Twenty-five years ago, news that diet played a critical role in the obesity epidemic in the United States got Gabriel’s Bakery owner Amilcar Alvarez thinking.
In contrast to the whole grain breads and pastries he ate as a child in Cusco, Peru, the French pastries he was making at the time consisted mostly of butter and white flour and lacked needed proteins and vitamins. He headed to Powell’s Bookstore with a mission: “Let’s give good food to Americans who are eating too much junk.”
Amilcar spent months in Powell’s educating himself about whole grain breads and the chemistry of bread making. His first attempts were heavy and brick-like, but he soon refined his skills. Friends not only praised his whole grain breads, muffins and cinnamon rolls, but encouraged him to open his own business. Rolling Dough, Inc. was born in 1987, with the bakery named after his son, Luis Gabriel.
Gabriel’s Bakery is committed to baking with a variety of whole grains, without the use of hydrogenated oils and to sourcing a mix of organic and sustainable products. Their flour comes from Shepherd’s Grain, an alliance of wheat farmers in the Pacific Northwest certified by the Food Alliance for their sustainable agricultural practices. Bob’s Red Mill, based in Milwaukie, Oregon, provides the other whole grains. When sourcing ingredients, Amilcar has his family in mind, but as he says, “I want to know that others are eating those good ingredients, too.”
Last year, Amilcar created a unique Quinoa Bread, made with the high protein South American quinoa grain that he grew up eating in Peru. He has added Spelt Bread with Muesli Cereal to his repertoire this year and will soon bring a Spelt Bread with Pumpkin Seeds to market. For those with a sweet tooth, he also makes a variety of Peruvian, Mexican and French pastries. Peruvian specialties include alfagores and lenguas, puffed dough with dulce de leche, a caramelized milk cream.
You won’t find a storefront for Gabriel’s Bakery, although their wholesale production is located in Portland’s Pearl District. Many grocery stores in the Portland area, including Fred Meyers, Whole Foods, New Seasons and Food Front carry Gabriel’s Bakery breads and bagels and twenty coffee shops boast their pastries. Amilcar admits that the competition in grocery stores has increased in recent years with more health-conscious products available. He finds that the best shelf space often goes to the larger companies with his products lining the bottom shelves. As he is often told, “You sell pretty good no matter where we put you.” Indeed, customers at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, his first market, consistently sing the praises of his breads and pastries. Amilcar uses this encouragement to work harder and to make better products. “I believe in quality and it’s the only way I can stay in business.”
Written by Daurie Mangan-Dimuzio, HFM Volunteer, 2009