Bread Bakers Guild rises in Petaluma
“I love bakers,” declares Cathy Wayne, executive director of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, newly headquartered in Petaluma. The dough-masters in question are artisan bakers, who make up a large share of the Guild’s 2,500 members. These are the people whose passion is to get up in the middle of the night and sink their hands into flour and water.
“They are laidback, perhaps because they are used to waiting for the dough to rise,” Wayne says. “True, our bakers may have five digital timers strapped to their wrists, but compared to chefs, they are relaxed.”
Wayne ought to know. She is married to a chef, and has been shepherding the rapidly growing Guild since 2010. Born on a sheep farm in Hillman, California, south of Turlock, and raised in Modesto, Wayne studied at Sonoma State University. She had a variety of administrative jobs, including a 10-year stint as CFO for Riverwalk Jazz, a public radio series syndicated on over 220 stations, before taking the helm at the Guild. She has lived in Petaluma since 1974.
The Guild was started in 1993.
The nonprofit’s international membership includes professional bakers, farmers, millers, suppliers, educators, students, home bakers and technical experts from many countries, including Canada, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Turkey and Greece. It is nearly 80% professionals, with the balance of the membership being amateurs, dubbed “Serious Home Bakers.” Among the baking professionals, 25% are bakery owners and 30% are bakery employees.
After ten years in the town of Sonoma, the Guild recently moved to Petaluma. The relocation was precipitated by the death of Sonoma Judge Newton Dal Poggetto in 2018. The Guild, Wayne explains, had been sharing office space with him. As a long-time Petaluma resident, Wayne compared the rents in the two cities and finally recommended to her nine-person board that the Guild purchase its own office in Petaluma. The large, well-lit space on the second floor of an office park includes kitchen facilities.
A guild is an association for mutual aid and the promotion of mutual interests. While common in Europe, guilds are less known in the US.
“We tend to be competitors here,” says Wayne.
In the case of artisan bakers, the Guild clearly serves a strong need. Artisan bakers use knowledge of traditional methods and a mastery of hand skills to produce baked goods that meet high standards of taste, appearance, aroma and texture. The bakers tend to be independent, entrepreneurial and widely scattered, geographically. The Guild allows them to collaborate.
Well known in the baking community, The Bakery Guild is the go-to educational resource for accurate information on the craft of making bread. The materials and activities generated by the Guild are available nowhere else, largely because each member is a resource for the others. Together, they represent the cutting edge in providing the tools needed to produce the highest quality bread products.
One of the Guild’s primary features is an annual series of seminars consisting of fifteen two-day classes held across the country. The theme this year is “The Power of Flour.” Various culinary schools and large bakeries donate space for the classes. The instructors are leading authorities in their fields. For example, in April the Guild will hold a class on “Baking with Freshly Milled Flour” at the Barton Springs Mill in Dripping Springs, Texas. It will be taught by Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread, Wolcott, Vermont.