Saltine Baking Company grew out of a passion to find my place in the culinary world. Back in 2009, when I decided to take the leap into cooking, my goal was simply to gain a culinary education through firsthand experiences. However, I never could have imagined where that journey was going to take me.
I worked in small establishments that specialized in home-style cuisine, a bakery, and in restaurant kitchens, both on the line and as a pastry chef. I even put together my own pop up dinners with a colleague, and through it all I soaked up as much experience as I could. However, it was in the spring of 2013 that I fermented my first sourdough culture and felt the passion I’d been searching for. While I had loved all of my experiences up until that point — the thrill of working the line during a busy service, the hustle to fill a pastry case before the bakery opened on a Saturday morning, and the rush of conceptualizing and hosting a pop up dinner for 50+ people with just two of us in the kitchen — all of these experiences fell away once I mixed my first batch of sourdough. Weighing the ingredients, mixing it by hand, watching it rise, and taking my first bite of real bread, hot from the oven — I’d never experienced anything like it. The process was unlike any kitchen experience I’d had. This is where Saltine began.
My goal was to create naturally leavened sourdough, focusing on utilizing organic and local ingredients. However, without having a strong amount of experience in this area and no immediate access to other bakers in Regina who were baking such breads, I had no choice but to teach myself. I spent nearly a year obsessing over and researching the world of sourdough, learning through trial and error. The idea of Saltine ultimately became my entire culinary education morphed into its own personal concept. Savory driven breads and pastries using the improvisational attitude of being a line cook, the technical driven side of being a pastry chef, and the organization and drive of the prep cook that’s needed for the daily grind. All of these experiences made me into the baker I am now. Baking sourdough is both simple and refined all at once. Three simple ingredients (flour, water and salt) with an ever-changing outcome through the science of simply altering temperature, time and hydration. This excited me — and still does — each time I mix a batch of bread.
The push to launch Saltine as a full-fledged business came after I attended a six-week business planning course through Women’s Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan in the winter of 2014. The course gave me the tools I needed to plan, market, and financially run a small business. From there it became my goal to launch Saltine slowly, learning the business side as I went along. It was a long year of working full-time in a restaurant and running Saltine simultaneously. This meant working six days a week, one of which was 24 hours straight. I’d bake through the night after my day at the restaurant in order to attend the Farmers Market with fresh loaves and pastries. While it was a very long day and night, my exhaustion gave way to the happy families and returning customers I encountered at the market. I felt such pride each time a familiar face returned, and it was that simple act that gave me the energy I needed to do it again the following week.
Saltine spent that first summer growing its customer base and continuing to hone our product, striving to better ourselves each week. The long hours paid off and our community gave us an overwhelming response. Finally, in the Spring of 2015, we were able to launch Saltine full-time — selling at the farmers market, through a local distributor, and supplying high-end restaurants in both Regina and its surrounding areas. It was truly an overwhelming year for us! We never imagined our obsession would land us here, but we’re so grateful that it has.
We’ve been so fortunate and humbled by the support we’ve received from the community. Our goal was, and continues to be, to bake honest and delicious bread. As our demand grows, we hope to grow along with it, and will continue to strive towards bettering ourselves and our product with each and every bake for years to come!
Saltine Baking Company is Owned and Operated by Ashley Schmalenberg. You can find her products at the Regina Farmers Market beginning March 12 – it runs Saturday’s from 9am-1pm at the Shriner’s Center (2065 Hamilton Street) until April 30, then onto the plaza for the summer. Connect with Ashley online on the Saltine Baking Company’s Website.