Featured Photo Credit: Janelle Gleeson
An artist, an innovator, a dreamer, that is Don Guerra, Tucson’s beloved ARTisan Baker.
Don Guerra’s mission and vision is to create a legacy from grain growing by creating collaborative work, uniting spirits with other chefs and brewers to teach and inspire that will lead to discovered passion.
Guerra is a renowned local and international baker following his calling for bread making. His mission began in Flagstaff at the Sundance Bakery, where he fell in love with the art of bread making. Here is where he got curious and decided to learn about European style bread from pioneers, which would then lead him to have that “aha’ moment deciding to make bread professionally and see what would happen. Unbeknownst to him, the decision to follow his passion would lead him to not only be a successful business owner but also be one of five finalists worldwide for the 2022 James Beard Award.
This beloved ARTisan baker’s journey led him to Phoenix where he got the opportunity to join the Arizona Bread Company at the perfect time to build the company’s production. He then grew inspired and decided to study business to help him run his own business. In 1995, at the young age of twenty-five, he started the Village Baker of Flagstaff, and two years expanding to the north pacific west to Ashland, Oregon with The Village Baker of Ashland. Guerra then made the difficult, however best business decision for him and the business to sell and move back to Tucson and leaving the industry, it would be seven years before his calling would come back calling for him.
During his hiatus from the industry, he returned to University of Arizona to pursue a degree in education to become an educator. It is here he says that he gained the leadership and teaching skills he felt he was missing to be a successful business owner and teach others effectively. In his last year of teaching, Guerra returned to his calling and decided to turn his garage into a bakery. He was an educator full-time and a baker half-time. Barrio Bread, a brick-and-mortar business, originated from the lesson’s Guerra’s father taught him and with one goal in mind, go into business debt free. This baker is grateful for the community’s support as he recounts when he started selling bread from his mini-van and how the community quickly embraced his business and vision, sharing that Tucson is a supportive community that supports local business owners.
Guerra’s uniqueness of his ARTisan bread is made with a traditional French sourdough technique, which breaks down the starches, has a unique pigmentation with the combination of grains he utilizes, and art, introducing a new style of bread. The art depicted on the bread is a special craft and skill that introduces the passion to the consumer and awakens their appetite with their eyes. Guerra also shared that his role in the community is to be a connector and share his pillars with the community, local outreach, education, local economy development, and bread culture (diet awareness).
The U.S Department of Agriculture awarded Guerra with a one-hundred-thousand-dollar local food promotion grant to create a community supported bakery by recruiting local farmers, build a sustainable grain economy. In addition, he worked with Native Seed Search and obtained a Sustainable Research Education grant funded by the USDA to further his mission and vision. This visionary baker emphasized that he does not do this to build an empire, he follows his passion to share his knowledge and get people interested, keep the sourcing local and create jobs for the community. For him it is a way of looking at food, life and longevity.
Through Guerra’s passion for bakery and helping the community he has also had the privilege to travel and share his model across the globe. One of his accomplishments was traveling to Taiwan with a sponsorship of a baker educator and a senator, to teach his Community Supported Baker (CSB) model. He helped start in Taiwan what he started in Tucson with his business, and within two years the project was up and running. During the process Guerra built friendships and connections for life. He has also traveled to Mexico, South America, Australia creating global networks and offering consulting services allowing him to share his language of bread making.
Guerra’s greatest achievement in life is surviving his garage bakery, sharing that this was a humbling experience that he is thankful for experiencing. He mentioned that he does not measure his success through accolades, however, is grateful for being a finalist for the James Beard Award. He likes to be in the moment, how he can enjoy the present, think about where he is going next, and getting to choose his path enjoying the journey. He has worked in Asia, Europe, Mexico and throughout the US teaching the model of Community Supported Baking
His message to the baking community and chefs is to continue sharing information, collaborate, build bakeries from the seed up, engage in other networks who can help, support and rally the community. Guerra believes that without the community and others participating, you are just one person, and it takes more than one person to create a model and approach to business, life and community. He went on to say that the most important thing is to seek out others and to not be afraid to sharing experiences and knowledge because that will only add more.
This visionary doesn’t stop dreaming. He has multiple expansions on his resume. His latest project includes Barrio Grains, where is currently expanding the bakery to include the retailing of the flour blends used by Barrio Bread to the consumers. This USDA funded project allows farmers to connect to the consumer. Guerra doesn’t stop there; he is working on building an online distribution for purchase of the product online and soon looking to expand Barrio Grains locally and nationally to develop grain economies in other states across the country.
You can also find Barrio Bread in multiple restaurants in Tucson in which Guerra is co-owner. Barrio Charro and The Monica both include Barrio Bread in the menu items. Guerra went into partnership with the Flores family and Si Charro! Concepts, who are the longest standing restauranteurs in Tucson, with 100 years in the restaurant business. Guerra offers his connections, strength with the design of the food, promotion, name, brand he has with the community. His belief is that if you invest in the community the community will invest in you.
To learn more about Don Guerra’s Barrio Bread, its partnerships and community impact visit https://www.barriobread.com.
Featured Photo Credit: Janelle Gleeson