Christopher Sarles, 28, is the creator of the baked goods that are attracting a cult following at Minneapolis’ Mill City Farmers Market and beyond. Growing up in the Twin Cities, Sarles was surrounded by the vibrant local food scene and his French mother and grandfather’s decadent baking—Sarles’ grandfather had been a baker and chef in France. What began as a childhood pastime evolved into a passion for baking, and led to the opening of Lowertown Bakehouse.
Sarles has always had a taste for authentic flavors. For a short while, he worked as a chef at restaurants including Bar Brigade and the now-closed The Strip Club Meat & Fish, but says he often found himself baking when he got home. He’d bring baked goods into work to share with his coworkers. Soon he realized cooking wasn’t his life path.
“My heart was in [the] baking world,” he says.
In April 2019, Therese Moore, the mother of one of Sarles’ friends and the owner of 3 Bears Oats—organic, steel-cut artisan oatmeal—hosted a Bread and Jam party to help get Sarles’ baked goods out into the world. “Therese has been my guardian angel … I used to help her at 3 Bears, and she would always say, ‘Your bread is amazing—go for it!’ And [because of] Therese’s support, I finally launched,” he says.
At the Bread and Jam party, Sarles met renowned local chef and cookbook author Beth Dooley as well as Martha Archer, manager of the Mill City Farmers Market. The Bread and Jam party was a key moment in his career, when a group of people prominent on the Twin Cities food scene got to know his products.
“Therese connected me with everyone. She’s the one who said, ‘You have to [open a bakery!]” Sarles says.
About a month after the Bread and Jam party, Sarles launched Lowertown Bakehouse’s website and started taking orders from people who attended the party. “That’s when the business started to take off,” he says.
Moore connected Sarles with the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis and shared her vendor’s booth with him when he first got started. That’s where he met Marty and Darrold Glanville, owners of Sunrise Flour Mill, which produces the Turkey Red heritage flour Sarles uses in many of his creations.
To say the customers at the Mill City Farmers Market enjoy Sarles’ goods would be an understatement. He has many loyal followers. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Larkin McPhee, who attended the launch party, is one.
“[The party] was beautiful. Gorgeous. His breads are delicious,” says McPhee.
Lowertown Bakehouse baker Christopher Sarles with James Beard award-winning chef Tim McKee.
Tim McKee, James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Market House Collaborative and Octo Fishbar, has taken Sarles under his wing. The connection began when Sarles asked McKee about using oven space. “I thought he could do so much with his skills and his brand,” says McKee.
McKee began helping Sarles develop his business by giving him access to oven space and showing Sarles the ropes of the food industry.
“He’s a talented baker and I love his interest in the heritage grains,” says McKee. “It’s really cool … and a great thing, watching him develop his brand.”
Lowertown Bakehouse is now a member of the Market House Collaborative in St. Paul’s Lowertown, “complete with signs and all,” he says, and sells bread and rolls wholesale to the other businesses in the cooperative, including Octo Fishbar and Birch’s Lowertown restaurant.
Sarles plans to set up at the St. Paul Farmers Market in the near future, but Mill City Farmers Market holds a special place in his heart. “My first baby will always be Mill City,” he says.
Delving into Heritage Wheat
Sarles first came across heritage wheat when he was looking to make the switch from sweet to savory baking. “I discovered [heritage wheat] when I was messing around with sourdough bread,” he says. “The two together make a very special loaf of bread.”
Sarles began reading about heritage wheat, and then met the Glanvilles of Sunrise Flour Mill at the Mill City market. “It was the only premium flour available at Mill City. I set up my booth next to theirs and did a featured item each week using their wheat,” he says.
One of the benefits of heritage flour is that while it does contain gluten, many people with gluten sensitivities find they are able to tolerate heritage wheat because it has a different molecular structure.
Sarles enjoys a sense of connection with people who can now enjoy baked goods and breads because of the use of heritage wheat. “It means a lot to me to be able to fill this need for people,” he says.
In addition to Sunrise’s heritage wheat, Sarles likes to works with other brands of artisan flours, including flour from spelt, einkorn wheat and other wheat varieties. “I want to bake with the entire palette of grains to have a full range of different tastes,” he says.
More About Heritage Wheat
According to Sarles, heritage wheat has an abundance of flavor and texture, making bread more enjoyable for everyone, including those with gluten sensitivity.
Is heritage wheat flour healthier than white flour?
[It’s] an ancient grain, which lacks the high molecular weight proteins in modern wheat. It’s a taller stalk with less grain, and remains genetically unchanged. With a lower gluten content, heritage flours are healthier and easier on the digestive tract. It also has more protein, amino acids and a wider range of vitamins and minerals.
Can I have heritage wheat if I am diagnosed with celiac disease?
No. It’s important to note that heritage wheat, though it has less gluten, is still not safe for those with celiac disease or a gluten allergy.
Where can I buy heritage wheat flour?
Sunrise Flour Mill, in North Branch, Minn., offers classes, tours of the facility and their heritage wheat for purchase; many local food coops; the Heritage Flour Baking Co.
A Guest Baker
Sarles thrives on collaboration. “I told myself before I hired anyone that I would nurture their creativity. I’d like to think that I will foster an environment for artistic individuals to come and learn with one another. My dream would be to have Lowertown Bakehouse be a 100 percent employee-owned company.” Sarles invites other bakers to join him at the Mill City market to showcase their wares and offer customers even more options.
Preccious Carpenter, a pastry chef at Patisserie 46 in South Minneapolis frequently collaborates with Sarles. They have worked together on pies— pecan-bourbon-chocolate garnished with chocolate shards, apple with mascarpone rosettes, and locally-grown delicata and kabocha squash with mascarpone cream and nutmeg.
One of her recent offerings at the market was an apple tartlet with a pâté sucrée base, caramelized apples and salted-caramel mascarpone, and mini-carrot cakes ornamented with gold leaf.
“I like to re-imagine classics and make them new,” says Carpenter.
Keep imagining, and we’ll keep eating.
On the Menu at Lowertown Bakehouse
Sourdough brioche donuts
Whole wheat boules
Note: Menu changes frequently. Only available Saturdays at Mill City Market. Call 48 hours ahead for pre-orders.