Editor's note: Muncie Origins is a Ball State Daily News series profiling various businesses that originated in Muncie.
Shane Heath, owner of The Bearded Baker, a Muncie-based bakery, said the Food Network show “Good Eats” was the catalyst behind his decision to attend culinary school at Ivy Tech in 2009. Because of his love for bread, Heath said, he realized early on that he needed to go into the culinary business for himself.
“When I first got started, it was more about teaching and less about competition,” Heath said. “I already knew a lot about what they were teaching already. It was easy for me. It’s weird because I never really considered having a talent in my life. It was just perfect for me.”
Heath has been the sole business owner of The Bearded Baker for seven years, where he said he works in a commercial kitchen and is free to do what he loves. With no employees and hardly any bills, Heath said he is just as much as his own boss as he is an employee.
“I'm chubby — I like food, [and] it really satisfies the creative part of me, and it fits my temperament,” Heath said. “It takes patience and deliberate thought. I own my own business because I make a poor employee.”
Heath said he bakes all of his food by hand and within 24 to 30 hours of an event, such as farmers’ markets or nearby festivals. Customers can purchase baked goods like pull-apart garlic cheese bread, cinnamon bread, chocolate babka and his chocolate chip cookies, “The Greatest Cookies in the Universe.” This summer, Heath baked for the Saxony Farmers Market in Noblesville, Indiana, and the Irvington Farmers Market in Indianapolis.
Stephanie Bryant-Lipp, a nurse practitioner and regular customer of The Bearded Baker, first met Heath at the Fishers Farmers’ Market in 2018. Bryant-Lipp said all of Heath’s breads are creative and delicious.
“I really like any of the cheese bread, and I typically get those every week,” Bryant-Lipp said. “The cinnamon bread makes the best French toast. My personal favorite is rosemary French bread.”
Out of all the baked goods Heath makes, he said, his favorite would also be his rosemary French bread. Heath said adding his sourdough culture to his French bread makes it more complex and better tasting than basic French bread.
“True French bread is salt, water, yeast and flour only,” Heath said. “You’re not allowed to add anything else to it for it to be considered French bread. I like to tinker with my recipes though, and I added my sourdough culture… to it.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Heath said his business has been down, but he’s still baking and selling while wearing a mask. To fit accommodations, Heath said he offers delivery services to his customers in addition to selling at markets and festivals.
Sonja Distefano, a housewife and another regular customer of The Bearded Baker, said she sees how passionate Heath is about his business as he takes the time to explain his products to each customer at farmers’ markets and festivals.
“I can see that he really lights up when new people come up to his booth, and he starts telling them about his products,” Distefano said. “I'm not a very good baker myself, but I do know that it requires a lot of patience and precision. He's also willing to go above and beyond for people. Making deliveries is evidence of that.”
Currently, Heath said, he is busy making as much bread as he can during the summer to “hang on for dear life.” In the future, he said, he’d like to have a brick-and-mortar store to have a permanent bakery rather than relying on farmers’ markets and festivals. Heath said he would also like to have his bread and cookies at stores such as Fresh Thyme and Target.
Bryant-Lipp said she believes it’s important to support small businesses like Heath’s that “keep things natural and make things by hand.” The Bearded Baker is unique to her compared to other bakeries she shops at, she said, because she sees not only how Heath clearly loves making bread, but how he bakes bread for others’ enjoyment too.
“It is important because it truly is rare to find people who dedicate their time to making things from scratch and do it so perfectly as he does,” Bryant-Lipp said. “I feel that he puts his heart and soul into making bread for people. That dedication and pride in one’s craft can be contagious, and I think the world needs more of that these days.”
Contact Sumayyah Muhammad with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.