Recollections of tastes and smells are said to be among the strongest triggers of sense memory. For Marianne Wiener, the tastes and smells of the rye bread she ate as a child in Denmark were planted so firmly in her memory that she was able to build a business for herself based solely on those memories.
Born and educated in Denmark, Marianne originally studied architecture and carpentry at The Royal Danish Academy where she earned a degree specializing in building restoration. She came to the U.S. to study with famed architect Frank Gehry in southern California and moved north to Sausalito with her now husband, eventually settling in Tomales Bay. After landing in the Bay Area, she realized that she wasn’t interested in working with architecture any more. “It’s a very one-sided area,” she said, referring to the area she was living. “You have the water on one-side and farmland on the other.” With little chance to use her training, she put architecture aside.
Not only did the area lack opportunities for her to use her architectural degree, it also lacked decent rye bread—or at least the kind of hearty rye bread that Marianne had been raised on in Denmark.
“I had three or four years earlier come from Denmark, and the only thing that I really missed was rye bread. Rye bread is our staple—rye bread and potatoes. Rye wasn’t easy to get ahold of. Rye berries are difficult to get. They’re not grown here, it’s too hot.”
Seriously missing some quality rye, Marianne sought out her own rye berries so that she could grind her own flour and make her own bread. She eventually found a baker in Chico who was able to source biodynamic rye berries from a farmer in North Dakota—from there she was able to start experimenting with flavors, as well as wood-firing. At the time, Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery fame was living in the area and also experimenting with wood firing. He gave Marianne permission to bake in his stone oven, which, she says, was often too low a temperature for his creations, but just right for baking rye. “I didn’t know anything about bread baking except for maybe yeast bread—there’s a big difference between yeast and fermentation. I read up on that and knew that was the way I wanted to go,” she said.
Marianne’s advantage, she says, was that she always knew what kind of Danish rye she loved the most. “I knew the taste and smell,” she said. “It took me a good year and a half to find the right starter. I just did it and did it and did it.”
It was another Point Reyes connection—through Cowgirl Creamery—that pushed Marianne to not just bake, but sell, her bread. “At the same time that Chad and I were doing the bread, Sue Conley was starting Cowgirl in Point Reyes. She said to me ‘Don’t give it [the bread] all away. I’ll sell your bread in my store.’ She was the reason I got kicked out of my little sweet world.”
From there Marianne began selling throughout Marin County. After baking in numerous kitchens in Marin and Sausalito, she has since moved to San Francisco and now rents commercial space at La Cocina. She enjoys working from that kitchen because La Cocina is a place that is both for women and by women and also because she likes being the size that she is now. “I don’t want to be bigger. I bake all I can and set up on Sunday, bake it off on Monday. I make bread and crackers. Three products are what I have. I have a few customers on the crackers and chocolate [crackers], and it fits me quite well.”
Named for the smells that came from her grandmother’s kitchen, Anna’s Daughters’ Rye Bread has been going strong for nearly 20 years. Although she has experimented with adding new products, she currently sells only three offerings—her seeded rye loaf, made from organic rye and spelt flours using sourdough starter and flax and sunflower seeds; chocolate rye bark—thin slices of rye baked to a crisp and covered with chocolate; and her Copenhagen rye crackers.
Marianne’s products are available at various locations throughout the Bay Area, including Bi-Rite, Berkeley Bowl, Boulette’s Larder, Monterey Market, Rainbow Grocery and Tartine among others.
What drew you to food? Why rye bread?
That I missed rye bread. I couldn’t stand the rye bread here, so that was easy. My husband—even though he’s from here—he also grew up on [rye bread], so that was easy. We agreed on that.
Where does your food inspiration come from?
You know when you’ve been concerned about ecology since school—and I grew up on a farm—it’s pretty straightforward. I think I’ve been to McDonald’s once. I have not been to fast food—I hate it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten along the way in building your business. What advice would you have for others?
Whoa, whoa, whoa. See there’s so many different models I see all the time. Some of the people that start at La Cocina, I love that whole interrelation. You just have to be honest with yourself and figure out what you want to do. I love using my hands, and I love being in production, but I do not do it every day. I sort of found a model that fits me. I do sell at the Farmer’s Market in the Ferry Building—outside Boulette’s Larder. I’ve been stocking [there] almost half a year—that relationship with people is really important.
Being honest with yourself is really the most important. People get stuck in that they are so romantic and they don’t really want to work. It’s so different from business to business…I’m interested in the sense that it gives me a lot of contact and it gives me insight into the food business. I really like the daily grind of it—it sort of keeps me going.
Up in Tomales there’s a woman, Laurel Robertson, who wrote Laurel’s Kitchen. I lived next to her in the same neighborhood. She said, ‘Go slow, don’t set up too much. Figure out who you are and what you want to do. The people who set it up too big just don’t succeed.’ I think that was the best [advice]. That was a good thing for me, at least.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far?
That you go slow, you learn it slowly and you get good at it.
What’s the best thing about what you’re doing for a living?
Oh, it’s an honest product and it makes me happy. But primarily it makes people happy. You know it took a long time for people to get into eating my rye bread but when they dare to do it, you should see their faces, it’s unbelievable. And I get so many beautiful notes from people who just love the bread. When you do something like this that’s honest and a good thing to do and it’s not just a piece of crap, then you get a lot of amazing feedback.
What’s your favorite item that you make?
I couldn’t live without the bread. I love also to do new items and to make quality things. I love the whole process and it takes forever, but it is so much fun. The crackers I did because I asked the chef at Boulette’s Larder if she’d like me to make the crackers and she said yes, so I just did it. The chocolate [covered rye crackers] I did with Kika’s Treats at La Cocina. She was making chocolate, and we put the crackers under the chocolate. I’ve done numerous new products and some succeed for a while and others don’t. To me, that fine-tuning is really fun.
What other local food artisans do you admire? Why?
I admire some of the good farmers. That to me is the spirit and what they do, when they can come season after season with these beautiful products…that is mind-blowing to me that they can do that. It’s wonderful—that’s the people that I admire the most.
If you had to choose your last meal, what would it be?
I would say a piece of rye bread with mayonnaise and a fresh tomato.
Favorite Bay Area food/resto/chef?
I do like Boulette’s Larder. Amaryll [Schwertner]—she is, in my opinion, one of the few chefs that really cooks, and she has amazing insight into taste. I mean just amazing. She is really my absolute favorite and almost the only one that we’ll go to.
Anna’s Daughters’ Rye Bread
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