“For me, baking bread and pies is the culmination of my life’s journeys.
As a young person, Kerry Hanney felt disconnected from nature. Born in the Midwest and raised in Atlanta, she recalled spending a good deal of time outdoors as a child, but that changed as she attended middle school and high school in the city.
That was how she came to Maine — well, that’s part of it. Kerry’s father passed away in the middle of her senior year of high school. His battle with Parkinson’s and the grieving process played a huge role in Kerry’s life. Sensing her longing to reunite with nature, her brother took her on a college trip to the northeast. Kerry visited many colleges and universities and settled on Colby College.
“The orientation to nature and the friendliness of the people there drew me to the school.”
At Colby, Kerry was an artist. She pursued a Studio Arts Bachelor’s with an emphasis on sculpture and printmaking. After settling in, Kerry put her love of the outdoors to work and began cycling to various parts of the state. Though she was happy out there, Kerry also loved baking — for her, it was a way of retreating to a comfortable place. She recalls baking many pies around Thanksgiving during the college years. She found available kitchens in the residence halls and baked whenever she had time to spare.
Kerry graduated in 2009 and moved to Portland the day after graduation. Looking back, she recalls it being a sleepy town. There weren’tt as many young people as there are now and it was quieter. She remembers being very short on cash at that time and she and her roommate had to have several jobs in order to make ends meet. She took jobs at one of Portland’s art galleries and the Portland Museum of Art gift shop. One of her friends was a dishwasher at the time and knowing them taught Kerry a couple things. One, that dishwashing was good work for someone who is shy, and two, washing dishes can be a great way to break into the restaurant industry.
She soon took a dishwashing job, which she says changed her life, turning out as a gateway to the industry. Kerry kept this job for a year, but hoped she’d someday end up in a bakery.
Two Fat Cats gave Kerry her first break. She started out behind the register, but soon discovered mentors in the kitchen who were willing to teach her the ropes. At 22, she left Two Fat Cats to be with her boyfriend on Martha's Vineyard, where she worked at a seasonal high-end European bakery. This was a time in her life when she was seeking knowledge, freedom, and she had less concern about money.
After a short time, Kerry was put in charge of baking pies, a weak spot for the bakery. This continued a pattern in Kerry’s life, whereby she would excel in a role and be asked to take on more responsibility. Although Kerry welcomed the challenge, it also left her feeling taken advantage of and underpaid. It was at this point in Kerry’s career when she began thinking about being in control of her own destiny and possibly starting her own business.
But before this big step, a cross-country trip to San Francisco where she had a difficult time securing a position. Her life, consumed by long walks and baking at home, helped Kerry to work on ideas for the type of business she might start and codifying the need for simplicity in whatever product she chose to create.
In 2011 at age 24, Kerry returned to Maine and Two Fat Cats where she was promoted to head baker. The mantra, “I can run my own business,” repeatedly seeped into her conscious mind as she baked. A part of her, the realistic part, told her to continue working and exploring options. She worked at Rosemont doing some simple baking and took art classes at MECA. What was billed as an art retreat in the Virgin Islands turned into something more of a cook’s role and it was then that Kerry realized that she was born to be a baker.
Offered a significantly responsible position converting recipes to weight, creating new recipes and managing a very high volume bakery, she focused on whole grains at Morning Glory Farm in Martha’s Vineyard. Still, the idea that there was a lot more to learn haunted Kerry. She had a friend who had taken the career culinary course at the International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York City and she looked into their renowned bread baking program. Morning Glory Farm help fund Kerry’s education with the expectation that she return after the program to bake for a season.
In 2014, Kerry enrolled in the ICC course and began learning the science of bread. Bread-baking can be very scientific; slow fermentation, baker’s percentages, enriched dough, and the importance of proofing are just a few considerations. But committing herself to this craft turned out to be life-affirming and fortifying.
Returning to Maine, a place she thought about a great deal, was truly her only option. Kerry crossed the bridge to South Portland, taking a job at Scratch Bakery where she baked bread while listening to Bob Seger. It was Seger’s song “Night Moves” — which she listened to on repeat with friend and coworker Emily Pappas while they delved into the world of sourdough — that inspired her most.
Although Kerry loved the opportunity to work with sourdough at Scratch, the money she was making did not line up with the kind of work she was doing or what her male counterparts were earning. In 2016, she began noticing an increasing number of entrepreneurs working with “liquid bread” (a/k/a beer) and she knew that her time had come. No one else in Portland was starting a small bread-baking business and Kerry decided she wanted to be the first. In addition, no one else was working exclusively with local grain, which she was working with at Morning Glory and then at Scratch. She got her home kitchen-certified and secured her first customer, Oxbow in Portland. Oxbow was using a natural fermentation method and some local grain and hops and Kerry’s bread was a perfect fit for them. Soon after she left Scratch and discovered Maple’s, a busy bakery in Yarmouth who offered Kerry a shared space in the evening.
Kerry will soon be 31 years old, her wholesale business is thriving and expansion is a future certainty.
“The physical aspect of bread baking is empowering,” says Kerry. “Further, the positive reaction of the community has helped confirm that I made the right career decision. I get to work with fun and creative people everyday. My next step is to partner with the Maine Grain Alliance and work on public health and social enterprise; it’s time to share my good fortune with others.”
- Published in Food