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Jackson couple plans to open Great Harvest Bread Co.

Great Harvest coming to cornbread country mid-March

Ten years ago, Jacque Gregg bit into her first loaf of Great Harvest. She liked the wholesome stuff so much that she wanted more. A decade later, she found herself with a lifetime supply — sort of.

On March 17, Jacque Gregg and her husband, Ron Gregg, will open a Great Harvest Bread Co. store in Colonial Mart Shopping Center in Jackson. Great Harvest Bread Co., a Montana-based franchise established 20 years ago, lists 136 stores from Alaska to Florida and is known for it selectiveness in choosing franchisees.

“I walked into my first Great Harvest in Provo, Utah,” said Jacque Gregg. “I had heard about a bread store that made awesome, healthy bread where one slice fills you up. I had been looking for that wonderful dieting combination. After I tried it, I was hooked. Unfortunately, I lived about an hour away in a rural community. So whenever I went shopping in the city, I loaded up on Great Harvest bread.”

Eight years ago, when she married Delta native Ron Gregg, she moved to Mississippi.

“I found myself really missing Great Harvest bread,” she said. “At that time, Mississippi was more ‘white bread and cornbread territory’ and I couldn’t find anything similar to Great Harvest. When I went to Utah on visits, I’d bring six to eight loaves of bread home on the plane. It was very heavy to lug around because each loaf weighs about two pounds.”

After four years of active duty at Keesler Air Force Base on the Coast and mulling over what to do next, Jacque Gregg told her husband she had decided to open a Great Harvest Bread Co. store in Jackson.

“By that time, he said, ‘I’m in. You’re not doing it without me’,” she said. “Ron and I are both nurses. We found that our schedules conflicted so much. This was our first opportunity at a business venture together.”

Before the Greggs got an OK to open a store in Jackson, they endured “rigorous, grueling interviews” from the company, she said.

“I told my husband that I felt like I was in a beauty pageant or an event with that kind of intensity,” she said, with a laugh. “We wrote several letters, letting them know our desire to open a store and we told them about our background. They talk quite honestly about how strong your relationship is in your marriage, how hard the work is, what your financial expectations are, how much time you’ll spend in the store, why you think it will work in your community, what gives you a sense that it would be a positive experience. After that, there were several phone interviews well over an hour long each.”

Franchisees in Great Harvest Bread Co. include a diverse cross-section of business people — from bankers and architects to doctors and plumbers, she said.

“They have you go to a couple of bakeries, talk to other storeowners,” she said. “They want you to really know what you’re getting into. They know you already know how to run a business, but it takes quite a bit of work to get a new bread store up and running.”

Tom Petzinger, Jr. of The Wall Street Journal called Great Harvest a franchise operation that “hardly operates like a franchise.”

“In this company, franchisees run their stores as they see fit, tinkering with recipes, setting their own prices, varying as much as they choose from the basic model,” he wrote.

While the company may be picky about its counterparts, founders Tom McMakin and Ed Kerpius don’t take themselves too seriously. Great Bread’s Web site offers a taste of the company’s philosophy: “We think of ourselves as a big family of like-minded ‘Breadheads.’”

The Greggs will grind their own wheat for the almost 65 varieties of hand-kneaded bread made on site daily. Most varieties have no fat and are made fresh from scratch. With a staff of about 10 employees, the 1,400-square-foot store will serve as a strictly retail outlet, with no restaurant, she said.

“We have had an amazing, phenomenal response from the community,” Jacque Gregg said. “We’ve been so encouraged because of the number of people who have called us to let us know they are glad we’re here. One day, I was at the printer’s and someone told me his family only eats whole wheat bread. Another day, a stewardess pulled a bag out of her purse to show me her Great Harvest bread. It had been in her purse for two days! But one of the wonderful things about our bread is the 14-day shelf life.”

With only days remaining before opening weekend, the Greggs are busy sending out 10,000 flyers with free bread cards.

“We’re planning on tremendous giveaways our first weekend,” she said. “But whenever customers come into our store, they will always have a free slice of fresh bread. That’s our philosophy, period. They can always count on that.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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