Novel Bread Co.: A Story of Passion and Partnerships

Heather Sprague, Novel Breads Co.
Heather Sprague, Novel Breads Co.

There are many great stories in Heather Sprague’s Novel Breads Co. in Mars, PA. There’s “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” by Eli Brown. And “The Perfume Collector” by Kathleen Tessaro just to name two. 

Perhaps the best story in this tiny bread and bookstore is Sprague’s. 

Her’s is a story of combining passions for books and bread and developing partnerships. The end result is a business that has been baking delicious bread for her customers and the community going on six years now.

“I knew I wanted to do something creative,” Sprague says smiling. “It was my mother who suggested I combine both my loves.”

Having returned to western Pennsylvania, where she lived until her teenage years before moving with her family to Florida and then on her own in Portland, Oregon, Sprague was looking for a different career, having previously worked almost two decades as a case manager in social services.

Taking her mother’s suggestion and borrowing from her lifetime of experiences, Sprague wrote a business plan mixing her voracious reading habit and sourdough bread love into a successful recipe.

I knew I wanted to do something creative, it was my mother who suggested I combine both my loves.

How and Why Books

“Many novels have references to bread in their stories,” Sprague says smiling. “There are lots of flavors mentioned and often that’s where I draw inspiration.”

The results are offered for sale in the bright, welcoming shop tucked neatly on the side of the Baumgartel Professional Building on Pittsburgh St. Offerings include:

Fireside Bread, which Sprague describes as “a unique combination of buckwheat and whole wheat flour mixed with maple syrup and natural smoky ingredients,” and inspired by “This Tender Land,” by William Kent Krueger. 

The Gentleman's Black Bread, made with black cocoa and espresso powder, is a deeper flavored version of pumpernickel rye and was inspired by the novel “A Gentleman in Moscow,” a historical fiction set during the Bolshevik Revolution.

Ove’s Loaf, a classic blonde sourdough with wheat, rye and some cracked wheat inspired by “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman.

Pride and Partnership

Sprague’s pride in her artisan sourdough breads flows through her words and friendly demeanor, but it’s also obvious she’s a strong supporter of partnerships and community. 

Novel Breads uses flour from Saxonburg’s Frankferd Farms and supplies bread to Appalachian Outpost on a bi-monthly basis. During the winter months Sprague has hosted her book club at Harmony’s The Enchanted Olive  as well as at Butler’s  Mama Rosa’s, whose sauce can be found for sale at Novel Breads.  

Novel Bread Co.’s small space belies the big work that goes into making it a success. After starting almost six years ago, Sprague, like all business owners, was faced with a pandemic. Her story during that time, however, was different than most.

“Because farmer’s markets were unaffected for the most part by the regulations, we were very busy. I couldn’t bake enough,” she said, adding that it led to her overcoming her biggest business challenge. “It helped me understand balancing the energy you have with the demands of building a successful business.”

It helped me understand balancing the energy you have with the demands of building a successful business.

Neighbor Loaves

Balancing those demands, building partnerships, and giving back are all important to Sprague and to Novel Breads. That’s just one of the reasons she participates in a program that focuses on local suppliers to provide bread for those in need. Novel Breads involvement in Neighbor Loaves requires Sprague to purchase supplies locally (i.e. Frankferd Farms), keeping donated dollars in the region’s economy.

Through the Neighbor Loaves project, Novel Breads Co, bakes bread for The St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Food Cupboard in Evans City and for Loaves and Fishes in Saxonburg, with each $8 customer donation.