Judy's Breadsticks - In The News

 

Here's an article that appeared in the Wednesday, January 10, 1996 edition of the Marin Independent Journal...

Rolling in the dough
Judy's Breadsticks has gone from 1,200 to 12,000 loaves a week

by Pascale Le Draoulec
Independent Journal Reporter

Those who've discovered Judy's Breadsticks find it really cool that the Mendocino bread company has put its e-mail address right on its brown paper packaging.

But some wonder if the paper sack should contain a cautionary label as well.

Warning: These breadsticks are addictive.

Converts say they can't eat just half or even just one of the chewy, dense, whole-wheat baguettes which are individually hand-rolled in sesame or sunflower seeds.

The loaves are also dubbed "Lovesticks," because, the whimsical company claims, each baguette is made with love.

And, judging from some of the letters and e-mail they've received in the last two years, Cupid's arrow lurks in every sack.

"I can honestly say I've never written a fan letter to a loaf of bread!" reads a letter to Judy Griswold, baker and co-owner of Judy's Breadsticks, from a San Anselmo devotee. "From the first time I tried your breadsticks, I was smitten!"

Yes, fans, there is a Judy. You might even have spotted her making deliveries to one of the stores that carry her breadsticks in Marin, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. The self-described eternal flower-child is hard to miss, with her trademark salt-and-pepper cropped hair, purple tie-dye and lace-up leather boots.

Of course, she wears an apron when she's baking. Now that production has jumped from 1,200 to 12,000 whole-wheat loaves a week she's recruited some help in the kitchen which she moved from Mendocino to San Rafael.

Griswold has always been in the kitchen, it seems. As early as age 12, she started cooking for ranch hands at her family's agricultural field station in Wyoming. She married, raised five children and worked in the kitchen of a 300-acre farm in Pennsylvania.

After a divorce, she ended up several years later in Mendocino where she became an award-winning executive chef at the Little River Inn after a stint at 955 Ukiah.

She was content baking the breadsticks for friends and a handful of Mendocino restaurants in 1993 when serendipity struck and her future business partner, Lynda Najarian, showed up on her doorstep.

Najarian, who lives in a San Francisco loft, was visiting a friend in Mendocino when she stopped in a health food store to buy some bread.

She picked up a Judy's Breadstick in a no-frills display basket near the counter, took one bite and was entranced.

"I bought a loaf for my friend," says Najarian, "but I managed to eat the whole thing in the car."

As she drove through town, she recalls, "I realized there were at least 10 things that were unique about this bread."

Among them, she says: the texture, the density, the sunflower seeds, the size and the convenience.

Najarian, who owns her own neon business, and has an entrepreneurial spirit, immediately saw the potential for financial success. But she's quick to add, "I also wanted to make other people happy by spreading the joy of these breadsticks."

She played detective, tracked Griswold down and approached her with her plan to introduce her breadsticks to foodies throughout the Bay Area.

"I told her I can sell everything you can bake," Najarian recalled last week, sitting across from Griswold in the San Anselmo home of their general manager.

Two years ago in December they test-marketed the bread sticks in 10 markets in San Francisco and in Marin.

The initial response was so overwhelming, Najarian convinced Griswold to move her kitchen to San Rafael to be closer to her markets. Griswold now splits her time between an apartment in Mill Valley and her Mendocino home. "My boyfriend isn't too happy about it," says Griswold.

Griswold manages the kitchen and Najarian handles the business and marketing end of their partnership.

It was Najarian who designed the brown bag packaging, which other bread companies have since emulated, and who got permission to reprint an artist's watercolor of Mendocino on the wrappers and on the company's hard-to-miss vans.

It was also Najarian who thought to put the catchy phrase, "This isn't bread, it's therapy," on the rear of the delivery vans. She borrowed the phrase from a New York psychiatrist who tried a breadstick while here on vacation.

The much less effusive Griswold, who likes to eat her breadsticks with roasted garlic, seems genuinely taken aback by her success and the response people have to her little loaves of love which she makes with less than a teaspoon of olive oil and she considers "vegan" or vegetarian.

Sometimes, when she makes deliveries, she likes to eavesdrop on customers sampling the bread. The baskets filled with bite-sized samples of the fresh-baked bread are usually reduced to crumbs within minutes, storeowners say.

She remembers one enthusiastic woman who went on and on about how much she loved the bread and how it was helping her lose weight since it's so filling and virtually fat-free.

Griswold tried to sound surprised.

She started making the baguettes eight years ago when the owner of 955 Ukiah Street in Mendocino where she worked as a chef commissioned her to create breadsticks for the restaurant.

For reasons Griswold can't really explain, the breadsticks kept getting bigger and bigger and eventually took on the shape and form they have today.

Najarian, who says a Judy's Breadstick and a bottle of wine "are like a perfect date," remembers how Griswold kept trying to make the baguettes bigger after they formed their partnership.

Eventually, they got so big, they barely squeezed into the playful brown sacks Najarian had designed. Najarian had to put her foot down.

Why mess with a good thing?

Last year, sales of the 12-ounce, foot-long baguette, perfect for one hungry person or as a meal in itself, surpassed $500,000. Najarian who has just added Sonoma County markets to her list of retailers, hopes to double sales within the next two years.

Looking at the bulging bread racks at most San Francisco and Marin markets it's hard to believe there is such a demand for yet another bread product.

"This is the food mecca of the world," says Bob Canepa, president of the Mill Valley Market, one of the first retailers to carry the bread. "But these breadsticks have a unique taste and texture."

"They're kind of a hidden treasure," says Canepa, who prefers the sesame loaf to the one rolled in crunchy sunflower seeds.

Not everything is rosy in this homegrown success story, however. With the kitchen so far away, the people of Mendocino don't have access to Judy's Breadsticks anymore.

Says Griswold: "I try to bring back as many loaves as I can when I go up there... but I think they're kind of angry with me."