Artisan wholesale bakery and cafe bringing sustainably sourced breads and more to West Town Chicago and beyond.
Publican Quality Bread is celebrating two things this year: a new book and a new bakery. Its first wholesale bakery began in 2014 to provide baked goods to the Publican family of businesses. It has since stretched into an enterprise with a big, delicious reputation in the Chicago food scene, deserving of its own public-facing space. These are big milestones for Greg Wade—Publican head baker, James Beard Award Winner for Outstanding Baker (2019), and founding AGC member and its first Steering Committee Chair. Such achievements also mean a lot for regional grains, which were there with Greg from the start in Publican’s first bakery and have stretched to greater prominence in its new location and in the words of his book.
Quality and integrity of ingredients and methods are at the root of Greg’s approach, and Bread Head: Baking for the Road Less Traveled grew out of his desire to share such thinking about food preparation and sourcing. “The point of the book is to be able to give people the tools and resources they need to make their own breads, using local grains and sourdough fermentation,” Greg said. It's not a “how to make Publican bread” book, but a book about how to make your own unique bread. Fellow AGC members Challenger Breadware and Janie’s Farm and Mill get a mention in its pages.
Greg taught himself to bake bread using books and videos, so he knows that people can dive deep through those channels and get to great bread. From his own research experience, he saw a need for a book that could help people understand bread without getting intimidated by the science of it. Bread shouldn’t be homework, he says. Instead, this book will help bakers and would-be bakers understand fresh flour and natural leavening so that they can learn, as he did—and still does—from the bread itself; the book should guide people in establishing their own feedback loop.
Early on in his bread obsession, Greg met farmers growing offbeat grains, and the flavors wowed him. He worked with Marty and Will Travis from Spence Farm in Fairbury, IL to figure out how to get the most out of their grains. The flavors were so potent, and the farming process so different, that Greg, Marty, and Will soon started thinking of inviting other culinary professionals to the farm to explore these relationships further.
“We wanted to host an intensive where we worked with a community of bakers to highlight the entire process of bread production from start to finish,” said Greg.
Spence Farm and the former Spence Farm Foundation began sponsoring Bread Camps each summer, using the farm’s fields, plus a mill and clay oven for flour production and baking. Bread Camp brought participants into the thrills and practicalities of using regional grains, and built community along the way. While this particular educational channel hasn’t occurred since 2019, it served to bring a network of bakers into the world of local flour, and also into AGC. The need for a broader organizational effort, and deeper community education about regional grains became apparent at Bread Camp, and inspired Greg and fellow founders to start the work of organizing for regional grains. As a member, he loves seeing how people are really supportive of each other.
Greg sees Publican’s bakery expansion and the cookbook as further inviting people into better flour and better bread, and through these tools dig into deeper community with those who grow and make their food. Publican Bread’s 30 employees are at work making savories, sweets, and coffee throughout the day. They look forward to welcoming the public this fall, whether you’re stopping in at 1759 W. Grand Ave. in Chicago to grab a demi baguette with butter and ham, or visiting for one of their upcoming book-related events.