By Mary Ann Hoffman
Alexandria, VA – Is it routine, habit, or quite possibly, addiction? Call it what you want – but for sure it is something unique that keeps the droves of people coming back for more at Great Harvest Bread. For me, the lure was that delectable cup of Swings coffee and the opportunity to sample a freshly baked slice of bread handed to me by one of the ever-smiling employees.
But then, enter COVID. What would I do? Would I not be able to get that cup of joe I had gotten so used to? While trapped in the house for weeks on end, how would I make that lovely French toast without their thick doughy Challah? But alas, Megan and Brad Hurst, owners of the of Great Harvest, never stopped. “It became clear as the effects of the pandemic set in that folks would want bread for comfort and necessity. Restaurants closed and grocery stores sold out of bread,” says Megan.
When I asked them how their journey started, Megan said, it was really was more of a calling. “Ultimately, our mission is to serve wholesome bread and to serve the community.” If you know anything about this family-run business, you know that this is understated.
According to Megan, “This was never ‘my’ job or even ‘Mom & Dad’s’ job – this was a family mission. Early on, my girls were kneading or scooping or frosting cinnamon rolls. Now, they don masks and serve customers, entertain the staff and help through the crazy holidays.”
Through their “family bread mission” Megan and Brad have generously provided for the extended community they serve. They have donated thousands of loaves of bread over the past six years – with the help of some customers’ donations, 10,000 alone have been shared since the end of March.
“When the food pantries identified a lack of bread, it seemed logical to meet that need as well. For the first few weeks, we saw an increase in bread sales as folks gathered delicious and nutritious goodies for families. We also had numerous customers who simply came out to support us, their neighbors. When the concerns and restrictions increased [because of Covid], we went outside to serve our customers. I think it was our willingness to adapt that allowed us to keep going,” Hurst suggests.
When I first requested an interview with Megan, she balked. “Please don’t make this the Hurst story,” she said “because it is [really] the story of an amazing community, supporting and loving us.”
This amazing community is reflected in their inclusive hiring practices. Megan has worked closely with both the T.C. Williams workforce program and Arlington Career Center to employ students of all abilities. “I just try to provide a good workplace. If an employee is willing, able and hardworking, I am up for the task. We aspire to promote excellence, fun and community. Most technical skills are teachable, but a good work ethic and a great attitude are hard to come by. We know we won’t be a final career for most, so we are looking for an opportunity to launch the people we come into contact with.”
Finally, when asked about the most rewarding part of owning Great Harvest, Megan responded, “the relationships” with staff, with neighbors, and customers. Customers have become friends, celebrate graduations with us, visit after they have moved away, show us pictures of children and grandchildren.”
It seems, according to Megan, all these people speak a common language, the language of bread. Here’s to Megan and Brad and to and their “bread mission”, helping our community to continue to speak a common language – bread – something most people can agree upon!