The founding of Fresh Sourdough Express Café and Bakery and how owner Donna Maltz came to settle in Homer starts with the classic turning-the-corner on Baycrest Hill story common to many.
Maltz, now 62, arrived in Homer on May 13, 1982, with her then partner John Hammer in their green van converted into a traveling bakery. They had driven up from Olympia, Washington, bartering fresh bread for gas money.
“I came over the hill and I looked over at John — my partner at the time — and I said, ‘We’re home,’” Maltz said last month in an interview at the Sourdough. “It was cold and windy, the van was drafty, all this cold air came in, and I was so warm inside.”
At the end of September, after 37 years as one of Homer’s iconic restaurants, the Sourdough closed for good. In an interview during a garage sale on Sept. 27 as people came in to buy everything from water pitchers to art, Maltz reflected on her life as an “eco-Bohemian entrepreneur,” as she describes herself.
Maltz and her husband Kevin have tried several times to pass on the Sourdough, leasing it to possible owners, but this time it looks like the café will close for good. The iconic green van that served as a landmark for the restaurant on Ocean Drive will be hauled up the hill. The couple sold almost all their supplies. Still, Maltz would like someone to resurrect the Sourdough, maybe as a cooperative endeavor.
“What my hope, I really, really wanted to see this become a co-op café and keep it the Sourdough or the values of the Sourdough,” Maltz said.
The Maltzes have sold their Homer home and B & B and now live permanently in their winter home in Hawi, Hawaii, where Donna runs the Always in Season Farmstead Vacation Rental.
Another chapter in Maltz’ life also opens this month when she releases her memoir, “The Evolution of an Eco-Bohemian Entrepreneur.” In a reading on Sept. 19 as part of the Homer World Arts Festival, Maltz had people sign up for advance, e-book copies of her memoir.
Raised in New Jersey, she grew up as “a Jewish American princess,” Maltz said.
“By the time I was 16 I went rogue,” she said. “I went to Europe, saw a more Bohemian lifestyle. I saw this cottage industry. In America they were building malls. In Europe I didn’t see any of that.”
Maltz came west to attend Evergreen State College, where she graduated with a degree in social ecology. She and Hammer had started farming in Olympia. In 1982 they left for Alaska in the van Hammer outfitted as a bakery. Their trip included breakdowns and running out of money.
“We literally baked our way to Alaska,” Maltz said. “…I was totally into nature. I was totally into bread. I smelled like patchouli. … I came here because I love nature. I wanted to be a voice for nature. I felt like this was someplace I cold be heard.”
In Homer, Maltz and Hammer landed on the Spit. There they met Jan and Jim Preston, who loved their bread. The Prestons offered them a dry cabin, an old fish and crab shack. Then Maltz and Hammer found the former Whitney-Fidalgo building on Ocean Drive and rented a third of the building in August 1982.
“We built the business from there,” she said.
The business took off.
“Fishermen and fisherwomen would come in and do business,” she said. “All that talk made you hungry.”
In a time of growing political activism in Homer with opposition to oil leases in Kachemak Bay and other environmental causes, the Sourdough became a gathering point.
“People would sit for hours,” Maltz said. “That’s when politics happened. … It was an incredible time.”
In 1984, Maltz and Hammer separated. In 1982, Kevin Maltz had bought a loaf of caraway rye bread. He came back in 1984 to interview for a job and said, “Oh my God: That was the bread I had two years ago.”
Donna had been across the bay when Kevin first came by. Her friend Meg Mitchell told her, “You have to hire this guy. He’s so cute. He’s got blue eyes and curly hair.”
She hired him, and he kept the job. Brother Asaiah Bates married Kevin and Donna in 1988. They had their son, Daniel Jazz Maltz, in 1991, and he’s since blessed them with a grandchild.
The Maltzes built the Sourdough on the values of sustainability and environmental responsibility. It was the first restaurant to be no-smoking and the first to sell organic coffee. The Sourdough never, never had Styrofoam in the building.
“Food is a way to transform community, society,” Maltz said of her principles. “Change our bodies, change our minds — give us nourishment.”
The Sourdough grew from a café to a full restaurant, with evening hours. In five years the staff grew from six to 45.
“People would come here off the street homeless and ask if they could trade some work for food,” Maltz said. “They became the best workers.”
The Maltzes bought land for a garden on Green Timbers Road. They later moved to the top of West Hill Road and started A Memorable Experience B & B. They also ran a wedding service, and performed weddings for about 10 couples a year for 14 years.
In 1991 Maltz wrote and published her first book, “Yummy Recipes, Wilderness Wonders for Kids and Adults.” She also started Ah! Alaska, a line of organic chocolate cocoa and syrup mixes.
The Maltzes bought their first house in Hawaii in 2004 and their latest house in 2011. For the past 10 years, Kevin ran the Sourdough in the summers while Donna ran Always in Season in Hawaii. A certified health coach, she offers a retreat where people she can help guide people to better lives. They also teach cooking classes.
“I started building these businesses — notice, I said ‘businesses,’” Donna said. “It’s hard to build just one.”
Her memoir started in 2002 when Maltz recovered from what she called “four years of emotional self abuse.”
“How did the world get so messed up and how was it affecting me so much?” she said she asked herself.
She got her life back together and put the book aside for seven years. Maltz got back into it seriously in 2014. As Momma Donna she has a blog at her website, www.donnamaltz.com. She also wants to start an online memoir support group.
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes and it doesn’t matter who you’re writing it for,” she said. “…I think it’s really important for people to write their stories down. … It was part of the healing process for me to write this book.”
Aside from the story of how she came to Homer, built a business, started a family and created a life, Maltz said she also wants people to take away something else from her book.
“Downtown Homer was a dirt road,” she said. “Ocean Drive had a spattering of buildings. … I want people to feel the old Homer. … I want people to feel how awesome that is. We were just out here and making it happen.”