Tyler and Sara Hansen, owners of the Oystercatcher restaurant in Coupeville, know how to think outside the breadbox.
When the demand for their fresh loaves of bread started rising, the couple knew they needed to buy a special oven to help them keep up, but at a cost of $9,000, they just didn’t have enough of the right kind of dough to make it happen.
So they asked customers to help with the oven purchase by selling memberships in the Oystercatcher’s bread club.
“People kept asking for our bread,” Sara said. “You just have to take the opportunities the Island gives you.”
“It says as much about our community as it does our bread,” said Tyler.
Based roughly on the principles of community supported agriculture programs, or CSA’s, the Hansens began selling memberships in their bread club just after Thanksgiving. They had enough memberships to pay for the oven in cash by mid-January. They began filling bread club orders at the beginning of February, baking the loaves in Dutch ovens. The oven arrived on Valentine’s Day weekend and was operational within three weeks.
The oven is state-of-the-art. It has a stone base inside that can accommodate up to 12 loaves of bread. It has dual heating elements and a steam injection system that gives the bread its hard crust. Even better, additional baking “decks” can be added should it become necessary. The restaurant currently has about 36 bread club memberships and provides bread to Three Sisters Market in Coupeville and to Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway in Oak Harbor.
Fancy ovens aside, it still comes down to the bread.
“It’s the one thing everyone can identify with – a good loaf of bread,” said Sara. “It’s one of the most basic things, what we can all appreciate. There’s a reason why we break bread.”
Tyler said he started experimenting with bread as a side project when he was a chef at another restaurant, using simple dry yeast to produce rolls. He fell in love with the process and says it is now a passion of his. He has developed his own starter, which is the base of all the restaurant’s breads.
“It’s a living thing. We feed it twice a day, every day,” he said. “Then the bread has a long, slow rise which helps develop flavor and texture.”
Each batch can be different.
“Weather, humidity affects it,” he said. “But even if it’s a little different, it’s still delicious.”
“You can smell it baking and it’s just intoxicating,” said Sara.
It’s about a two-day process to complete one batch of bread. Right now the restaurant offers five different varieties: Molasses oat, sourdough, rye, rosemary-olive oil and buckwheat. Bread club members get a fresh loaf of bread once a week.
Anyone interested in joining the bread club can sign up for six months or a year by calling the Oystercatcher at 360-678-0683 or by email at email@example.com. Tyler and Sara say they are pleased at how well the bread club idea has been received.
“I think people are signing up to be a part of something,” said Sara. “We didn’t know it would be a thing, we just decided to run with it.”
“It’s a fun time to be in business,” said Tyler. “So many people are thinking outside the box to fund things. And this is the perfect venue for it.”
The Oystercatcher is located at the corner of Grace and NW Coveland Streets in Coupeville. The restaurant is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to close Wednesday through Sunday and also for lunch from noon to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Click here for more information.