Tuesday, December 01, 2015 • 01:17

Little barn bakery growing

Michael Crane / Valley Roadrunner
February 13, 2014
I'm partial to small businesses starting from scratch and succeeding. I started a new business, a professional golf tour, more than 30 years ago and it was the best decision I ever made, which is why I'm writing about a rather new and growing business in Valley Center called the Little Barn Bakery.

For starters, the bakery is little. It functions in a space of 500 square feet, and it really is a converted barn. It didn't start as a full-scale bakery either since the owner, Diana Sourbeer, was only interested in finding an outlet to sell her granola, which her friends clamored for, or so she – rightly – maintained. She needed space to do that, so she leased the barn. The Fan Favorite is Extra Crunchy Sweet and Salty.

Diana opened for commercial business in July of 2012, always with the thought of developing a co-op. To market her granola and get publicity she also hit the farmers markets and other outdoor food sites. She added one co-op partner in 2013, more are planned. She also has operated from the beginning at the same tiny location where there is not a foot of space left over.

However, there is kitchen space in an adjacent room at the barn, and that is where the oven has been installed for the bread-baking. No separate room, no oven, said the regulators. She is working with the iconic Belen Artisan Bakers of Escondido.

Granola remains the top sales item, all made by Diana. Her first co-op partner, Penny Ottley, came in the summer of 2013 as a cake and cookie decorator. The business card says: Custom Cookies. The bread-baking unit will be up and running by the time you read this column. Coffee service will start very soon. After that, she hopes to add a pie maker.

The co-op business model means each operator has his or her own permits, thus the businesses are operated separately but at one location. It all seems very tidy. Diane calls it an efficient use of space. Also, co-op means co-operation to the extent that whoever is working will sell the goods of the other businesses. As I said, there is not room for everyone inside such a small space. Of course, none have sales that would demand a 40-hour work week.

"I expect overall growth (sales) through a more full-service bakery," says Diana, a registered dietician with a college degree in nutrition. She emphasizes health in her granola, using all whole grain flower/oats, flax seed, Chia seed and rice bran. The business card touts Whole Grains and Artisan Baked Goods. Other operators will provide more traditional recipes; i.e. higher calorie count but very tasty.

The coffee making part of the growth cycle became a reality because Mamma's, a mile from Little Barn, recently closed down in Valley Center. Diana thought it was unfair to compete against another establishment so close to her, which is why she didn't open her business with coffee service in 2012. Now she feels a need to fill a void.

Diana doesn't have or need employees. This is practical because of the space limitations. She has no plans to find a larger building, or a larger barn. It is, after all, called the Little Barn Bakery. She doesn't need to be the Big Building Bakery.

For the record, the bakery is about 500 yards east of Cole Grade on Valley Center Road, across from the water department. It's on a curve in the road and if you blink you can miss the turn off – south – so be watchful. You will see a business sign from the road but not the barn itself until you drive a few hundred yards on a paved entry way. There is ample parking.

The business is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 to 1 on Saturday. Diana says her husband helps with the business. He is allowed to wash the dishes and sample a few goods. His daytime job is as a counselor at Palomar College. She didn't say it, but all men know – or should – that harmony starts with staying out of the kitchen, or making suggestions.

Bottom line: Valley Center is dotted with small businesses, and most owners are content to stay in the valley and serve the locals. As I stated earlier, expansion of sales is admirable but changing locations is not. The in-and-out quickly motto is a reality at Little Barn. There is one small room, no aisles, no room to browse, plus the one kitchen which houses the commercial oven. What you see is what you get. Don't ring for service. Diana, or whoever is working, will see you from anywhere when you drive up. My overall evaluation can be summed up succinctly: Yummy.

P.S. Note to my editor Kim Harris: All future lunches need to be followed by a stop at Little Barn. Every freelance writer needs a perk or two. If you choose not to go there following lunch, drop by earlier, tell Diana that Doug sent you and pick up some shortbread, granola or Cranberry Apricot cookies with reduced sugar. This starving – as in underpaid – writer will be forever grateful.

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