Blue Heron Bakery 2.0 Thrives on Harrison

by Eric Belgau

Originally published April 2016

One wonders how many people, over the last nine months, have pulled off Highway 101 at Mud Bay with visions of delicious baked goods dancing in their heads, only to discover that the retail side of the Blue Heron Bakery at the Mud Bay location is closed.  It can’t be a small number.  So let’s get this out of the way right at the top:  after 38 years on Mud Bay, Blue Heron Bakery moved its storefront to a shiny new location at 4419 Harrison Avenue last summer.

The Olympia Farmers Market Location reaches a truly international crowd. Compliments of Olympia Farmers Market

The new location provides a brighter, bigger retail area.  There’s ample parking.  It’s conveniently located in a new commercial development by Jay’s Farm Stand, and the operations have expanded to include a café that offers an eclectic menu selection.  But I’ll get to that later.  The move is a new chapter in a story that covers 39 years.  Blue Heron was local before it was trendy.  It was natural before it was cool.  And for owner Evan Price, it was a lifestyle before it was a job.

The bakery was founded in 1977 by a collective of Olympians who wanted to use natural food to develop their community.  They started on a shoestring and couldn’t afford expensive equipment.  They mixed up batches of bread in massive bowls and then divided it up and sat around kneading it by hand.  One can only imagine the conversations that floated over bread loaves in those early days, as the 70s turned into the 80s.

The Trip Advisor sure makes it look tasty – compliments of the Trip Advisor.

In the mid-1980s, Evan arrived at Evergreen with a passion for theatre and there, he discovered food politics.  Today, it’s hard to get a quote from him on this topic because his passion pushes him out of the sound bite and into a faith that comes from his gut.  Back then, it burned quickly, turning his attention from theatre to the organic food program.  When life handed him the urgent need to get a job, he joined the bakery, and he stayed.

So did his passion for food.  A lot of water has flowed in and out under the bridge over Mud Bay since he started at Blue Heron in 1988.  The collective concept faded away.  Old employees left.  Incrementally, Evan took on more responsibility, and eventually he ended up as the owner.  But one thing all that tide has not changed is a fundamental commitment to quality and community.

If a caption is needed – Granola.

“We buy local as much as we can,” he says.  “It’s something that’s important.  We’ve always tried to do that, and the local food system is definitely something I support.”  Obviously, local flour isn’t an option, but Steibers eggs are, as are fresh fruits and vegetables from area farms.

Perhaps more importantly, Blue Heron’s craftsmanship is local.  Back in the 70s, sitting around tables kneading their bread by hand, the bakery branded itself as a “from scratch” shop.  Evan’s education in food science and production left him downright evangelical about whole foods, so that never changed.  Today, food comes in the back door as close to whole as possible; it’s still crafted from scratch by the staff; and it goes out the front door as natural as it came in.

The New Blue Heron – compliments Blue Heron Bakery.