By Nicole Thom-Arens
When Travis Gerjets moved to Minot in 2014, he wanted to carry on the ideas of community he and his wife, Brandy, were a part of in Europe. He didn’t know then that a sentimental feeling toward bread would be his way toward that community.
“I’d been a serious home baker for probably five years knowing in the back of my mind that I love doing this and, at some point, it might be fun to take a shot and open a bakery not having any idea what that really meant at that point,” Travis says. “If I would’ve known then what I know now about what it takes to open a bakery, I might have thought a lot harder about it when we started this journey.”
That journey began with about a dozen loaves of bread, baked in Travis’ home kitchen, to be sold at a friend’s vegetable stand during the early season of Minot’s farmers’ market.
“The next week, people came back and they really enjoyed the bread and some of the bread that I made reminded them of their grandmother’s bread or bread that they had when they were abroad. There were just some taste memories that people had, and we started sharing stories and then this little community kind of got built around this bread, and that was really the start of Prairie Sky Breads,” Travis recalls.
Those memories of a grandmother and ties to Europe that brought people back for Travis’ bread were also reasons he’s continued baking bread. While living in overseas — London, Liverpool, Israel, and Palestine — Travis and Brandy spent time visiting intentional living communities, places where people with shared beliefs choose to live together or choose to have a shared way of life. In one of those communities, they were introduced to a bread making event for the community. People came in to bake two loaves of bread — one was for the communal meal and the other was for the baker to take and hopefully share.
“The intention was that maybe more often than not, you’d find ways to give that away, to share that bread. Whether it was a good excuse to go visit a friend or relative you haven’t seen for a while or to give to somebody who was hungry, that was bread to share,” Travis says.
When Travis made his first loaf of bread in that community, it sparked his senses and memories of his grandmother, Nana, which inspired him to learn some of her recipes that no one else in the family had carried on. Upon returning to the States, he did pick up those traditional recipes, which became some of the early bread recipes for Prairie Sky Breads.
Today, Travis and Brandy, along with their new business partners Jazmine and Zach Schultz, are preparing to open a café in downtown Minot. What started as a humble offering at the farmers’ market transformed into a delivery service for bread subscribers, which grew into a healthy social media following in a short five years.
“It’s opened so many doors and built so many connections for me in the community; that there’s this community that’s formed around it including all of our amazing supporters that it’s a fun place to be, it’s a really humbling and gratifying place to be,” Travis says.
When Travis first began offering a subscription and delivery service for his breads and other baked goods like cookies and scones, he wanted to ensure everyone in Minot who wanted a taste of Prairie Sky Breads could afford his products, so he introduced a “pay what you will” system.
“We were kind of taking a risk because if everybody got a three-month bread subscription and paid $5 for it, that would have been a huge hit to our business, but if we had some people that paid under and some that paid over, then it would all work out and that’s exactly what happened. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of on our end to see folks being generous and paying it forward to folks who maybe couldn’t afford (the subscription),” Travis says.
A SLICE OF HAPPINESS
As the business owners prepare to move into their café, they want to continue making their products accessible through a “loaf it forward” type of program.
Through recent pop-up cafés at the Minot Area Council of the Arts office, Travis has had a glimpse of what running a café will involve.
“There’s just something about baked goods that people come in and they’re in a good mood. They sit down and they’re in a good mood. They’re laughing and talking with friends over a cup of coffee. It’s just been a really positive space. It’s a community-building space,” Travis says.
While hours are brutal and the work is hard and physical, Travis says he’s met incredible people along the way — other local business owners, independent bakers in other cities, and local supporters — who’ve helped take the bakery in a new direction.
“We don’t want to just be a bakery,” Travis says, “we want to be a gathering place for people.”
Prairie Sky Breads plans to be in its new bakery at the corner of Central Avenue and First Street SE in July.
Nicole Thom-Arens is a writer and assistant professor at Minot State University. She teaches journalism and writing courses and advises the student newspaper, Red & Green. She grew up in Langdon, North Dakota. Nicole and her husband, Tim, have one son, Liam. They enjoy traveling and attending theatre productions and major sporting events across the U.S.