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Breaking Bread With Don Guerra on His New Barrio Bread Location in Phoenix

Chef holding bread loaves
Barrio Bread founder Don Guerra

After 14 years of growing Barrio Bread from a garage-based operation in Tucson to a nationally celebrated brand, award-winning baker Don Guerra is getting his hands back in the dough—and this time, in his hometown. Beginning in September, Valley native Guerra started serving up a new line of bread from the kitchen at Hayden Flour Mills in Gilbert. “The exciting part of working with Hayden is that we’re the OGs—the ‘Original Grainsters’—we’ve been doing this kind of work together since 2011,” notes Guerra. “I’m here to take my time, enjoy myself and meet people of this community. Connecting everyone through bread is my mission statement at Barrio Bread.”

James Beard Award-winning baker and Valley native Don Guerra brings his passion for community, sustainability and the local grain economy to his new Gilbert satellite kitchen.

Q&A With Don Guerra of Barrio Bread

Can you give a brief history of Barrio Bread for those who don’t know your story?

I started my bread-baking career 32 years ago in Flagstaff when I was hired as a bread baker. From there, I was consumed with complete commitment and enthusiasm to make a better loaf of bread for my community. I opened The Village Baker of Flagstaff in 1995, then another location in Oregon in 1997.

Eventually, I returned to Tucson and became a teacher with the hope of retooling and regrouping for a new career.

After that, I started Barrio Bread in 2009 out of my garage. We specialize in naturally leavened bread made in the French method called ‘levain,’ which uses wild yeast to raise it and produces a low-glycemic and low-gluten product that is healthier and easier to digest. But we do this using sustainable local grains as a way to celebrate the gastronomy of Arizona.

Barrio Bread was a new approach to baking focused on community investment. I worked with Native Seed Search to get a grant to bring back local grains and to educate others about the local grain economy. I focused on growing two grains—Sonoran White Wheat and Chapalote Corn, baking bread with them and then educating others about what can be grown in your own community.

How does education play a part in the purpose and culture of Barrio Bread?

As a former educator, I feel a great responsibility to help educate others on how to use these local grains for themselves. There is enormous power in understanding what the land around you can provide, and power in learning how to use it to feed yourself and your community.

For me, Barrio Bread needed to be more than a bakery, more than profits. It has always been about the community, bringing something of the past into the future, celebrating our location and educating people.

What will your new venture with Hayden Flour Mills in Gilbert look like?

Jeff and Emma Zimmerman, the father and daughter who own the mill, are very special people, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with Hayden and collaborate daily. We have this opportunity to do such great work, and I’m so fortunate to be under the same roof as the miller and have fresh-milled grains going straight into the bread. All my bread is going to be based on the grain varietals at Hayden, so this will be like a learning and research lab where a lot of experimentation is going to happen.

For Valley-based patrons, we’re developing a small lineup of breads that will be offered only once a week on Tuesdays. We’ll have an online order system where you can go to our website, look through the collection, select what you want and come pick them up at the Mill.

Any new projects or collaborations we can look out for at this new location?

I love trying something new and I love collaborating with other businesses who want to celebrate Arizona. Right now, we’re working on a collaboration with Chompies in Phoenix to create a ‘Sonoran bagel.’ This will be an 85% White Sonoran Wheat, sourdough-leavened, sugarless bagel, and it will be really unique.

We’re also working with our neighbor in Gilbert, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., to develop a kvass beer made from fermented bread!

What excites you most about this new venture?

This bakery will be very small scale—like me going back to my roots in the garage. This is a chance for me to get my hands back in the dough and do what I do best—craft beautiful, nutritious bread for the people of Phoenix. And the process of making bread requires a lot of patience—that’s how I see this project. I’m all about investing in the community and celebrating Mother Nature and the gastronomic pride of Arizona. I’m going to take my time.

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