Big Sky Dough
Tessa Sharr combines her love for baking and her passion for her nonprofiT in a new doughnuT shop in Town
Tessa Sharr had one of those early Covid travel stories that ended up being serendipitous.
Last year Sharr moved to Uganda to start the Bakery Project, a nonprofit bakery training program with the goal of providing skills and employment to Ugandans. In March, a family emergency had her boarding a plane to come back home to Big Sky. She expected to be gone a couple of months, tops.
The day she flew out of Uganda, countries started shutting down and airports along with them.
“Throughout that whole period, I was like what do I do? I can either be upset about it and sit at home and not do anything or I can start a new project,” Sharr said, explaining her thought process as she found herself back in Montana. Doughnuts were the name of the new project.
“I am, like, a doughnut fiend. I just love doughnuts,” she said.
Sharr’s parents have owned the China Café in Big Sky for over 10 years and transitioned to take-out only during the pandemic. Sharr moved into the entry space of the China Café and transformed it into a walk-in doughnut operation. Her mom helps serve coffee and her dad is up early to help fry doughnuts.
At its core, this project was a way for Sharr to continue baking and sharing the message of her nonprofit at the same time.
“I just love doughnuts and I felt like I heard so many times in this community that we need a good doughnut shop,” she said.
Sharr’s shop opened Dec. 11 and she was thrilled with how quickly word spread through the community. Vanilla, chocolate, cinnamon sugar, browned butter and huckleberry are the current flavors made every morning and sold from 7 a.m. until noon, Friday through Tuesday.
Sharr uses a brioche dough for the doughnuts, which requires refrigeration overnight to ensure the flavor and gluten develop. So far, she has been waking up at 4 a.m. to roll out, fry and decorate the doughnuts before 7 a.m. “I’m not a morning person at all, I really am not,” she laughed. At least 10% of proceeds will go to the Bakery Project.
Passionfruit doughnuts were a best seller at the bakery in Uganda. Some mornings as she rolls out doughnuts for Big Sky, Sharr reminisces about doing the same thing in a different world.
“The ultimate goal for the Bakery Project in Uganda was that it could be sustainable and run locally on its own anyways. I think Covid just kind of pushed up the timeline for that,” Sharr said.
As she left, Sharr hired a manager to keep things running smoothly while she was away. The new manager has embraced the position and has plans to move forward with opening a training schools for locals who wish to learn more about baking. The current space housing the bakery would transform into a café and guest house.
Sharr plans to go back to Uganda during the next shoulder seasons to find and retrieve her belongings. In the meantime, her work in Big Sky will support the Bakery Project monetarily, while hiring a manger helped the operation continue. She would love to go back to Uganda twice a year or so to see how things are going and come back sharing stories.
“I think this whole year just taught me that you have no control over anything, so just make the most out of it,” Sharr said.
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