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West Loop’s Greg Wade Is Moving The Needle Using Heritage & Organics At Publican Quality Bread

"Baking is an art, but it's also a science. Baking is an art because it requires creativity and precision. It's also a science because it involves many chemical, biolog

ical, and physical processes.”  ~ Ron Ben-Israel

Publican Quality Bread - Greg Wade

I read somewhere that using our hands to create a sourdough starter - fosters a microbial match, which has always proven to be the beginning of something good. One of my favorite cities to visit when traveling for work is Chicago. I spent most of my time in office buildings, seeing clients and later playing foodie in West Loop after the grind. There is something symbolic about walking near the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) - a place focused on pricing agricultural commodities and moving the food markets. The old Archer Daniels Midland Flour Mill building was just down the way, on Fulton’s Market, until it was demolished in 2021. From there, just off North Canal, was The Eckhart & Swan Milling Company, a brand known in the industrial antiquities markets. West Loop was a neighborhood thriving in food production, with names like Philip Armour, Gustavus Swift, and Nelson Morris. Today, this neighborhood is home to a new generation of food movers like Greg Wade, the 2019 James Beard Best Baker at Publican Quality Bread (PQB). 

James Beard Award Winner Greg Wade 

Founded by One Off Hospitality Group, PQB has invested over two decades in creating some of Chicago's most fantastic food concepts. On the corner of Wood and Grand, in the West Loop neighborhood, sits PQB, a revered bakery making bread, pastries, cookies, and their daily sandwich special. Walking down the street, you can smell freshly baked bread and croissant.  To the right of the overhead delivery door are remnants of the company, The Flower Firm, just beneath an old galvanized water tower. PQB’s yellow brick corner building breathes new life into a neighborhood rich - with culture and history.  

Greg Wade brings a grounded perspective when creating high-hydration sourdough bread, using local farmers and flour mills, in a holistic practice of consistently building on the foundation of delicious product. A graduate of the Illinois Institute of Art, studying the Savory Program - learning from his grandmother at a young age - the importance of cooking, sharing a meal, and family.  He’s worked at notable restaurants like ‘Girl and the Goat,’ one of the first on West Loops Restaurant Row, and ‘Taxim’ in Wicker Park. These are the places where Greg trained and built his career in both Savory and Baking. Taxim’s Jan Rickerl, Chef de Cuisine, offered him the opportunity to bake bread for one year. Greg built up an in-house bakery where he honed his craft. Later, he developed relationships with food movers, collaborating to make some delicious baked goods. 

Publican Quality Bread

Building Trusted Partnerships

Years later, in 2014, he accepted an offer from Paul Kahan, founding partner of One Off Hospitality Group - Publican Quality Bread’s parent company. Greg joined the team with a  mission to drive the wholesale bread business for PQB in Chicago. He started with a narrow and small scope, making sourdough loaves with no website or professional presence. He built relationships with food organizations throughout the city - creating over 75 products and a wholesale bread and pastry catalog.  

PQB ramped up the business, took a step back, realigned efficiency, built a Web & Social storefront, and formed relationships with farmers and millers - moving the needle with local agriculture and family flour mills. Greg saw trends in “Bread” and cross-pollinated relationships with organizations like The Spence-Farm Foundation, where he helped build a clay oven, held Bread Camp classes, and implemented thought leadership into the movement. PQB bakes for the One Off Restaurant family, creating Pizza Bianca and Starato, using every aspect of bread for their recipes. 

Greg once chaired the steering committee for The Artisan Grain Collaborative, a Midwest organization building a community of regenerative agricultural practitioners - sharing and building on local production of family-farmed grains.  With the help of the University of Illinois Bread Lab, they worked to create a grain testing facility, establishing a consistent analysis of grains and flour. This, in turn, allows the baker to maintain consistency in their recipes. 

Publican Quality Bread Pastry - Bread

Moving The Needle

PQB creates meaningful and thoughtful partnerships - buying from Aggregators like Marty and Will Travis of Down at the Farms, LLC. They work with family farmers throughout the Midwest, consolidating food products and distributing local and organic to metro Chicago and surrounding areas. Relationships include Harold Wilkens, Owner of Janies Mill, organically certified and certified kosher wheat and grains.  Trends are continuing to shift toward more local grain use, and in turn, farmers and millers are scaling. Greg and his team are baking with Freekeh, a roasted Durum Wheat whole grain - early harvest. Greg’s recipe includes rye, molasses, and porridge - a robust bread. His favorite to bake during the holidays is Panettone. 

Publican Quality Bread

Staffing and Team Philosophy 

PQB values employee recruitment and development, working in partnership with their staff of 45 team members. Their contributions are key to the business's success. From applications, recruitment, and hiring, all employees are offered an opportunity to learn the business and construct a development plan for their career pathway. Greg asks each team member to come with a positive attitude and willingness to learn. PQB commits to sharing its knowledge and passion for baking and fermenting with heritage grains, using unique methods of producing bread with special chemistry and artisan qualities.  

They are focused on employee retention, a high level of communication, and quarterly progress discussions. Each employee earns opportunities to set goals when meeting with leadership, gaining commitment while inspiring a new generation of bakers to be receptive when learning the bakehouse business. Training and education for the trades are essential to a baker's future, which requires an inspired workforce willing to learn from a mentor like Greg and his supervisors.  PQB's 2024 goal is to hire 15 new bakehouse employees with the help of their recruiter, Michelle. If you are interested in bakehouse positions, you can apply online.  

Publican Quality Bread

Equipment And Gear 

Bakeries are labor-intensive organizations requiring heavy-duty ovens, mixers, sheeters, and massive baker’s benches for rolling out 100 lbs of dough at a time.  Greg prefers Kornfeil bake ovens. They manufacture racks and bake ovens for limited baking space.  PQB chose Kornfeil as a partner because of its exemplary service, parts replacement, and technical program. They use Vollrath floor mixers for durability, consistency, and safety. Occasionally, when testing new bread and pastry products, they use their Mock Mill to grind Rye and other heritage grains. For the sheeting dough, they use Swiss manufacturer - Rondo, making strategic investments in scale and growth using high-quality manufactured goods. 

If you find yourself traveling to Chicago for business, vacation, or just kickin around, check out West Loop’s Publican Quality Bread and pick up a loaf or two to take back home. 

 Publican Quality Bread - Greg Wade

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