and figuring it out as they go along.


The Companion Baking Co. bagels (pictured left) traveled 17 miles to Columbus, while the Thomas’ bagels (pictured right) traveled over 468 miles to Columbus.

Pepper & Egg Bagel Sandwich

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