Sheila Sprague, an Otisfield baker, business owner and mother of two, said that if everything goes right with her new business, Manna Breads, a gluten-free commercial bakery that operates out of Otisfield, she hopes that it becomes a household name, as popular for gluten-free breads as Country Kitchen is for breads made with gluten.

However, she acknowledged that it’ll take a lot of time and effort to get there.

“I’m willing to work toward it though,” she added with a smile.

Name: Sheila Sprague

Hometown: Otisfield

Job: Owner and manager of Manna Breads, LLC

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How did you get involved with making your own bread and starting your own business? I decided to start Manna Breads on Jan. 8 of this year after my husband was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. We were purchasing bread that tasted like cardboard and were filled with preservatives. I was bound and determined to come up with a bread that tasted good and that could stay together, be moist, and not become dry and crumbled. At the same time as this, my my mother was dealing with chemical imbalances in her body where she couldn’t deal with certain chemicals inside foods. I wanted to make something that also had no preservatives and no toxins.

My family has a bread recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation, and I modified it a little to make it gluten-free.

What did you do before opening Manna Breads? Did you have experience in the food field? Before I started Manna Breads, I was the general manager at a restaurant, but the restaurant ended up closing, so I decided I wanted to spend more time focused on creating food rather than managing a business. I was burned out with it. I liked my job and the people I worked with, but this is more fun. I felt like I was stuck inside four walls as a general manager. The turnover at the job was monotonous. It’s much more satisfying to create things in the kitchen.

Is it just you at Manna Breads, or do you have others helping you out? I do everything, from cooking the bread to cold-calling businesses to see if they want to sell my bread. However, my husband and family have sacrificed a lot to allow me to do this. Without their help and support, this wouldn’t be possible, so in that way, I do consider it a family business.

You mentioned that you sell bread wholesale to businesses. Do you ever see yourself selling bread at the business itself, or turning it into a retail store? I really want to try and stay out of the restaurant business. For now, Manna Breads will remain wholesale. I already did the restaurant thing, or the retail thing. I want to do something new.

What sorts of products do you offer at Manna Breads? Right now, we have regular sandwich bread, Italian herb sandwich bread and four different kinds of cookies, one of which is vegan. My big goal is to make sure that people have a way to get healthy, nutritional bread that’s gluten-free.

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I’m selling my breads at eight locations right now: Day’s Country Store in Otisfield, Fare Share Co-Op Store and Ordway Organics Market in Norway, Smedberg’s Farm in Oxford, Good Karma Cafe & Health Foods in Rumford, the Better Living Center in Farmington, the New Gloucester Village Store in New Gloucester, and Kindred Farms in Casco.

I’m hoping to get more stores involved, but that means cold-calling more places.

Where do you see Manna Breads heading in the next year? My next goal is to get nutritional fact labels with bar codes on all of my products, as well as gluten-free certification and USDA organic seals, but that will take time, testing and money. Getting a gluten-free seal for each product I sell is $650, and $950 for a USDA organic seal. It’s an obtainable goal and not out of reach, but right now, it’s all about building the business to the point where I can do that.

I also love to hear feedback from people. Since I’m new, it helps to hear back from people to give me a better idea of what people want from the bread. People can find Manna Breads on Facebook and leave some comments about what they like about the bread, and what they’d like to see from it.

[email protected]

Sheila Sprague


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