Cassie Wiste is proud to be one of Fargo’s newest business owners. She recently took over North Dakota’s only location of Great Harvest Bread Co., a Montana-based bakery chain that specializes in whole-grain breads, muffins and more. Before Wiste could completely take over operations, she traveled to Great Harvest’s training location in Montana to dive into the world of baking, business and bread.
Cassie’s Passion for the Community
Cassie has made a lasting impact on the lives of many in the Fargo-Moorhead community. Here are some of the many things that she’s been a part of:
- YWCA Board
- Racial Justice Committee
- United Hearts for Haiti
- Interfaith Jr. Group
- Churches United
Wiste has gone through a wide variety of careers in the past, including a role right here at Spotlight Media
“I’ve had the benefit of different positions and roles in my life, and have been able to manage many different aspects of a business.” Wiste said, “I have never been a business owner, but I was fortunate to have different responsibilities at past jobs where I saw the inner workings of the pains, joys and processes of owning a business. But of course, every business is different.”
While Wiste has never been a sole business owner until her recent venture, she’s had plenty of interest as she watched from the outside over her career. On top of her interest gained from watching other entrepreneurs, Wiste also made the leap based on the community that she cherishes.
“I would say seeing ownership up close and then just this local opportunity convinced me. Fargo is very community-driven. People want to support one another. So I just really felt like this opportunity would allow me to support others and that they would be able to support me,” Wiste said.
While she was more than prepared to take the steps to own a business in Fargo, she made the decision to Specifically pursue Great Harvest Bread Co. When questioned about why Great Harvest was her ideal venture, she was quick to mention the sentimental value that makes it her dream business.
I actually live up the street from Great Harvest and when my kids were younger, they used to ride their bikes down there.
Great Harvest does what’s called a “Freedom Franchise,” where owners have significant creative freedom to do things that make their franchise unique. One of the very few minor requirements is that each location uses Great Harvest’s wheat to make their delicious meals.
Great Harvest’s Cinnamon Chip Bread is a best-selling favorite amongst customers!
[Great Harvest had this little program where you came in and colored a coloring sheet and got a free cookie. The kids would always say ‘I’m gonna buy a Great Harvest someday!” If you’ve lived in this neighborhood, then you know that it has a rich historical value and local feel to it, Wiste said. “That’s why I chose it because of that rich fabric already being woven into the community, historically, and it being woven into my own family.”
Having an established connection wouldn’t have been enough for Wiste’s venture, she also had to be prepared for the responsibility of sole ownership, When she heard that the Fargo franchise owners Sue and Scott Bates were looking to exit the company sooner than later, Wiste was more than willing to take on that responsibility, “At first, I had no idea that Great Harvest was a franchise. I reached out to the past owners and said that I wanted to visit with them about taking over ownership when they were looking to pass the baton. They said, ‘Oh, you’ll have to call the higher-ups at Great Harvest,’ so that’s exactly what I did next.” Wiste said.
After getting in touch with Bates and with the corporate side of Great Harvest, Wiste was told to prepare for an adventure out west to Dillon, MT. “They have you go to the Great Harvest headquarters, where you get to attend your, ‘Experience Great Harvest Day’ which is what they call the first day. You also get a tour, learn more about the company and visit with the COO and whole team to give you an idea of what you’re getting involved in,” Wiste said.
Once new owners finalize their purchase agreements, they’re able to participate in Great Harvest’s three-week training course, which is held only four times per year. Wiste expected that much of the training would consist of business ownership, development and how to properly run a Great Harvest franchise. However, she was surprised to learn that a significant amount of the training strictly revolved around putting her baking skills to the test.
“I was there with two other ladies for the first week, which focused on bakery fundamentals. They teach you how to sponge and dough your bread, then let it ferment for roughly two hours. It’s this whole process where you take temperatures of the air, flour and water.” Wiste said. “On the first day, you make four or five things. The next, you’re going to make those same four or five things, as well as add two more things to your day. By the end, we made like nine things and had this plethora of food made in one day. But, the kicker was that we had to try it all. So we tried our own, as well as everyone else’s. Then, we would talk about and compare them with one another.”
What was even more surprising according to Wiste, was the shocking portion sizes when crafting any of Great Harvest’s recipes. “My first batch of cookies was around 11 pounds of butter and 15 pounds of brown sugar! There’s a lot to take in and think about, but it was super fun,” Wiste said.
A Rare Great Harvest
Great Harvest Fargo stands out as one of the few bakery models left in the franchise. It has never had the capacity to transition into the bakery-cafe model like the rest of the Great Harvest locations across the country. There are about 250 other Great Harvests across the US, and most of them have a cate where people can come in and order menu items that are served at many Great Harvests wound the country.
Alongside baking and the fine details of operating a Great Harvest Bread Co. franchise, Wiste was also able to learn about how Great Harvest Bread Co. acquires its wheat. They have several farmers that they work with in the “Montana Golden Triangle,” where wheat is shipped from ideal growing conditions to various distributors for wheat milling. Wheat milling is when whole wheat is inserted into a machine and crushed into small pieces. The wheat is then put into a sifter and the cycle repeats until the wheat is turned into flour. Soon after Wiste learned that they ship fresh wheat into each location, she came to find out that they proudly mill 100% of their wheat in house for an even more fresh taste.
When I first toured the bakery with the previous owners (Sue and Scott Bates). They said ‘Let’s start in the mill room since that’s where the heart of the magic is for the whole company.’ I thought ‘Wow, What’s that? Milling?’ And walked into this room with a huge machine and pallets full of wheat berries. Since we mill our own flour every day. You know that the bread you’re getting is absolutely fresh because it’s used from wheat that was just milled 24 or 48 hours before.”
After completing her required paperwork, meetings and training in Dillon, MT, Wiste was well on her way of Great Harvest. Aside from Wiste learning the tips and tricks of the baking industry, Wiste learned that she can truly rely on the people at Great Harvest as a valuable resource and for good reasoning.
“I feel very fortunate that I have this much of a resource. I had a lot of people who would say to me, ‘Why don’t you just start your own bakery? Why would you want to be with a franchise?’ To me, I just look at it as a huge opportunity to have a network of people that support you and have the expertise needed, “Wiste said, “When you have a question, they’re just a phone call away, versus being all alone. You’ll hear many business owners say. ‘Oh, I wish I would have known that 10 years ago.’ Having that resource helps.”
Not only did Wiste find a great resource within the Great Harvest Bread Co. training and corporate side in Montana; she also found an additional family right in her own location, ” I have eight people on my team. It’s funny that when I started, they said ‘Oh, we got a new mom!’ Two guys actually came from Colorado and Montana after they had previously worked at other Great Harvests.
They have a bit of background in what other stores do and what they’ve seen. One of the girls has been there since 2005, and two others have been there since 2010. There’s a ton of loyalty to the company and I really feel like they’re going to be the ones that are teaching me in the long run,” Wiste said. ” There’s probably some anxiety that goes into a business workplace being bought and having a new owner, especially if [the former owners] have been there as long as they were. I think if you let them lead with their experience and wisdom, then they can give you lessons from being in the business for 15 years or more, which I think is a really valuable lesson.”
Baking In Bulk Fargo’s Great Harvest uses 250 pounds a day of flour!
With Wiste adjusting to her new role in franchise management and having a reliable team within her own business, she’s been feeling comfortable enough to look ahead and plan her future endeavors at Great Harvest Bread Co. with her team, along with what she can contribute to the Great Harvest team.
“I would really love to expand the size of the business. We’re in negotiations with the strip mall for an open space next door to ours that’s currently available.
We’re crunching numbers to see if that would be a good fit.” Wiste said. “If you know anything about this part of the community, it’s probably that there aren’t a lot of food options in this area. This is also such a special opportunity because it gives me a chance to fulfill this niche in this part of town. So yeah, I want to take over the new space and maybe turn it into a real bakery-cafe style franchise .”
Despite future plans being in full force, Wiste continues to take time to make a small, but mighty impact on her fellow community members through events, outreach and staying true to Great Harvest’s mission statement. Great Harvest’s mission statement is to not only make phenomenal bread and have fun in the bakery, but also to serve and give back to the community. That was one of the convincing factors for Wiste to come on board, as that mission statement closely aligns with who Wiste is.
“I’m excited about some of the upcoming events. I’m thinking about doing a few possible farmer’s markets this summer, Wiste said. “I started doing “Winning Hearts” baskets, which is a basket that you f up with all kinds of stuff, and you drop it off at different businesses in the area once a week. That part was really exciting to me because you’re getting your product out and making somebody’s day, Who doesn’t love when somebody walks in with a basket of goodies?”
Discovering unique ways to positively impact those around her wasn’t the only technique that Wiste has picked up on over her career of working in various roles and positions. She’s also picked up on plenty of advice for people both wishing to start their own business, or have recently embarked on the adventure themselves.
“Don’t underestimate the complexity of what’s involved with any type of business. I think there are so many chapters and steps that all need to be in place for everything to come together. Don’t underestimate that complexity, but also don’t be afraid to ask questions. I got so many things thrown at me where I had no idea what that meant when starting Great Harvest, even when it came to filling out some of my paperwork for my LLC, worker’s comp and unemployment insurance. I was reading things that I didn’t understand. I had to just be humble and proud of where I was with what I had, but really just know that it’s okay to ask questions because that’ll just make you a better business owner and you’ll truly understand it,” Wiste said.
Also, don’t be afraid to lean on others to learn more, I think this community is very fortunate to have so many resources between business centers, networking groups and more. Just be a sponge for knowledge because I think you can always learn more. Lastly, don’t be scared. It’s exciting. Just take all those fears and put them into research or resources, because I think a lot of times fear is simply because of unknowing. So if you can find a way to fill those gaps that you’re questioning, that helps.”
Wiste may still be fresh on her journey as a business owner as she has only recently taken over Great Harvest Bread Co., yet she’s already gained a wealth of knowledge and made strides in the Fargo baking business. Whether it be a cinnamon roll, sandwich or soup, support Cassie Wiste in her new adventure as she makes a difference in our community.