In the 2015 edition of our Summer Guide, we've featured people who are living their dream: creative couple Josh and Sarah Rhodes; baseball player Josh Chesler; popular YA novelist Amy K. Nichols; Jesse Teer of folk-pop group The Senators; and Judy Nichols, who recently hit the road. Up today: obsessive bread baker Mandy Bublitz.
If Mandy Bublitz loves Phoenix, she owes it all to bread.
Bublitz grew up in Michigan. Six years ago, she relocated to Chandler — but not, unlike a lot of people, because she was cold. "My family is here," she says. "My brothers live out here, and my aunt and uncle. I moved here to be nearer to them."
The Valley took some getting used to, she admits. "Phoenix is different than any place I've ever lived or even visited. It's a very big little city, a very sprawling small town. But everyone still seemed connected. It was hard to find my connection with a group of people. I'm not married, I don't have kids, I wasn't finding a niche to settle into."
It didn't help that Bublitz hated her job as a retail clerk in a chain store. She'd never worked anywhere before where she didn't click with a single person. "I stuck it out for five years," she confides. "But it wasn't my dream job. I'd always had jobs before where I liked the people I worked with [and] hung out with them after work. Not this time. I just didn't connect with my co-workers. I kind of hated my job, and that was frustrating."
Bublitz took out her frustrations by baking bread. She'd always cooked and baked and lately had been trying to perfect a sourdough recipe.
"I tend to get a little obsessive about stuff, and so I really started baking a lot. I discovered Hayden Flour Mills, and I got into trying to bake with just local ingredients. I was really focused on this bread thing, to keep my mind off my job and my lack of friends."
She began posting photos of her loaves on Instagram (@bemandy), and people began writing to her about baking. She met some of these people in person and began eating in restaurants with them. She became friendly with what she calls "the local food people."
"I met local bakers who were super-encouraging," she remembers. "They were saying, 'Just do it! Keep baking! If it's not working out, keep going. Make another loaf!' I couldn't believe how supportive everyone was being."
One day, Bublitz says, she got up the nerve to telephone master baker and Noble Bread owner Jason Raducha. "I just called him up out of the blue, introduced myself, and said, 'Hey, I really like to bake bread!' He talked to me for an hour. He said, 'This is how I got my start, this is what you could do to launch yourself.'"
All her food industry friends told her the same thing: Just do it. She took them at her word and one day walked into St. Francis, the popular CenPho restaurant, and announced that she was looking for a job. She could, she explained, bake a pretty good sourdough loaf. And she's done so, as chief baker at St. Francis, for more than a year now.
"It was a big leap," Bublitz says. "They handed me a job. I'd never worked in a restaurant before. I knew nothing about the restaurant business. But it turns out I had two things that really help you in this business: I'm passionate about what I do, and I like to work hard. You can get really far in restaurants if you have those two things."
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Living in Phoenix doesn't hurt. "This is a great place to start from scratch," Bublitz says with absolutely no irony. "And you don't need to bake for a really sophisticated foodie audience to please them. Bread is a very basic thing. Everyone likes good bread."
And everyone can bake their own, Bublitz insists. She's proving this by teaching friends to bake bread in their homes. "A friend of mine retired," she says, "and all she wanted to do was learn to make a good loaf. I loved that, so I headed over there for some lessons."
Bread has provided her with an all-new life, Bublitz says. "It's kind of a Cinderella story. I was depressed, I was looking for something else to do, and bread kind of fell into my lap. Bread saved me!"