Fresh-baked bread isn't a new concept to Oklahoma City, but Prairie Thunder Baking Co., 1114 Classen Drive, has set a high standard for quality since the modern bakery with an old soul opened in 2008.
Owner John McBryde, a geologist by trade, has been a passionate home cook since he was a kid, but one afternoon in 2005 he dusted off a recipe to make artisan bread at home. The ensuing result and the relish with which he pursued it scratched at an itch he'd had to parachute from corporate America.
“This wasn't the result of a longtime dream to be a baker,” McBryde said. “I did enjoy cooking and baking, but at the time I'd had some success in oil and gas that afforded me the opportunity to try something different.”
In 2008, McBryde opened the doors to Prairie Thunder with dreams of offering fresh-baked bread and pastry 24 hours a day to a blossoming urban populace.
Then the economy tanked.
The influx of urban dwellers didn't come on schedule, so McBryde had to adjust his model. Today, Prairie Thunder is open six days a week to the public, but the bakery is hardly ever closed, thanks to commercial customers such as Tucker's Onion Burgers, Stella Modern Italian and Coolgreens to name a few.
Prairie Thunder has also developed a nice breakfast and lunch business in its storefront cafe, where you can also pick up a fresh loaf of bread, pastries or a hot cup of coffee.
Prairie Thunder was a foundation block in the resurgence of MidTown, but its mission is only just beginning.
“Development hasn't been as quick as we'd hoped, but it's still happening,” McBryde said.
Whether McBryde's overall vision comes together is up to factors beyond his control, but those he does have a hand in will not fall short due to lack of effort.
McBryde is a guy who has never been afraid of hard work, but says unequivocally that the baking business is the hardest thing he's ever done.
Science vs. art
Conventional wisdom informs us that cooking is art while baking is science. Perhaps that's because cooking a kettle of beans, frying eggs or roasting beef or chicken has more leeway than baking a loaf of sourdough bread.
That sourdough not only needs precise temperature and time to bake properly, but the dough it's made from must first be born properly, matured exactly and handled with care.
If it sounds like making bread is like raising a child, that's because it is. Excellent child-rearing and artisan baking are achieved by covering the details.
Baking has always been more miss than hit for me, so I've been reticent about taking it on. It's always sat in a locked cabinet marked “rainy day” with learning to play guitar and fortifying my basic understanding of Spanish.
But as I continued to stop by Prairie Thunder Baking Company for assorted loaves, including Country White Bread, responsibility forced me to take a peek into the cabinet cloaked in cognitive dissonance.
When I approached McBryde about featuring his artisan bakery and cafe, he encouraged me to start in his kitchen to get an authentic view of the baking world. I accepted immediately.
Prairie Thunder operates almost without cease.
“There are a few hours on Sunday when nobody is in here, but that's it,” McBryde said.
The daily schedule is kept on laminated sheets, which include client names and order numbers.