When Colleen and Gary Worthington saw the massive empty lot next to a McDonald’s in San Antonio, Texas, they knew it was the perfect home for their European-style bakery. But their real estate agent tried adamantly to dissuade them, taking them from location to location with classier surrounding restaurants or shops. But with the San Antonio Texas Temple in perfect view out the front window, the Worthingtons knew this was the perfect place for their next Kneaders Bakery & Cafe storefront.
The Worthingtons built the store so that the large arched windows framed the temple across the street. “You can see the Angel Moroni is about at eye level with you,” Colleen says—an optical marvel allowed by the rolling hills both buildings are built on. As customers enjoyed their meals, many of them would ask about the building’s significance. Colleen would stop and chat with them for as long as she was able, always more than happy to give them a card for the Church and refer them to the missionaries if they wanted to learn more.
As faithful Latter-day Saints, the Worthingtons chose to place Kneaders near a temple, when it was possible to do so, to create opportunities to talk about the gospel and foster a wholesome atmosphere—a strategy they have continued while expanding the business. “It feels like [the store] is home when we’ve got these wonderful temples by us,” Colleen says.
The Worthingtons based Kneaders on the principles of the gospel, and the company’s way of making the world a better place.
Sharing Faith and Good Food
Everything Kneaders does, from locating stores near temples to closing on Sundays and offering leftover goods to local charities, is influenced by gospel values. The Worthingtons used to own several Subway franchises, but Kirk Weisler, a good friend of the family, says, “When Subway changed their corporate charter and mandated that their stores be open on Sundays, … the Worthington family opted out. They again showed their children that if you say you have values, then you need to live those values. Their values included keeping the Sabbath Day sacred and set apart, and not working on Sunday was one way to live that value.”
After being in business for 25 years, the couple recently released their first-ever Kneaders cookbook, which focuses on the stories of faith and Christlike discipleship that make their business a success. These stories, paired with delicious recipes, are intended to strengthen testimonies and family relationships through the sustaining power of faith and good food.
“It’s a story about our family and good times and bad times, hard times, and easy times. We could have just shared all the recipes, but I put it together the way that we did because it’s a story about people who had hopes and dreams,” Colleen says. “It wouldn’t be a book worth publishing if it didn’t have stories of faith.”
Kneading Bread and Meeting Needs
One of Colleen’s favorite stories from their cookbook is about a terminally ill boy with brain cancer. Jacob Hutchins was a Make-A-Wish child who didn’t ask to go to Disneyland or the Caribbean—he just wanted to be able to pat and knead dough, put it into the large stone oven at Kneaders, and share the warm rolls with his family.
On the day Jacob came to the store to fulfill his wish, the company posted his name on the marquee sign, filled the shop with balloons, and introduced him to the Worthingtons.
Since Jacob was small and frail, Gary supported him in putting the bread into the oven. While the rolls baked, Colleen took a box around the store and told Jacob he could ask for whichever sweets he wanted to take home. As they wandered, he would pick out a cookie here, an éclair there. But when they got to the cheesecakes, Jacob requested an entire cake.
“It was a little surprising to me since there was one of this and one of that. And there were like 12 pieces of cheesecake on it. But he looked at me, and he said, ‘I want to go back and share it with my nurses and doctors who take such good care of me. They weren't able to come today.’ I learned so much at that moment,” Colleen says. “Even when life isn't going in your favor, you can be happy, and you can serve other people.”
Jacob’s bread recipe is included in the new cookbook, along with his heartwarming story. The recipes are all accompanied by powerful anecdotes about love. “All of these heritage stories are people who came along to us and made a huge difference in Kneaders and what Kneaders does,” Colleen says. “So, I call [the new cookbook] a little book of giving thanks. Because I wanted to give thanks to all of those people who had who had done so much.”
Shaping Future Stories
People make Kneaders what it is today, and their lives and faith are clear from their stories. Colleen lamented that she didn’t have the space to include the stories of another hundred people in the cookbook. But the two people who put the most of themselves into Kneaders certainly had a few stories of their own to share.
While preparing to open their first store, the Worthingtons spent hours every day practicing their baking skills. They had 50-pound barrels stocked with flour in their kitchen in preparation for their daily baking sessions. One day, they were in the basement with their son-in-law, who was giving them technical support, while their three-year-old grandson Austin played quietly upstairs. When they finally finished and came upstairs, everything from the kitchen to the family room was covered in a thick layer of flour.
“[Austin] said to us, ‘I made it snow, I made it snow!’” Colleen recalls. “His dad wasn't very happy with him, but Grandma thought it was hilarious. And I said, ‘Let's have a snowball fight!’ So, we threw flour at each other for a minute. … What else is there to do but laugh and have a good time about that?”
The Worthingtons’ spirit of positivity and faithfulness radiates from both their stories and their stores. Even as Colleen and Gary entrust the Kneaders business to their children, they still want to remain a part of the experience and shape future stories.
“I think it’s important to go into the stores and look everybody in the eyes and make sure they’re doing okay,” Colleen says. “I love to say ‘Are you doing okay? Tell me what’s up and what’s going on.’ My husband and I just enjoy being the cheerleaders for our Kneaders family.”
To learn more about the stories and people behind Kneaders and sample the delectable recipes that mean the most to them, check out the new Kneaders 25th anniversary cookbook. And keep scrolling to see how the Kneaders logo has evolved through the years.