In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the mood of fear and anxiety has prompted many people to re-evaluate their working lives.

For many, this means spending more time with their families. For others, it means reconsidering the idea of working long hard hours now to save up for a great retirement later. Sacrifice in the short term may seem less attractive now that every day is more uncertain, and each day more precious.

This summer in Montana, we met a group of bakers at the Great Harvest Bread Co. who have been thinking about how to balance life and business for quite some time, and they have come up with a winning recipe. Pete and Laura Wakeman started the first Great Harvest bakery in Great Falls, Mont., in 1976. Two years later, their success led them to franchise their bakery, but in a way that preserved their ideals: no uniforms, few rules and an emphasis on community-building. "A lot of people think we woke up one day and thought, 'Let's be entrepreneurs.' It wasn't that way. We were in our twenties and out in Montana," says Laura Wakeman. "We just thought, 'Let's figure out a way to stay out here.'"

Today, Great Harvest Bread is a mini-empire of about 150 "feels good, tastes great" bread stores across the country, operating under the "freedom franchise" umbrella. That's the term that the Wakemans came up with to describe a franchise in which the rules for franchise owners are few. Everything but the name, the daily grinding of the flour, and the sources of wheat for the bread is up to the individual owner. The franchise contract even states: "Anything not expressly prohibited by the language of this agreement is allowed."

Great Harvest does operate according to the basics of franchising: Owners turn back 7 percent of gross sales to the franchise company, which, in turn provides a host of support, such as bread recipes and baking techniques and tips, accounting advice and store-design tips.

Working with music

One of the first tenets is the importance of music, the "heartbeat" of the store. In the Missoula bakery, upbeat reggae thumps from speakers as employees knead dough around a table in the middle of the store. They work in rhythm to the music, joking and laughing. Fresh bread turns in the oven, and new loaves are moved up to the counter's bread board, another Great Harvest trademark, where everyone who enters the store is offered a free thick slice of freshly baked bread, slathered with butter and honey, if they choose.


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