Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Hunter Lacey.
Stephanie carefully turns baskets of bread dough onto the stainless steel work table nestled into the corner of her home kitchen in the Bishop Arts neighborhood. Leaning over each one, she scores a delicate design and then transfers the loaf to hot cast-iron pans, ready to bake to golden brown bread in her oven. For Stephanie, baking is grounded in the gathering and the community that comes together around a meal. When she named her bakery with the South African isiXhosa word for community, Kuluntu, Stephanie was drawing from her husband’s South African heritage and the communal society she experienced while living in Cape Town.
After spending her early years in Coppell, Stephanie met her husband, Warren, while she was earning her Masters Degree in Public Service Administration and he was working on his doctorate. With degrees in hand the couple moved to New York City, where Stephanie took a job at a nonprofit serving women in Latin America, working to create opportunity through microloans. Baking was her natural stress reliever, so Stephanie began whipping up batches of cupcakes in unique flavors. One cupcake at a time Stephanie’s side-hustle grew as she sold her baked goods at a Harlem neighborhood market, and she eventually made the big leap to a full time job at a high-end bakery. “It was an intense experience,” Stephanie says. “My shift started at 3am, but I was able to learn bread production as well as french patisseries like macarons and croissants.” Her next professional baking experience was at a bakery that served as café during the day and a luxury dessert-tasting event at night. As Stephanie watched strangers coming together to try new treats, she began dreaming about her own bakery.
At the beginning of 2018, Stephanie and Warren packed their bags for South Africa, excited to spend time in the culture Warren experienced as a child. “When we arrived in Cape Town I couldn’t legally work, so I spent my time practicing sourdough bread recipes and finding local African recipes to try,” Stephanie explains. “When we visited the Bulungula Eco Lodge, I learned to make Xhosa bread, a sweet white bread, and try dishes from another region of South Africa,” Stephanie said. After six months in Africa, Stephanie and Warren made their way back to Dallas and Kuluntu Bakery was born.
Beyond loaves of bread, Stephanie bakes up pastries and cakes, delivering treats to customers across Dallas-Fort Worth. And just below the bakery surface is their family passion project, Ubuntu Supper Club. With Warren as host and Stephanie as chef, the couple presents a traditional four-course South African meal. Each course represents a different South African ethnic group. “Food is a powerful way of keeping culture alive, even in another country,” Stephanie says. “We developed the Supper Club with slow and intentional planning,” Stephanie explains. “Warren works as a diversity inclusion manager and he is always turning strangers into friends. The Supper Club combines his South African way of communal dining with my idea of a luxurious tasting menu.” Since February, groups of friends and strangers have been gathering in Stephanie and Warren’s home to experience a little bit of South Africa in Texas.
Stephanie is also incorporating community through baking workshops, teaching locals how to make their own sourdough, bagels, or pies. During the sourdough class, each participant is given a small portion of Flubby, Stephanie’s prized yeasty starter which has travelled around the world with her. If you aren’t quite ready to bake your own loaf, you can sign up for the Loaf of the Week bread subscription and receive specialty flavors like spiced maple with roasted apple or fig and fennel.
As Stephanie imagines the future of Kuluntu Bakery, her ideas go far beyond a large commercial kitchen. Her plan is to create a nonprofit bakery that will create employment opportunities for underserved women in Dallas. “The training program would take place over one year and include culinary training, professional and personal development, and a lot of baking,” Stephanie said. “We work to break down barriers that women face when seeking gainful and just employment, especially in the food industry. Through our training and job placement program, women will access higher positions in kitchens and companies that pay fair wages and benefits. Focusing on women has a massive generational impact; for every dollar that women earn, 90% is reinvested in the family, as opposed to men where only 30-40% is reinvested in the family.” It is this concept that keeps Stephanie motivated to learn more about, not only bread, but the business side of running a bakery.
Six fresh loaves of crusty bread sit on the counter, ready to be wrapped up and taken home to holiday tables. Stephanie has put her heart into every crumb, hoping that a slice of bread will be the next step toward community and understanding in her corner of the world.
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