Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 6:59 PM on Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fresh Sourdough Express owners earn 2010 Small Business award

'You can say it's the right place at the right time, but it's about the right reasons.

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

What began as a six-loaf bread oven sitting on a handcrafted trailer towed by a laundry truck has led to Donna and Kevin Maltz, owners of Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery and Café, receiving the Small Business Administration's 2010 Alaska Small Business Owners of the Year Award.


Photo courtesy of First National

Donna and Kevin Maltz, owners of Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery and Café

"This confirms that being a socially responsible business pays off," said Donna Maltz of her and husband Kevin's business model that minimizes "the carbon footprint of a wasteful food service industry, while remaining profitable."

"'Triple bottom line' is the new catch phrase, but my business practices have been that: doing what's good for ecology, economy and the community. The business was started for the right reasons, to help bring the community together and help give people opportunities, jobs," she said. "You can say it's the right place at the right time, but it's about the right reasons."

Donna came to Alaska in 1982, with $43 in her pocket, driving a laundry truck and towing the trailer with the oven. Under her arm was a degree in social ecology from Evergreen State College in Washington; in her head was a vision of building a business that used local and organic products, kept waste to a minimum and served the community.

The fledgling bakery's success quickly proved Donna knew what she was doing, and a loan from her father helped open Fresh Sourdough Express. In 1984, Kevin came along, applied for a job at the bakery and the two discovered they had similar values. They married, became business partners and today operate Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery and Café, as well as Memorable Experience Bed and Breakfast. In 1992, they launched Ah!Alaska, a line of organic chocolate products. The Ah!Alaska brand name is now owned by United Natural Foods.

During the peak of the summer season, the couple's employees number as many as 45, including office managers, bookkeeper, the bed and breakfast staff and large enough crew at the bakery and café to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

"That's the responsibility you have when you go into business, how to bring people together. One way is to employ them. Another way is to serve them. We do both," said Donna.

Although "green" is sometimes used to describe the environmental focus at Fresh Sourdough Express, Donna considers the word overused.

"That's why I like 'socially responsible,'" she said.

Her sense of social responsibility is not limited to Fresh Sourdough Express. Donna helped kick-start Sustainable Homer, an organization that collaborates with other groups in the area to keep sustainability at the forefront. She also authored "Yummy Recipes, Wilderness Wonders," a children's cookbook with lessons on environmental protection, wildlife reservation and sustainable living. Most recently, she and Kevin have begun working with growers in Hawi, a small community in the northwest corner of Hawaii's big island where Donna and Kevin live part of the year.

Through their business "Always In Season," the couple makes old world-style pickles, sauerkraut, carrots and other fermented food items. As in Homer, they began networking with the local farmers' market, selling wraps with colorful vegetable fillings made from 100 percent local organic produce.


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery and Cafe, 1316 Ocean Drive, will be the site of this month's Homer Chamber of Commerce mixer at 5 p.m. May 27.

"They were colorful, delicious and took off like crazy," Donna said. "And then the farmers' market started to grow. We talked to people in the community, encouraged them to come make a booth and it's going great."

More plans for Hawaii include developing a nonprofit, commercial quality, community supported agriculture kitchen that could be used by people making products for sale, such as nut butters, chutneys, soups and pesto. A weekly menu would make it easy for people to order items or meals they could pick up and take home. Although plans are not definite, they all fit within the framework of serving and empowering people in whatever community Donna and Kevin live.

Bryan Zak, regional director for Alaska Small Business Development Center's southwest region, said the most significant factor about Donna and Kevin receiving the Small Business Owners of the Year Award is the message to other businesses.

"Their key success factor is their passion for their business over more than a one or two year period. Since the inception it has been about giving back to their community and society. It's turned into a wonderful success over time," Zak said of something he is seeing more and more businesses are embracing. "Sourdough Express is sustainable, but is also a model of how to work with other businesses in the Homer area. You have a whole chain of businesses working together to provide quality service to the customer."

Now that they have developed Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery and Cafe as they envisioned it would be, Donna and Kevin are ready to move on.

"We're definitely looking to sell all of our businesses and take our business savvy somewhere else," said Donna.

But even if the bakery, café and bed and breakfast don't sell right away, it will be OK. "Homer's so awesome. I can't think of a better place to be 'stuck,' if you can call that stuck."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky.@homernews.com.