Newcomers to the island may notice that a bakery is conspicuously missing from the brick-and-mortar businesses in town. But from their small kitchen, the Burnsides bake sourdough breads, chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls and pumpkin white chocolate fudge, among other treats.
For Kodiakans searching for home baked goods, the Bearfoot Bakery is the right destination. While they don’t have a storefront, the bakery is capable of producing high-quality baked goods of any sort.
Crystal Burnside said the idea for the bakery emerged six years ago. Crystal and her husband, Chad, wanted to impart life skills and the opportunity to earn pocket money to their four children. One day, their 13-year-old baked sandwich bread for the week. Chad took a loaf to his workplace and started passing it around.
“He came home that day with orders,” Crystal said.
What started out with a few workplace orders grew during the summer of 2014 to a fully-fledged business. That summer, the Burnsides began selling their goods at the farmers market, expanding to a variety of different breads and cookies. Every couple of weeks, they added a new product to their repertoire.
Since then, her two older daughters have graduated and left the island — one for college and one for an 18-month church mission. Her two younger kids “like to taste test,” but they also help during busy times, like farmers’ markets and holiday bazaars. But their kids continue to rely on the lessons they learned through the business.
“As they have gotten older, they are not afraid of trying new things, trying out a new recipe, experimenting with food, because that’s just what they’ve done,” Crystal said.
While Crystal is responsible for most of the baking, Chad serves in the role of research and development and quality control. He often spends time scouring the internet for blogs and YouTube videos that inspire new ideas and help them master new recipes.
“This business is definitely a team effort,” Crystal said.
The skills they gained are just one of the reasons the Burnsides enjoy baking. Other perks include a constant stream of delicious baked goods.
“I love to eat. That was the big reason we started selling it, was because we love eating it, and we love making it. Our waistlines don’t like it as much, so sometimes we just need it out of the house,” Crystal said. “I also just love being able to give somebody really good homemade quality food that’s made just for them. Baking has a lot of love in it, and definitely all of our products do.”
For the Burnsides, the bakery remains just one of many pursuits. Chad is the information systems director at Kodiak Area Native Association. Crystal is a substitute teacher at the school district and a Boy Scouts leader.
While the business is relatively new, Crystal said she has always enjoyed baking. The oldest of 11 siblings, she grew up on a farm in southern Idaho, a 45-minute drive from the nearest grocery store. With many mouths to feed, there was also someone to eat her creations.
“We raised a lot of grains. We would do a lot of cooking and baking just with what we had,” she said. “We didn’t often make that trip to town. Grocery shopping was a once-a-month kind of thing.”
Crystal and Chad moved to Kodiak when he was hired as a civilian contractor for the Electronic Support Unit in Coast Guard Base Kodiak. They have lived on the island for almost 16 years.
They continue to bake from their small kitchen but used the profits from their first two months of operation to buy a commercial mixer, the size of a small child, because their KitchenAid couldn’t keep up.
Weekend farmers markets during the summer bring busy Fridays, when Crystal sometimes spends 18 hours in the kitchen, sometimes longer. For the fall Women’s Show, her oven was on for 24 hours, from 6 a.m. on Friday to 6 a.m. on Saturday.
“I was working the whole time,” she said. Then, her husband and son set off to sell everything, and Crystal went to sleep.
During the winter months, many of their orders come from their website, www.bearfootbakery.com. Some customers make special orders. For people living off the island who cannot travel to Kodiak to visit their loved ones, delivery requests are a popular option.
“It’s really fun to be able to deliver something, especially for some of the Coast Guard guys that are on a boat. To just be able to show up dockside and say, ‘hey, your dad wanted to send something special for your birthday!’ — that says baked goods, getting something homemade and yummy, made especially for you,” she said. “That’s the idea of our bakery — it’s all fresh, homemade and made especially for you.”
How do they choose what products to make? “Whatever sounds yummy,” Crystal says.
While the website lists popular items, Crystal is open to baking anything.
“I’ll let people know if it’s something I haven’t made before,” she said. “If they’re willing to let me experiment on them.”
This summer, they added different styles of bread, including sourdough and challah. Recently, Chad and Crystal started offering classes once a month. In January, it was a class on bread baking. In February, the class was on making creme brulee and flan. Classes take place in the warm and welcoming Burnside home, and are limited to four participants.
The Burnsides take time not just to master baking techniques, but also to learn why some things work better than others. Relying on professional baking textbooks, they have mastered some surprising secrets. For example, Crystal grinds many of the grains she uses for her breads immediately before she begins baking.
“You just get a much better product. It’s much lighter and fluffier if it’s freshly ground,” she said.
The biggest challenge the Burnsides face is probably familiar to anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Kodiak — getting basic ingredients to an island in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska is never easy.
“We are very blessed to have Cost Savers and the products that they carry,” Crystal said. Her bread flour is General Mills All Trumps flour, their highest grade bread flour, which happens to be found in 50-pound bags at the local grocery store. The All Trumps flour is 14% protein, coming from a higher gluten content. “Which is what produces big, beautiful bread.”
In a bread class she recently offered, Crystal showed a side-by-side comparison of bread made from All Trumps and all-purpose flour. “The difference was not just in appearance, but in flavor, texture, everything,” she said.
For grains, Crystal relies on a supplier in Palmer, which provides a mix that includes Alaska-grown grains from Delta Junction.
For cooking and baking inspiration, Crystal often turns to America’s Test Kitchen and a blog found at www.foodwishes.com. Chad says that when mastering a new skill in the kitchen, people should be willing to make mistakes and throw away a lot of failed attempts. The reward is being able to create foods you may not be able to access otherwise on the island.
“Down south, you have all these restaurants you can go to. You have all the food you can eat. It’s all super cheap,” Chad said. In Alaska, “you realize that you don’t have restaurants. If you want a good Mexican restaurant — sorry, you’re in Alaska. So we learned how to make really good homemade corn tortillas.”
For those hoping to start their own business, the burnsides recommend starting small. By taking small steps, the Burnsides have been able to avoid the kind of debt that can cripple small businesses. They also say that repetition and fearlessness are the key to success. Mistakes are part of the process.
“If the bread doesn’t rise, we’ll just turn it into croutons,” Crystal said.