Though Gwenyth Bassetti founded Grand Central Bakery in Seattle in 1989, it has turned into quite the mini-empire (with seven locations) here in Portland. Despite growing in popularity and size, it has managed to maintain a high level of quality and deep sense of community. This is largely due to the fact that each location is owned and operated by friends and family members.When you walk into any given location, you can always sense the passion and dedication that this close-knit family has put in to their business. We were lucky enough to walk through the facility with Co-Owner/Bakery Cuisine Director herself, Piper Davis and the passion is definitely there.
Grand Central is known for its rustic, artisan breads, but also serves soups, sandwiches, and pastries. Speaking of pastries, have you ever had a monkey muffin? It’s croissant dough baked into a muffin tin and covered with gooey caramel. Yeah, do yourself a favor and go get one now!
E+E: Where did your mom get the inspiration to start baking?
Piper Davis: Well, she’d always been an avid home baker, and started The Bakery in Seattle in the 70s. In the 80s, when she came back to the business, she was very much influenced by what was going on in the Bay Area. She had eaten Acme Bakery breads and wanted to bring artisan European-style breads to the Pacific Northwest. So she was influenced by her surroundings, but we’re also just a food family that has always been obsessed with food.
E+E: How has the business grown over the years?
PD: When we first started, we were serious about doing just hearth-baked, rustic style breads. Now, we’ve opened up by adding some pan loaves, and other different things like a demi baguette that’s just perfect for a sandwich or dinner for two. This isn’t the edgiest place; you’re not going to find bacon on our maple danish! But we do try to play on trends and push things, like rhubarb, which was not popular ten years ago. But, as we’ve grown, making quality food has always been our primary focus. We also focus on our place in the community, from our ingredient sourcing and employee benefits, to supporting other local businesses. We’ve realized the economic strength that our brand carries, and we feel there’s a responsibility that goes with that.
E+E: Have you changed in light of the gluten-free trend?
PD: Nope! If you’re really going to do gluten-free right, you have to be a gluten-free dedicated bakery. We are who we are, and you can’t be everything to everybody. I think we’ve definitely brought portion sizes down and have added more healthy savory options on the menu, but we’re still a place that’s built on butter, flour and sugar. Moderation is key; we want people to come and treat themselves to a monkey muffin and a cup of coffee once in a while.
E+E: How do the stores differ between Portland and Seattle?
PD: I think Portland is more forgiving somehow. There’s just something about the neighborhoods, the scale, the familiarity. Seattle feels a little more spread out. In Portland, our farms are closer to the city, so ingredients may only have to travel an hour to get to us. Portland is definitely its own funky little place.
Written by: Lauren Kodiak