The word companion comes from the latin roots “com” (meaning “together with”) and “panis” (“bread”). Translated literally, it means “someone you break bread with.” That’s exactly what Sienna Walters had in mind when she started Companion Bread Company out of her home during Covid. In a time when isolation was a priority, she sought out ways to connect with people through the very thing that makes communities possible: nutrition.
Walters, who had been baking professionally for eight years, took the pandemic toll on restaurants as an opportunity to pursue her passion for artisan bread-making using freshly milled flour. At worst, she would fail. At best, she would help nourish San Diegans in a new way. The gamble paid off. Now working out of a community kitchen in City Heights, Walters is one of the only bakers in the county to mill her own flour.
“I [wanted] to make something that people can feel good after eating,” Walters says. She sources local ingredients, partnering with farmers and embracing seasonal plants to keep prices accessible.
Companion highlights grains grown in California, but what really sets them apart is Walters’ passion for milling. Using her own mill, she converts wheat berries into flour that is packed with beneficial enzymes. Her fervor stems from scientific evidence showing that freshly milled flour contains much higher levels of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber than its commercial counterpart. All of those components enhance flavor and texture and aid in digestion.
Walters’ milling process may even make her products accessible to those for whom a slice of toast is usually verboten. Despite dealing with gluten sensitivity, Walters can take solace in bread made with freshly milled flour. The nutrients retained in the wheat berries through the milling process can significantly affect how gluten is broken down in the body. She often hears from customers, “I can’t eat any bread, but I can eat your bread.” (Note: The bread does contain gluten and is not safe for people with celiac disease.)
One of Companion’s best-sellers is the multigrain sourdough, a full-bodied porridge loaf that features rotating California-grown grains, hints of malt, and a sesame seed crust. Moist, filling, and fulfilling, it tastes like an October day feels, like lying your hand on a sun-soaked brick wall and letting your fingerprints press against the warm dimples. Other popular flavors are the rosemary potato and the classic table sourdough.
Walters Companion Bread has big ambitions for expanding her operation and gearing her focus towards milling. Currently, there are a few other local bake shops that mill their own flour: Prager Brothers in Carlsbad and Wildwood Flour Bakery in Pacific Beach (where you can find fresh loaves of Companion Bread every weekend). Walters believes that this growing movement represents a turning point for San Diego towards sustainable grain processing.
“My dream is to band together with many small local farms, maybe pool together and purchase a combine, something that individual farms wouldn’t be able to afford but together could share costs and use,” she says. “[With increased grain supply and cooperation with other millers,] the urban milling potential for this community is huge. San Diego could become grain independent.”
Companion Bread is available at Bica Cafe in Normal Heights, the Poway Farmers Market, North Park’s Home Ec every Tuesday through Saturday, and the Wildwood Flour Bakery in Pacific Beach every weekend.