One could say Dirk Sisson and Barb Hood, owners of the Anchorage, AK Great Harvest Bread Co., are on top of the world. Their bakery just celebrated its 16th Anniversary and has held the
top spot in sales for a number of years. Looking deeper, their success is rooted in much more than their phenomenal products and service, the cool climate and a market of bread eaters. Like their products, their involvement in the Anchorage community is nothing less than phenomenal. Though I’ve known them for years, until I asked about it, I had no idea the extent of their dedication to their local community. They feel this connection is 90% of their success. Customers continually comment on how much they appreciate not only what Great Harvest Anchorage does but what Dirk and Barb do personally. It’s not for show; they do it because generosity to others is part of who they are. The fact that it benefits the business is a bonus.
This year, Barb and Dirk will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Dirk is a mechanical engineer by trade and Barb a lawyer. So how did they get mixed up in the bread business? While visiting his Mom in Salem, OR, Dirk would frequent this cool little Great Harvest Bread Co. in downtown Salem and bring back a suitcase full of Honey Whole Wheat bread every time. Having both grown up in Alaska, Barb and Dirk wanted to stay in the state they loved and start their own business there. After discovering Great Harvest was a franchise, they applied and opened their store in Anchorage in 1994. The rest is history. Today, their Great Harvest bakery is an institution.
Their generosity begins at home with their employees. Choosing to put values ahead of profits, they include their employees in their success by treating them well, paying them well, providing medical health plans (not an easy task these days for a small business) and bringing them to Great Harvest conventions.
“Giving Generously to Others” is part of the Great Harvest mission statement. Easily embracing that culture of generosity, they donate products to a multitude of different non-profit local organizations every year. Dirk says the business has been a wonderful avenue for them to give back to the community. While there’s no way to put a dollar amount to what they get in return, he says “it comes back tenfold”. The support of local organizations in itself is not unique. Generosity to the community is a hallmark of most Great Harvest Bakeries. What’s impressive is the extent of additional personal time and energy they have vested in their community. They’ve taken generosity to a whole new level.
A few years ago, Barb stepped back from the bakery to return to law as an attorney for the Alaska Court System. In addition to this responsible role, she is a human rights and community activist. As an avid photographer, Barb’s work has included taking pictures and telling the stories of less fortunate people like the homeless, those ravaged by HIV, and victims of abuse. Most exhibits are done with her own time and resources to help bring attention to those less fortunate in our midst.
Dirk currently serves as president of the local neighborhood Basher Community Council, a job by itself. He has been a leader in local neighborhood campaigns to protect natural places, serving as a founding member of groups like Friends of the Coastal Trail, Friends of Russian Jack Springs Park, and Friends of Near Point. Most of his work has been in the grass roots.
The Anchorage Great Harvest is also business partners with three schools in Anchorage–West High School, Romig Middle School and North Star Elementary. In addition to providing bread and cookies for different events, they get involved in regular school events, like workshops on how to run businesses, get jobs, and be good employees.
On top of all of this (in their “spare” time), Barb and Dirk are avid outdoor enthusiasts; they enjoy hiking, canoeing, cross-country skiing – you name it. These truly humble people are never without smiles, great stories and listening ears. Thanks, Dirk and Barb, for your inspiration, friendship, and your contribution not only to Anchorage but to all of us who know you!