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House of Bread stretches over San Luis Obispo with a new bakery cafe on Farmhouse Lane

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Sheila McCann is expanding her bread empire. The former public defender added a second House of Bread store in San Luis Obispo, bringing her national franchise collection up to eight.

Headquartered in SLO, McCann opened House of Bread in 1996 in the heart of downtown. Twelve years later, she moved shop to the 299 Marsh St. location. Now, she runs it in conjunction with a House of Bread brick-and-mortar cafe on 1025 Farmhouse Lane, which opened in early June.

"I wanted to do more meals and actually cook things. That's what led me to this location because it has a grill and I could introduce hot items," McCann said.

Farmhouse Corner Market Restaurant answered McCann's stovetop dreams. It shuttered and she bought the 60-seat space near the SLO airport. The pale wood interiors boast generous beams of natural light and a glossy brick red countertop showcasing fresh-baked breads and pastries and a diverse salad and sandwich lunch menu.

NEW BEGINNINGS House of Bread's new second location at Farmhouse Lane helps owner Sheila McCann and her team of bakers whip out more fresh loaves for more hungry patrons thanks to updated ovens and a large sit-down space. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF HOUSE OF BREAD
  • Photos Courtesy Of House Of Bread
  • NEW BEGINNINGS House of Bread's new second location at Farmhouse Lane helps owner Sheila McCann and her team of bakers whip out more fresh loaves for more hungry patrons thanks to updated ovens and a large sit-down space.

"The other big motivation for me was that my franchisees wanted big spaces ... indoor seating ... customer interaction, you know, espresso drinks served with meals," McCann said.

House of Bread found its way beyond SLO's breadboxes. Its franchises exist in Chatsworth; Wasilla and Anchorage, Alaska; Reno, Nevada; and McKinney and Nolensville in Texas with a third café opening soon in Plano.

"Like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike," House of Bread's website states. "We are proud of our re-creation of grandma's kitchen, and we encourage our bakery owners to express themselves in their stores, making each location inviting and perfectly suited to its geographic region and clientele."

The success and popularity of the original House of Bread created an explosion of interest for franchising. For Montana native McCann, it was a true juggling act. Twenty-seven years ago, she got baking lessons in tandem with opening the bakery—all after completing both law and business schools and a career as a public defender in SLO. She hired a baker for House of Bread who devoted some hours during the work week to teaching McCann the art of baking bread.

"It's so much easier to bake at home because you're doing one thing," she said. "I told my baker, 'How about I pay you overtime on Saturday, and you can teach me how to bake?'"

SPICY HIT Try House of Bread's red pepper cheese steak made with their jalapeño jack bread. The loaf comes from Grandma's White dough mixed with jalapeños and Monterey jack cheese. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF HOUSE OF BREAD
  • Photos Courtesy Of House Of Bread
  • SPICY HIT Try House of Bread's red pepper cheese steak made with their jalapeño jack bread. The loaf comes from Grandma's White dough mixed with jalapeños and Monterey jack cheese.

Those lessons paid off. Not only does McCann manage the two House of Bread locations and a staff of professional bakers, but she also teaches baking classes herself, and has been doing so at the old location. At the Farmhouse Lane spot, she conducts those sessions in a small glass-paneled booth inside the new cafe that she calls the "bread theater." It's furnished with large tables and wide wooden chopping boards to mix, knead, and shape dough on. On regular days, customers can watch House of Bread's bakers prep their creations through the glass screen.

On July 7, her baker, John, occupied the booth. He scooped from a heaping mass of biscuit-colored dough, formed small mounds, and placed them on a big metal baking sheet.

"Yeah, those are called dog treats," McCann said with a laugh.

House of Bread's classes don't center on dog treats, though students can pick up and apply the logic of baking from those lessons if they want to make them.

Limited to seven per class at $75 for each person, the classes take place a few times every month from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On July 21, McCann will teach the basics of flat breads including focaccia, pita, and pizza dough. July 25's class will look at gluten-free loaves, quick breads, and cookies. The Aug. 8 session will focus on artisan breads like ciabatta.

"My students are our best ambassadors because they know what's in it," McCann said. "We use good quality ingredients, and they acquire a taste for it."

Hungry customers can also get their fix of freshly made bread through a gallery of sandwiches. Pick from options like the cranberry-filled Cranky Turkey, the California Fusion Panini that comes with the house pesto and artichoke hearts, and the Sunrise Breakfast Sandwich with eggs and cheddar cheese. Customize sandwiches with your choice of bread—Grandma's White, garden herb, sourdough, honey whole wheat, Prairie, and nine-grain, to name a few.

House of Bread offers options for those with a sweet tooth too. Its rotating daily bread schedule features loaves of cinnamon swirl, apple cinnamon, lemon, banana nut, the popular chocolate zucchini, and raspberry swirl. The bakery also doles out a series of cheese and gluten-free loaves. The vast variety is possible through a feature unique to the Farmhouse Lane bakery that McCann is excited about.

"I've got new ovens. These ovens can actually bake at a high temperature without heating the whole world!" McCann. "My other location's oven is 30 to 40 years old. You turn that oven over 400 ... it takes forever to cool down."

HOUSE O' PLENTY House of Bread doles out more than fresh loaves at Farmhouse Lane. Choose from their selection of quiches, cinnamon rolls, bagels, pastries, and even beers 
on tap. - PHOTO COURTESY OF HOUSE OF BREAD
  • Photo Courtesy Of House Of Bread
  • HOUSE O' PLENTY House of Bread doles out more than fresh loaves at Farmhouse Lane. Choose from their selection of quiches, cinnamon rolls, bagels, pastries, and even beers on tap.

There are other newcomers to House of Bread: salads, soup, and quiches. In fact, the ever-changing soups are popular choices. McCann is experimenting with French onion soup now because it showcases the bread.

"We make the soups from scratch here. [The popularity] was a bit of a surprise," she said. "It's a nice way to use meat scraps because we can't use the whole meat in sandwiches."

McCann's latest venture is less than two months old but she's already working on ways to improve her business.

An inheritor of 12 beer taps through the Farmhouse Corner Market, she's introduced the guest bartender program to House of Bread. These bartenders will serve beer and wine during happy hour from 3 to 5:30 p.m. and 50 percent of proceeds will go to the charity of the customer's choosing.

She also hopes to develop her baking classes into "Baking University." Based on iterations in San Francisco and the East Coast, McCann's Baking University would be four to six hour-long classes over the course of roughly five days. Students—those with a passion for baking or who want to be trained for a cottage license—would receive meals and gain the opportunity to explore SLO County during their free time.

"Someone once said to me, I'm either into ventures or adventures!" McCann said. Δ

Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal is ensconced in the scent of fresh bread. Snap her back to reality at [email protected].

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