When James Sparks, a baker since childhood, turned his passion for homemade bread into a business, he found the perfect partner in his wife, Anna Ferguson-Sparks, a New York native who specializes in marketing wine and food.
Together, they launched Solvang’s “Another Bread Company,” a name chosen both for its alphabetical search engine optimization — and to poke fun at themselves. Clearly, they’re not the first bread company in Santa Barbara County.
With Ferguson-Sparks at the marketing helm, the couple launched the home-based bakery in June with just two initial products: an artisanal craft sourdough loaf, and New York-inspired bagels.
Both the loaves and bagels are made with organic ingredients, including wild yeast starters instead of commercial baker’s yeast, she noted.
In a nod to his home state and California, Sparks named his two bread starters “Cal” and “Ida,” and the bread company label includes photos of the lids of both starters.
“It’s us, going back to our roots,” he explained, adding that both starters provide the earthy-nutty-sweet flavor that he wants his breads to contain.
Bread is available for purchase with 24 hours’ notice, and via a monthly bread subscription. Future products will include croissants, cinnamon rolls and pretzels, Sparks said.
The home-based bakery is taking advantage of California’s cottage food industry law that became effective in January. The law allows those approved for cottage food operation to prepare some foods in home kitchens.
All in the family
Sparks comes from a large family: He has five older sisters and is the eldest of five boys. As a child, he learned that in a big family, “each person has to take on tasks. At young ages, we had to learn things,” he recalled.
Sparks learned bread making from his mother, who owned a small bakery in the family’s hometown of Carey, Idaho, during his childhood, and he gradually taught his younger brothers the craft while they all still lived at home.
As his siblings grew older, one of Sparks’ oldest sisters, Michelle, met and eventually married Brandon Gillis, and the two moved to Sun Valley, Sparks said.
“Brandon also baked bread, and so I began to work with them. When Brandon and Michelle moved to Portland, Ore., I followed, and when they later moved to Seattle, and then Durango, Colo., for another (bread) bakery job, I went with them.” That bakery was Durango’s “Bread” bakery, where Sparks secured his first baking job, in 2001.
In 2009, Sparks moved from Durango to California — first to Los Angeles, and then later to Solvang, again following his sister and Sparks-Gillis.
But this time, it was for wine, not bread.
A little wine
In Los Angeles, Sparks-Gillis had befriended brothers John and Steve Dragonette, and eventually, all three men and their families moved to the Santa Ynez Valley, where they founded their namesake winery, Dragonette Cellars.
In the meantime, Ferguson-Sparks had formed Stiletto Marketing in Los Angeles to help restaurants with social media and event planning, she said.
After Dragonette opened a Los Olivos tasting room, James Sparks worked behind the bar, pouring and selling wine. After a couple of harvests, he became assistant winemaker for the label, now based in Buellton.
“Brandon knows my work ethic, so I evolved from baking to winemaking,” he said with a smile. Now he enjoys both careers.
One of Sparks’ younger brothers, Daniel, a Brooklyn resident, also bakes, and plans to open a brick-and-mortar café/bakery/bar in Brooklyn next year. James Sparks and Ferguson-Sparks have a similar storefront business in mind for the Santa Ynez Valley.
The brotherly bond between the bakers — James, Daniel, and their other brothers, Gail and David — led Sparks and Ferguson-Sparks to include “A Sparks’ Brothers Bakery” as part of Another Bread Company’s name, and the siblings hope a bi-coastal bread endeavor will become an eventual reality.