NORTH PARK — With his video production business slowed by the stay home order and time on his hands, a North Park man turned to a longtime hobby — and it’s turning into a booming business.
Benjamin Holland already had a large stone mill in his garage to mill his own flour for bread. But once he decided to start True Grain Artisan Miller and the word spread, the orders started flowing.
Chicagoans stuck at home because of the coronavirus pandemic are eager to make homemade bread these days.
“Once my friends posted about it on Facebook it blew up. It’s been crazy and flour demand has continued to grow every day,” said Holland, who operates out his garage on the 5300 block of North Bernard.
To continue to meet demand, Holland drove to Indiana Wednesday night to pick up a commercial size stone mill he bought from a recently shuttered business.
“After servicing it a bit I’ll be able to keep up with this growth and produce some specialty products,” Holland said. “I’ve been running my current smaller mill for about six hours every day, which is crazy.”
Holland took up baking bread in 2017 and quickly realized the importance of milling his own flour.
“My holy grail was a perfect loaf of whole wheat sourdough. Everything I read said it was next to impossible to bake. But the problem I found was the flour I was buying was just so heavy that it wouldn’t work with the techniques I was using,” he said.
That’s when he invested in his first consumer stone mill and started experimenting with different types of flours to make that perfect loaf. He also built a small sifting machine with his friends.
By 2018, Holland’s interest in the hobby had gotten so serious he’d purchased a proper stone mill on eBay for $1,500. He installed it in his garage.
“Like everyone else I have more time now so I decided to fire up the mill again,” Holland said.
Since launching the new business, Holland’s been selling his stone milled rye flour, whole kernel and sifted wheat flour for $3 a pound and sourdough starter for $4.
Orders are placed online and Holland has no contact pickup for his customers after 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at his garage.
“I’ve now gone through 300 pounds of grain since April 2,” Holland said. “My wife is in Wisconsin right now picking up 600 more pounds of grain.”
Holland’s grain comes from Lonesome Stone Milling in Lone Rock, Wisconsin. Before the pandemic he’d travel to the mill once a year to buy grain and chat with its owner Gilbert Williams.
“Gilbert sources his grain from these incredible local family farms in the region that are all sustainable or organic,” Holland said. “He’s a great guy and he’s part of this group called the artisan grain collaborative. He he’s an amazing resource and I want to keep supporting him through this.”
“Because my video production business has taken a huge hit over the last month I’m realizing maybe it wasn’t the most sustainable thing. So I’ve been thinking of doing this more long term,” Holland said.
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