From watching his mother bake cookies and birthday cakes for his family to opening up his own organic bakery, baking was something that just “stuck” with John Collins.
In August 2012, the restaurateur and his wife Skyler opened local, organic bakery Waving Wheat Bakery & Bistro, specializing in breads and pastries using organic, local ingredients.
However, John’s love for homemade baked goods started long before that.
Growing up in Norman in the '80s, John gained a love for cookies and candy by watching the original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971) film, and watching his mom bake “old school,” made-from-scratch goods, he said.
“I kind of grew up with (baking) around me all the time,” John said.
As a high school graduate, John knew he wanted to go to culinary school, and by chance discovered Platt College Moore had a new pastry arts program, he said.
“(I) thought that this would help me get my foot in the door and expand from there,” he said.
After graduating from the program in 2006, John realized he was ready to challenge himself with what he’d learned in school. He held three jobs working as a line cook, and said the positions didn’t provide the bakery aspect that he was looking for.
John wanted to make dough for bread and cookies from scratch, but because of the longer preparation process, he ended up getting frozen cookies out and placing them on a sheet, he said.
“Nobody wanted to take the chance on me or pay the extra cost to have me do it,” John said. “I decided if I was going to do what I learned how to do, then I would have to create my own space to do it that way, because everyone just wanted to get pre-bought things.”
In 2012, the couple opened the bakery in south Oklahoma City before relocating to their current location on Porter Avenue in Norman, offering four types of house-made breads, four types of scones and three types of cookies, Skyler Collins said.
“It was very small scale and over the years we’ve slowly added on,” she said.
Today, when patrons walk into the bakery they are greeted by yellow walls, black couches and unique chalk drawings by a local artist that pay tribute to classic horror films. The shop now offers a variety of baked goods, coffee, breakfast and lunch options.
Waving Wheat is most known for its fresh breads — from sourdough to organic multigrain, jalapeno cheddar, challah and more — and unique names for its scones and cookies, according to its menu.
The scone flavors change daily, some of which are “chocula,” “Rosemary’s baby” and “cran-ium,” and also cookies, with equally unique names such as, “hippie bliss” and “Sir McNutty.”
“I love the people I work with and I love the customers,” Skyler said. “We are six years (into the business) and I still eat here every day.”
The bakery prides itself on being an all-natural bakery and supporting the local community through discounts for Norman teachers and other local deals, Skyler said.
“We were wanting to achieve a larger selection of natural food that wasn’t pumped full of weird stuff,” Skyler said. “There were no bread places in Norman other than Walmart and Homeland. We just wanted a healthier alternative for people.”
Making their food from fresh, organic and local ingredients makes the quality and taste of their products much better than highly processed foods, John said.
“It can be a challenge when trying to keep things local,” John said. “You have to be willing to experiment with things and maybe you lose the item until you find a more reliable source for your ingredients.”
Among the local products the bakery uses are local, organic flour and coffee from local grocers.
Skyler said while it’s less time efficient to use local flour than store-bought flour, due to the length of time it takes for farmers to push out large quantities of the product, it isn’t something the bakery is willing to compromise on.
In addition to its organic, local products, Skyler said something that makes the bakery unique is its desire to know its customers on a first-name basis.
“We are a quaint little place,” Skyler said. “The food is wholesome and reminds you of the way grandma used to cook.”
The bakery has a 4.9 out of 5 stars on its Facebook page, with raving reports about their friendly atmosphere and unique desserts.
“We get a lot of people who are used to regular store-bought bread with dough softeners and they can definitely tell the difference and then usually they are hard-pressed to convert back,” John said.
Customer Miranda Thomas said in an email that the bakery’s atmosphere is “delightful.” She said the two things she loves about the bakery are its community and customer engagement, and the taste of its baked goods.
“The cookies are that perfect balance of buttery to sweet, and the bread is by far my favorite. I always swing by to grab some whenever I'm making a meal I know deserves a good bit of sourdough or cut of French bread on the side,” Thomas said in the email.
Whenever she walks into the bakery, she knows she will be greeted by friendly faces, Thomas said in the email.
John said he has a love for Norman from his growing up years, and hopes Waving Wheat will inspire the next generation.
“I would love to have a place for kids to come in and maybe be the symbol that makes them grow and desire to be a pastry chef,” John said.