Early to Rise
Long before most Seattleites are awake, hard work begins for the Sea Wolf Bakers, two brothers who kneaded their way into the craft bakery scene.
STORY BY MEGAN HILL
PHOTOS BY CHARITY BURGGRAAF
Before sunrise, nearly every day, brothers Kit and Jesse Schumann are at their new Stone Way bakery, Sea Wolf, elbow-deep in flour.
The brothers take turns unlocking the doors each morning at 3 to ready the pastries for the 7:00 opening. The other brother is usually in by 4, helping prepare the bread for sale by 9. Throughout the day, there’s more dough to be mixed, proofed, and prepped for the next day’s baking. By 5 or 6 each evening, the brothers are finally headed home.
Such is life when you’re a two-person bakery – and a popular one at that. The Schumanns’ venture is barely three years old, but it has a cult following, with a legion of fans built by exposure in some of Seattle’s best restaurants.
Kit and Jesse launched their business in early 2014, when Kit was a sous chef for Renee Erickson at Boat Street Café. The brothers baked their bread out of cast-iron pans in the Boat Street kitchen after it closed, and later moved their operations to Dino’s Tomato Pie, the new Brandon Petitt venture on Capitol Hill.
“We’d get in at 2 a.m., while the bartenders were closing up, and bake until 8 a.m.,” says Jesse, who graduated from the acclaimed San Francisco Baking Institute. “Then, we’d put our stuff away and go on deliveries.”
Though they didn’t have their own retail space at the time, Sea Wolf developed an extensive wholesale network, selling to restaurants such as The Whale Wins, The Walrus and The Carpenter, Le Caviste, and Vif Wine|Coffee, as well as the Sand Point Metropolitan Market. Sea Wolf’s fan base grew further with their baking classes at The Book Larder, which still routinely sell out.
Those 2 a.m. start times – and the hefty cast-iron pans – became history in August, when the brothers opened their own bakery next to Manolin in Fremont. They’d searched for their own space almost since the beginning and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that netted more than $32,000.
The unfussy bakery space is not intended to be a café, the brothers emphasize. Sea Wolf, which borrows its name from a Jack London novel, has no Wi-Fi and no espresso machine for its customers. Instead of clacking away on laptop keyboards, customers are usually found visiting with friends over a pastry and a cup of drip coffee.
The retail space is set amid racks of pastries, proofing baskets, and bags of flour, with the kitchen just beyond the checkout counter. Skylights throw natural light onto the 30-year-old mixer and the robust Italian oven, both minimalist testaments to the brothers’ clear desire to let their baking do the talking.
And on any given visit, you’ll find one or both of the brothers, kneading away.
Sea Wolf uses local ingredients as much as possible, with its centerpiece being the flour from The Shepherd’s Grain, a group of 60 growers from southern Alberta, the Pacific Northwest, and southern California, all growing wheat sustainably. Produce comes from Tonnemaker and Willowood Farm, coffee from local roasters like Kuma and Victrola, and tea from Harbor Herbalist in Gig Harbor.
In late 2016, in an effort to build out the retail portion of the business, the brothers started serving local beer, wine, and light bites of charcuterie, cheese, pickles, and condiments to complement their bread.
“Wholesale is great and that’s how we got our start, but it’s a bit of a headache,” says Kit, a graduate of Seattle Culinary Academy at Seattle Central College. “Retail is so much more appealing. You get to talk to people about the bread face to face. It makes you feel more like a real person.”
Sandwiches and soups are most definitely not on the horizon, the brothers say. Instead, they want to stick with what they’re good at, honing their craft while letting other experts – the craft coffee roasters, the farmers, the brewers, and the salumists – do what they do best. “We just make bread and showcase other people’s skills in other areas,” Kit says.
Kit and Jesse bake each and every pastry, baguette, and rustic sourdough and rye loaves fresh every day. The brothers, who are from Deming and spent time baking at the renowned Breadfarm bakery in Skagit Valley, aim to be the sort of neighborhood bakery that has disappeared in an age of inexpensive, mass-produced food.
“For the last 50 years there haven’t been a lot of small neighborhood bakeries here,” Kit says. “It’s a lost art, and it’s nice to see that coming back.”
So what sets Sea Wolf apart from other local bakeries? What’s the secret behind the bread?
“Any baker who’s worth their salt will say there’s no real secret to baking,” Kit says. “I think it’s just hard work and a lot of attention to detail and a lot of practice and consistency. And that’s been the real challenge with moving from place to place. But now we have this new space and we can work on maintaining a consistent product. I think if you’re a baker you’re perfectly happy doing the same thing every day and to have it turn out the same way every day.”
Hard work that begins, nose to the mixer, long before most Seattleites are even awake.
Megan Hill is Edible Seattle’s Managing Editor and Social Media Manager. She also freelances for a number of other publications. When she’s not writing, she can be found enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.