Driving up Signal Mountain, you might not smell it. Hurrying down Taft Highway into Walden, you still may not be able to catch a hint of it, but as soon as the road passes the Pumpkin Patch Playground, the delectable aroma of The Bread Basketbegins to waft through the air.
The homegrown bakery has been supplying the Chattanooga area with some of the best bread, muffins, cookies and cakes in town since before the Hyde family opened its first shop in 1989. Just in time for the holidays, The Bread Basket is introducing new Christmas recipes and shipping baskets to customers all over the country.
“These two weeks are the busiest time of the year for us,” said Lisa Harvey, a manager at the bakery. “I would say in the month of December we probably ship 1,000 baskets and bake hundreds of loaves of bread.”
Anson Hyde, who took over the business from his parents a little more than two years ago, describes the last two weeks of December as "a sprint."
From the hearth
The original loaf of warm, dense and rich sourdough bread came from his mother's—Marie—kitchen and a few quick experiments with a simple recipe from the Hyde family’s neighbors. Marie’s version of the natural liquid starter, the first of which was chock-full of apples from Fairmount Orchard, captured the simple pleasure and hearty taste of good, homemade food.
The sourdough first sold as apple bread at the orchard and instantaneously become a staple of every kitchen on Signal Mountain. Since the auspicious start, The Bread Basket grew to the home store on Taft Highway, a second shop in East Brainerd, two franchises—one in Cleveland and another in Charlotte, N.C.—and a bustling online business.
“The bread takes you back to what grandma used to make. It feels like home,” Hyde said.
That comforting sense of familiar, as well as the unwavering quality of the product, has helped The Bread Basket grow basically through word of mouth: One customer will buy his or her regular loaf and serve it at a dinner party or ship it to a relative, who will quickly become another loyal customer.
It is also the reason the sourdough recipe, which is a base for many of the other breads and muffins, has not changed since the first day the business opened.
Harvey explained that although some items have been added, like the peppermint bite cookies and the creme de menthe cake, the standards, like the thumbprint cookies, the cream cheese muffins and the five-flavor pound cake, have reminded as true—and delicious—to tradition as ever.
Shipping the warmth
The Bread Basket offers eight different kinds of baskets, ranging from $29.50 to $90. Each gift basket is assembled in the Walden bakery, just as every cookie, muffin, cake and loaf of bread sold in the Chattanooga stores comes out of the oven in Walden.
In stocking the baskets, the Hyde family started with the crowd favorites and built up from there. The Southern Sampler includes chocolate fudge and lemon poppy seed mini-loaves and a collection of Mayday, iced lemon and thumbprint cookies, while the Sampler includes cinnamon apple, sourdough, walnut and wheat loaves, and a few of the trademark muffins.
The fancier versions include more treats from the bakery’s cases, arranged with the same care that Marie, her husband, Charlie, and Anson took when displaying those first loaves of apple bread at Fairmount Orchard.
“These are muffins and cakes and breads—it’s comfort food, indulgent food,” Anson said. “My parents set a high standard, and we try to live up to that with every customer.”