Community-Supported Baker

A former teacher turned bread maker makes education the foundation of his business.

Winter 2024
A man poses next to racks of freshly baked bread

Don Guerra ’01, founder of Barrio Bread

Chris Richards

When asked what their favorite wheat varietal is, most people would struggle to respond. But Don Guerra ’01 knows his answer in an instant: einkorn. 

“It’s the mother of all wheats,” he explains. “All the wheats in the world have been bred off this variety.” 

Guerra — a Tucson heritage-grain baker, business owner and educator — speaks with enthusiasm as he adds Sonoran white wheat to his list of favorites. 

“It was the first wheat of the Americas, so they say this is the mother of American wheats,” he says. “This is the wheat that Father Kino brought in the late 1690s, so it has a really great story in connection to our region.” 

From a young age, Guerra enjoyed making bread with his mother and eating his nana’s tortillas. His father owned a barbershop and instilled in young Guerra an entrepreneurial drive, encouraging him to start a shoeshine business at age 8 and to invest wisely. 

A cactus design atop a fresh loaf of bread

Chris Richards

Today, those lessons and Guerra’s years of practice have helped Barrio Bread become a local sensation with a national reputation. In 2022, Guerra won the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker. 

“I feel like the bread chooses the person,” he says. “You need to be patient, mindful. You need to have endurance. But you also need to be nurturing with the bread, because bread is a living food.” 

Making bread, he says, is an alchemy — once leavened, the ingredients come to life and the bread grows. The baker’s job is to manage that growth. Guerra describes breadmaking as both art and science and working with wheats as being “a painter with a palette of paints,” the breads your “canvas.” 

Guerra operated a bakery out of his garage for eight years before opening Barrio Bread in Broadway Village in 2016. During those years in the garage, thanks to a grant from the USDA in partnership with local nonprofit Native Seeds/SEARCH, Guerra entered the heritage-grain movement. 

Using only grains grown in Arizona was an educational process for Guerra, as he learned the nuances of wheat varietals and how best to blend them. 

“I was like a bread monk,” he says. “Working by myself, I made 430,000 breads out of that garage — but it helped me understand where I wanted to go. I knew that I wanted to build a bakery that would be all about local grains.” 

Tucson proved the perfect location for that endeavor, says Guerra, as farmers, distributors and business collaborators reached out in support. 

“There’s just more uniqueness when you share your talents with others and make something beautiful together,” he says. “We are in a UNESCO-designated City of Gastronomy — we have an obligation to share best practices not only with our own culinary artists but with the world.” 

To this end, Guerra shares his business with “open hands.” 

Barrio Bread is not just a bakery to him. A key pillar of the company is education and outreach. Guerra graduated from the University of Arizona College of Education in 2001 and taught at an elementary school before opening his bakery. He says his degree has been foundational to Barrio Bread. 

“As a younger baker, I didn’t have the skills to lead a bakery,” he says. “I was missing how to transfer information. Studying metacognition, pedagogy and how to design a lesson was everything to me.”

While holding workshops locally, Guerra also has traveled the world teaching about the development of local grain economies and his breadmaking methods. 

“My biggest joy is serving the community and teaching this craft, so it lives on forever,” he says. “I hope this is my legacy.” 

Guerra emphasizes that it takes everyone in the community to make his bakery work. 

Man kneads dough in bakery

Guerra bakes with almost exclusively Arizona-grown wheat varietals. In 2022, he won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker.

Chris Richards

“From the seed scientists, the farmers, millers, brewers, distillers, food makers and then the end consumer, we operate together,” he says. “We need to pay respects to everyone along the grain chain; it starts with the farmers, and it starts with the Indigenous people of this region, who have been farming in this community for centuries.” 

As Guerra sets his sights on his next project — opening a bakery in Gilbert in collaboration with Hayden Flour Mills — he is excited to put the apron back on and get creative. 

“This is the life that I’ve always dreamed of,” he says. “I love feeding people; I love seeing people smile when they have this bag of bread in front of them. And I love knowing it will nurture them. It makes me proud that I can get up every day and make people happy with what I’ve dedicated my life to.

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