For almost 20 years, Jim and Lynn Williams ran a successful bakery called Seven Stars in Rhode Island. They had 25 employees but in 2019 they sold the business and relocated to Charlotte. “We didn’t have family in Rhode Island so we were free birds,” Jim said. “We had a long list of things we were looking for and we looked all over the country but we kept coming back to Vermont.”
Two things on the top of the list were good schools and low taxes.
“We had to cross that second item off our list,” Lynn admitted, “but here we are.”
In 2014, Jim became interested in milling his own wheat, so the couple started a side business called Backdoor Bread, opening the back door of their bakery which led down a loading dock to the Pawtucket winter farmers’ market.
“When we decided to sell our business, Jim wanted to continue baking,” Lynn said. “We knew we were moving someplace where we’d be able to have a home business. That was a plus for Vermont, as was the fact that it’s a place where people appreciate whole grain.”
Another plus for the couple is their association with Tom Kenyon of Nitty Gritty Grains Company in Charlotte.
“That has been a total bonus,” Lynn said.
When the couple initially started baking in Rhode Island, they bought wheat by the bag but eventually Jim began to mill his own berries.
“To be able to get different varieties was eye-opening,” he said. “The only way to do that is with small farms and they seem to be pretty excited about knowing their bakers. Many times, farmers don’t know what’s happening to the end product but here they do.”
Almost all of Backdoor Bread’s grains come from the Northeast including rye from Thornhill Farms in Greensboro and Redeemer Wheat from Nitty Gritty.
Jim, 49, and Lynn, 48, work as a team, although both downplay their roles.
“Jim doesn’t like the word ‘I,’” Lynn said, while stressing that he was the person behind the start of Backdoor Bread. “He sourced the wheat, milled it, baked it and sold it,” she said.
Jim credits Lynn for marketing his product, creating a logo and getting him to use social media. “I literally just make the bread and see what happens,” Jim said, “but Lynn looks at the whole process.”
During the summer, the couple baked bread for the Intervale CSA and a pop-up at Philo Ridge Farm and had pick-ups from their home on Mondays. With the onset of fall, pick-ups have been moved to Tuesday and Friday at their home from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jim makes between five and seven different kinds of bread each week.
“Aside from the ones with raisins, they are the same on paper but it’s astonishing how different each one tastes,” Lynn said. “It’s like the difference between apple or tomato variants and it’s cool that wheat is getting it’s due as an interesting agricultural crop.”
Jim is excited about a new collaboration with Tom Kenyon. Nitty Gritty has just planted a wheat known as Skagit 1109 which was developed by the Bread Lab in Washington State.
“It’s a wheat that has been bred to acclimate and thrive anywhere and this will be first time it’s been planted on the East Coast,” Jim said. “It could be our new Vermont wheat and it’s always been a dream of mine to have a farmer to work with this closely.”