2017-12-06 / Taste

Rising Action

Prairie Grain Bread: A slice of Utah in the county

Robyn and Jeff Gold bake up to 1,500 loaves of bread a day in their Midlothian Turnpike bakery. JENNY McQUEEN Robyn and Jeff Gold bake up to 1,500 loaves of bread a day in their Midlothian Turnpike bakery. JENNY McQUEEN More than 150 years ago, Jeff and Robyn Golds’ Mormon ancestors migrated from the Midwest to Utah on foot, trekking hundreds of miles with everything they owned in the backs of handcarts.

The handcart pioneers have since become an important symbol of devotion and determination in the Mormon faith, but it was the train that would bring the Golds to Chesterfield.

Jeff worked in sales for the Union Pacific Railroad in Salt Lake City, and when his job transferred to the East Coast in 1988, he and Robyn relocated here. As much as the Golds liked their new community, there was one thing they sorely missed from the Beehive State: the bread.

“Out west, we were used to these microbakeries,” says Jeff, sitting at a table inside Prairie Grain Bread, the bakery and eatery he and his wife own on Midlothian Turnpike. “We loved the bread, and there wasn’t [a microbakery] here.”

Prairie Grain's Nine Grain, a top seller. JENNY McQUEENPrairie Grain's Nine Grain, a top seller. JENNY McQUEENTheir trips back home became gluten-heavy feasts. Pilgrimages to bakeries in Northern Virginia were a monthly occurrence.

By 1994, the Golds decided to put an end to their treks by opening the kind of bakery they longed to see in the county. They hired a consultant from Salt Lake City to help get them started. Twenty three years later, Prairie Grain Bread is still here, turning out loaves that show up on shelves in Kroger, Wegmans, Food Lion, Whole Foods and The Fresh Market in the Richmond area, as well as locations in Charlottesville and Hampton Roads.

For its first eight years of existence, Prairie Grain was located in Stein Mart Shopping Center. Its current home in Village Marketplace Shopping Center – where it moved in 2002 – is three times as large, allowing the Golds to open a lunchtime deli in the space. It’s here that they mill their own red wheat from Montana and bake up to 1,500 2-pound loaves a day. Some of those loaves are sold in-house to customers who shop at the bakery’s storefront space, but 80 percent of the business is wholesale.

Margarita Beranza Zarate bags a loaf of Honey Whole Wheat. She is one of just 10 employees at Prairie Grain. JENNY McQUEENMargarita Beranza Zarate bags a loaf of Honey Whole Wheat. She is one of just 10 employees at Prairie Grain. JENNY McQUEENEvery day, Prairie Grain turns out dinner rolls, cookies and its Spelt, Honey, Nine Grain, Cinnamon Swirl, Walnut Spice with Raisins, Herb Whole Wheat and White with Cracked Wheat loaves. It also sells loaves of Sourdough, Pesto, Apple Raisin, Banana Nut and Pumpkin Raisin bread in store. The breads contain no oil, dairy or preservatives. “We’re natural, healthy, fresh … baked from scratch every day,” Jeff says.

Through it all, the Golds have rarely advertised, and have received only limited press.

“A lot of word-of-mouth has worked for us,” Jeff says. “It’s what I would consider a typical mom-and-pop small business.”

With just 10 employees, the Golds work every day but Sunday. Jeff delivers the bread to grocery stores himself with the aid of two other drivers.

“I like to say my wife bakes the bread and I deliver it,” Jeff says.

The Golds’ three grown children have also gotten in on the bread business on occasion.

“All our kids have worked here at one time or another,” says Robyn, who was previously employed as a court reporter, including on a preliminary case for serial killer Ted Bundy.

“I’d done that for 20 years,” she says of leaving her former occupation. She was ready for “something different.”

Though Robyn and Jeff live and work together, they say running a family operation isn’t a source of tension between them.

“There’s no jealousy or anything like that. It has to run smooth. Major decisions, we both make them,” Jeff says. “We have a good division of duties.”

The work, as it turns out, is the easy part. Stepping away from the parade of freshly baked loaves can be a challenge.

“The hard part is leaving town together,” Robyn says. “It’s like planning the invasion of a small country.”

Considering their success, people have asked the Golds about expanding their operation from time to time. While they’re open to it, they want to make sure they grow without diminishing the quality of their product.

“We feel great, but being a small business, you have to continue to grow,” Jeff says. “You can’t rest on your laurels. You need to keep growing and expanding.” ¦

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