Stirring Up a Food Revolution
Nowadays, it’s not only hip to be eco-conscious but also easier than ever, especially when it comes to how we feed ourselves.
America has developed such a hearty appetite for locally produced, organic products that even the most mainstream providers are catering to the demand.
But this wasn’t the case when Donna (Goodman) Maltz ’81 blazed a trail from Olympia to Alaska after graduation and ended up opening the state’s first natural food restaurant.
Maltz originally set out to fulfill her dream of seeing Alaska’s wild beauty before settling into a career. She took off with a friend, earning money along the way by peddling her organic sourdough bread, which she baked out of her “bread-wagon-on-wheels,” a 1972 truck towing a trailer fitted with a six-loaf oven.
In Homer, she made up her mind to stay. She continued baking and selling bread out of the van. Sales were so brisk that she quickly realized she had the makings of a business. Six months out of Evergreen, Maltz became the pioneering proprietress of the 360-square-foot Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery and Café. Its motto: “Food for People and the Planet.”
At the time, her budding eatery was considered a countercultural anomaly, a “hippie-granola” enterprise. A good portion of each day was spent answering the question, “What’s organic?” and educating customers and staff.
Maltz landed in Alaska with a love of nature, a social ecology degree from Evergreen, and a desire to do her part in rebalancing an unstable food system. Her background included experience as an environmental educator (she initiated an organic gardening project at Olympia’s Garfield Elementary School), a health food store manager and an organic farmer, who was among the earliest group of students involved in Evergreen’s Organic Farm.
With these ingredients, she cultivated a sustainable business model, eventually in partnership with Kevin Maltz, who joined the café as its head baker in 1984 and later became her husband and business partner. In 2010, the U.S. Small Business Administration selected the couple as Alaska’s Small Business Owners of the Year.Their guiding philosophy focuses on paying attention to the ecological, social, economic and political impacts of their operations. “We’re conscious about everything from the soil to the table and from the ceiling to the floor,” Maltz says.
Maltz has also created a line of organic, fair-trade chocolate products called Ah!laska, which is sold nationwide; authored Yummy Recipes, Wilderness Wonders, a children’s cookbook incorporating lessons and activities about nature and Alaska wildlife; and launched an eco-friendly bed-and-breakfast, catering and wedding business in Homer called A Memorable Experience. In 2007, she helped start a nonprofit group called Sustainable Homer to promote green business practices and lifestyles in the community.
At this point, Maltz and her husband are ready to move on. They’ve put the bakery and café—with the old bread van parked out front—on the market. They hope to mentor the next likeminded owners and pass on the lessons they learned over the past 29 years of serving and empowering people. And they’re taking their experience to Hawaii, a longtime winter refuge, where they’re already stirring up their next food revolution.