After spending 30 years as an oil and gas geologist, John McBryde was tired of the 9 to 5 routine. So he ditched his downtown office, pursued his dream, and jokes he is now working "5 to 9” operating MidTown's newest addition: the Prairie Thunder Baking Co., 1114 Classen Drive. "This place came to me in a vision three years ago,” McBryde said. "What I wanted was to create a neighborhood bakery that was an partisan bakery that would serve a market not currently being served in Oklahoma City.” His idea? "Fresh, made from scratch, baked goods, from the best ingredients, using old school methods.” But it wouldn't be easy. Starting three years ago, McBryde, a Heritage Hills resident, began discussing his idea with Greg Banta just as the developer was beginning to buy properties in nearby MidTown. Banta didn't yet own MidTown's Plaza Court building at NW 10 and Walker Avenue, but both agreed the property would be the perfect spot. By 2006, Banta had added the Plaza Court to his expansive MidTown holdings, and McBryde's Prairie Thunder Baking Co. was one of the first announced tenants. Banta declared the bakery would be one of his leading anchor tenants.
Hobby becomes careerBaking had always been a hobby for McBryde. He started baking breads as a boy, and continued to dabble with recipes in college that he would keep handy at his home. But pursuing the dream of an artisan breads and pastry bakery wouldn't come cheap — he spent $100,000 for a big gas-fired oven, $25,000 for the pastry oven, and $30,000 for two large mixers. The entire cost of getting the bakery up and running would total $600,000. McBryde designed the restaurant to match the Art Deco era of the Plaza Court building, and did the detailed wood work and light fixtures himself. By mid-2007, one could see what looked like a finished bakery ready to open. But the wait continued. Oklahoma City residents Bill and Jane Garthoeffner were among many a passerby who would visit to see if the bakery had opened yet. Bill Garthoeffner was born at St. Anthony Hospital and recalled buying 28-cent quarts of ice cream across the street at Kaiser's. "It's good to see the area coming back,” Garthoeffner said. "And we've needed a bakery like this for a long time — artisan bread that is lovingly made.” But the delays continued, and weeks turned into months. The very nature of the equipment McBryde needed made predicting an opening virtually impossible. "We have an Italian pastry oven, a large deck oven that came from France,” McBryde said. "It took more than 18 months to get the large oven here, and then six weeks to get it built and calibrated.” The oven weighs 18,000 pounds and can heat up to 430 degrees inside. An installer from Salzburg, Austria, spent three weeks working 12-hour days just to install the breads oven. The oven, with steam tubes and a masonry base, may be the only one in Oklahoma, McBryde said. "A lot of people wonder if the decks slide in and out,” McBryde said. "They don't. They stay in, and they are heated from below and above from super heated steam.” The bakery, which opened three weeks ago, has seen a steady rise in business despite no advertising or promotions. Future customers like the Garthoeffners who walked up to the bakery in March were treated to taste some of McBryde's recipes, and he doesn't rule out the possibility that created some good word of mouth. McBryde admits his shop is "not yet breaking a sweat,” and is only producing 100 loaves of bread when it has the capacity 1,000 per shift. McBryde said he also is not competing with the legendary Browns Bakery across the street, which specializes in cakes and doughnuts. "I don't do doughnuts and all, and the cakes I do are very limited,” McBryde said. Prairie Thunder Baking Company is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, though McBryde expects he will eventually open for a shorter shift on Saturdays. He likes the neighborhood emerging in MidTown, which includes Irma's Burgers, 1492 New World Latin Cuisine and Cafe do' Brasil. He does not want to compete with those restaurants, however, for dinner business. "We want to have a breakfast crowd, we want to have lunch, and we also want to sell breads and pastries until the afternoon drive is over,” McBryde said. "We're not aiming for dinner — we believe there are plenty of opportunities for dinner downtown, and we think our niche will be mornings and lunches.”