At first glance, a loaf of bread might seem pretty simple: bread, water, yeast, salt. But for anyone who’s ever baked a loaf from scratch (here’s looking at you, pandemic sourdough squad!), or been given a homemade boule or baguette, you know it can be so much more: a form of nourishment, both physical and emotional. Just as fresh bread can help turn odds and ends into a meal, it can also help people come together in community.
When Front Porch Baking Co. started in 2020 during Covid, owner/founder Kristen Richards was delivering bread to her customers’ front porches, creating a much-needed sense of connection as everyone was still mostly separated. Since then, her business has blossomed into a brick-and-mortar bakery in Millersville with a robust community who gathers regularly to scoop up her naturally leavened loaves, made with locally sourced grains (which earned her a nod from Food & Wine as one of the best breads in Pennsylvania).
Front Porch Baking Co. is such a dynamic example of what a sustainable, values-driven bakery can look like. We spoke with Richards to learn more about her background and how her bakery grew from door-to-door deliveries to its operation today.
PA Eats: Can you share a bit more about your background in baking?
Kristen Richards: Most of my experience baking as a child was with my grandmother, who I refer to as my Nanny, my mom’s mom. We often spent a lot of time at her house and, if she wasn’t sewing, she was baking or cooking German dishes. I think for me, growing up around someone who chose to bake as a daily practice taught me a lot of life lessons, including how important it is as a skill to provide for yourself and your family.
Do you feel like baked goods can create connections between people and their ancestry?
Food in general is a great bridge to connect people with their heritage. No matter what someone’s background may be, there are food traditions that can link any generation together, and it’s a great place to begin learning about who we are, and where we come from. It’s a place to always find common ground with one another.
You were a baker at some well-known restaurants, like The Pressroom in Lancaster, right? What created the turning point for you to leave the security of a job and open your own business?
To be honest, I was quite burned out at my restaurant job. The turning point for me was attending a baking conference in Maine. I went in hopes of sparking some creativity and to find inspiration with where I was at within my job. I ended up having such a wonderful experience, and it completely changed my life. I found the answers I was looking for and, thankfully, they were what helped me to head down this new road of starting my own business. Two months later, I decided to leave my job.
What were the early phases of Front Porch Baking like?
My business started in Spring of 2020, but I officially opened for business in October 2020 at the Lancaster Marketplace. I was baking on-site and selling to customers, mostly through online pre-ordering. In the time leading up to opening at the LM, I was baking at home and offered home delivery to peoples’ front porches. I had a pretty strong following from working at the restaurant for so long that I was able to have an established customer base that was ready to support me, especially during such a tumultuous time in our world. It was a way for me to connect with folks without having to have any physical contact. I felt I was able to provide not only nourishing bread but also a small moment of joy to people each time I was able to drop off bread or pastries to their door.
What were some of the valuable resources you discovered along the way toward opening your bakery?
I had been fortunate over the years to experience a number of folks open bakeries at jobs I held, and was able to learn a lot from witnessing what worked and what did not. I have always found connecting with other bakers and/or bakeries to be one of the most valuable resources. Bakers are typically generous, kind people and I learned a lot just through having conversation or getting a first hand look at their operation. I also connected with ASSETS to complete the Women’s Business Circle, and through that I was able to connect with SCORE, another leading resource for entrepreneurs.
How did you determine what your identity as a bakery would be? What did you hope to bring to the Lancaster area that wasn’t already there?
I am a firm believer that if you believe in yourself and the products you produce, your identity as a business will easily fall into place. There are customers out there for any type of business, and there are people who will believe and share in the same values as you do. The only criteria I put in place for myself was a commitment to local and seasonal ingredients with a focus on breads, and baking what I enjoy. I was looking to provide Lancaster with naturally leavened breads made with local whole grains, to be able to showcase bread made with 100% PA-grown and milled grain in a way that aligned with my values, but also reminded me of breads I grew up eating.
What does naturally leavened breads/baked goods mean? And why would a baker choose to bake this way?
Naturally leavened means to use a sourdough starter versus commercial yeast. This is a more traditional approach to making bread where we harness the natural bacteria found in our environment and create a “mother” starter which will take the place as our leavening agent. It’s simply flour and water mixed together and left to ferment, and then fed and maintained to use in baking. My starter is named Gertrude, or Gertie for short. I have had her for years and consider her a part of our family! Using a starter makes for a much slower approach to baking bread; it takes about three days from start to finish. The benefits of this style of fermentation help to create bread that has more flavor and is typically easier to digest.
Where do you source grains from? What difference do you feel this makes in the finished product?
Sourcing locally is very important to me! We are so fortunate to live in Lancaster and have access to such bounty including dairy, veggies, meats, grains and more. Supporting our local farms has always been a key aspect of my business. We primarily source our grain/flour from Small Valley Milling in Halifax, PA, and Castle Valley Milling in Doylestown, PA. We also work with some other farms, as well, in PA to source grain on a smaller scale. I am very proud of the fact we use 100% PA-grown and-ground grain.
Flour has a great impact on the final product. Typically flour is the ingredient that makes up the majority of recipes, yet we aren’t usually taught that different flours can provide different flavor profiles or even flavor at all. There are wonderful grains out there like spelt, rye, einkorn, different varieties of wheat and more that can provide a whole new backbone of flavor to a recipe!
What is something you bake that you’re particularly proud of?
I’m very proud of the bread we bake. I am self-taught when it comes to making sourdough bread (my nanny’s recipes were by memory and feeling), and have learned and grown my bread practice over the years. To now provide customers and local establishments with our breads four days a week is pretty powerful to me. I feel fortunate to have this opportunity to bake for people in the community, so anytime we put a new product out I look forward to the chance to share that.
What are some customer favorites?
Our sourdough cinnies are a customer favorite that can only be purchased on Saturdays. They have been with me long before I started Front Porch. Many people think I got the name for the business during our beginning stages, but I actually used to hold cinnamon bun pop-ups on my own front porch on Sunday mornings, and that is where I pulled the name from! We also have a lot of customers who love our rye breads, but I have to say that we have a pretty strong list of staple items we offer on a regular basis that I can’t let go of because folks love them so much. We have had a few customers joke that when people ask, “What’s good at Front Porch?” their response is, “The breads, and whatever else Kristen feels like baking!” It makes me really happy to have earned their trust.
Can you tell us a bit more about Bakers Uprising, and what that’s all about?
Bakers Uprising started in 2020, as myself and a handful of bakers held a bake sale as a part of a movement at the time called Bakers Against Racism. We had such success and fun doing the event we wanted to hold more in the future. It grew into a group made up of home bakers along with professional bakers. I felt it would be more inclusive to everyone to have an umbrella name for our baker’s collective so that a home baker could feel a sense of belonging and identity with the group just as much as a baker who has their own business.
Currently we are planning our fourth annual bake sale for Community Action Partnership to support its Domestic Violence Service program. It takes place every October in Musser Park in downtown Lancaster. This year it will be held on October 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s grown into a community fair along with our bake sale. I hope we are able to hold more bake sales in the future for other great local organizations that could benefit from additional community support!
Where do you bake out of? Can you describe your setup?
We had been baking at our storefront in Millersville for the past few years, but we have since expanded to a location in downtown Lancaster to do the majority of our production there. Some folks may recall it being the Golden Eagle Bar or Goldie’s Bakery. Recently, it was occupied by Common’s Company and I was able to acquire the equipment along with the space to continue to grow Front Porch. We went from baking in a small bread oven, about 12 loaves at a time, and 1 convection oven and hand-mixing all of our breads, to having a 4-deck bread oven (which can bake 48 loaves at a time), 2 convection ovens, a full range, a large spiral mixer to mix our bread dough, a dough sheeter to expand our laminated pastry offerings and more! While all of our breads are being baked at our production space, we still bake 90% of our daily pastries in Millersville to keep the bakery smells in check.
Speaking of, tell us more about the brick-and-mortar store now?
Yes! We have a bakery in Millersville that we have been operating at since April of 2021. When I learned that the Lancaster Marketplace would most likely be closing, I began my search for a potential storefront. I happened to find this space and jumped on the opportunity. Luckily for me, Millersville and the surrounding area did not have a neighborhood bakery like ours nearby at the time, so it’s been special to fill a need for the community and develop relationships with our customers. While we now have our second production space we plan to stay operating our storefront in Millersville for as long as we are able to do so! It was the number-one priority I had before making the decision to expand. We needed to still be there for the people who have been showing up for us since day one.
For more info on Front Porch Baking Co., or to pre-order bread and pastries (which they still do!), visit its website. For more bread-y goodness, follow along on Instagram. PA Eats would also like to thank Kristen Richards and Front Porch Baking for being a Friend of PA Eats as a Business Member!
- Feature, Kristen Richards and morning buns photos: Julianna Elizabeth Photography
- All other photos: Courtesy of Front Porch Baking Co.