Last month, we told a little bit of Aubrieann Johnson’s story in our ARPA article: tumbleweird.org/arpa-benton
This month, you’ll get to hear all about her amazing banana bread and the journey she went through to build Aub’s Bananza Bread!
I’m interested in your origin story, and you also have all of this awesome bread. I’m so excited to find you! Because I really want to try all of these.
Yes, you have to
Do you have some seasonal flavors as well?
Yes, I have 18 flavors altogether, and every week I rotate about five or six. And then, of course, I get to throw in the seasonal ones! So it’s a lot, but it’s a lot of fun, too, and I really enjoy it.
I’ll definitely be offering the Pumpkin Cheesecake and Chocolate Cheesecake through the end of December. There will also be exclusive holiday flavors available in addition to the regular flavors that are in rotation. And we’re offering ‘Bananza Boxes’ which are large containers with full-loaf slices in four different flavors (equivalent to two full loaves). Great for family dinners, office meetings, parties — anywhere you want to bring goodies to share.
I like the idea of rotating because it keeps it fresh for people. They’ll want to check back to see what new flavors you have each week. And then you’re at the Public Market, right?
Yes. I consider that my home store. For the fall and winter hours, they’re open Fridays through Sundays. Doors open at 10 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, the Market closes at 5 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m.
I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes for fall and winter. You know, with farmers markets shutting down, it’s a nice something to do in the colder weather that's inside, so you don’t have to worry about freezing your buns off.
Absolutely! Okay. So, tell me your story. How did Aub’s Bananza Bread get started?
Alright. So, a little bit of background — it was the end of 2020. You know, we’re going through all the motions of COVID and whatnot. At the time, I was working for Charter College as an admissions representative. And everything was going great. I totally enjoyed my job. And then I got sick all of a sudden, out of nowhere. It wasn’t COVID, and it took about six months of tests and imaging before I finally got a diagnosis. It turns out I’ve got rheumatoid arthritis, which is this crazy thing that I knew really nothing about. You know, when I hear arthritis, I automatically think joints and bones, but rheumatoid is a whole different game.
It’s a systemic thing, right?
It’s an autoimmune disorder. And it affects so many things. So, unfortunately, I found out I was diagnosed with that, and in the midst of it I lost my job. The FMLA Act was great, but it just took a little too long. So I wasn’t working, and I was just trying to get the medications and things worked out to where I could function normally.
I eventually got that under control, but I wasn’t quite ready to put myself back into the full stress of working commission sales, or even doing what I was doing at the college. So around that same time, one of my really good friends — who ironically I had worked with at Charter College, and three other companies before — started talking. We had something like a 10-year working relationship. I’m even the godmother of her daughter; our friendship is a beautiful thing.
Was it just happenstance? Like you just happened to keep working for the same companies? Or did you recruit each other?
We did! We’re a great working team. Her name is Niki Mares… I gotta give this girl credit ‘cause she’s a major piece to my whole livelihood now. So, ironically, through this whole health scare, she ends up having a stroke. She was maybe 32 at the time. So you know, fairly young; it was totally unexpected. And after the first stroke, she ended up having two more within one month. It was a very, very scary time for her. And while that was happening, I was recovering. So I said, “You know what? I’m going to be your caregiver.”
It was an easy decision for me. It’s nice when you’re going through something like that to have someone who’s close to you; it kind of wills you to get better. And she needed a lot of help with her daughter. So I became her caregiver three days a week. Every morning, this girl would send me to Starbucks to get her coffee banana bread. One day, they just happened to be out of banana bread, and I got something else — the lemon loaf cake, I think. I brought it back and she was not having it. She said, hey, we have a bunch of overripe bananas; just bake one. And at this point in life, I had never made a banana bread ever. I didn’t even like banana bread, if I’m being honest.
You like it now though, right?
Well, I like mine. Bring me anyone else’s... it’s not happening. Okay, so I just Googled the most generic, basic version of banana bread. I did it. And Nikki said, “Oh, this is good.” And she started suggesting things, like putting chocolate in it, or nuts. So instead of going to Starbucks from this point on, I was making banana breads once a week for this girl.
And then I start getting creative — taking things out, adding different spices in. At this point, I’m making my whole own recipes, and she’s loving it. And when I took some home to my family — Mom and Dad, cousins — they said, “Well, this is really good. You could sell this.” At the time, I didn’t really take it seriously, but I made a post on Facebook saying something like, “Hey, I’m making banana bread. So if anybody wants in, let me know.”
That week, I got a few orders. The next week, I got a few more. And at this point, I started thinking, “Oh my gosh… this could really be a thing.” And this was over the course of about three months; I was just baking at home. But it had gotten to where I was pumping them out and making like 70 loaves a week at home. Never in a million years did I ever, ever imagine that I would be a baker, let alone baking banana bread. But I thought to myself: “I can really do this.” And I had always wanted to own my own business. So, I went through and got my business license, and did all that jazz. I got in with a commercial kitchen in Downtown Pasco.
Oh, you’re at the Specialty Kitchen!
Yep. So that’s where I make it now.
I’m looking at my business now as an actual business now instead of a side hustle, right? So I got all my permits and everything, and I’m working in the commercial kitchen. It was a family thing; initially, it was my mom, my dad, and myself. I couldn’t do this without them. My dad is still my main baker. He calls himself my sous chef.
We’re Aub’s Bananza Bread because my name is Aubrey, and I have a lot of friends who call me Aubs, but also because my dad’s name is Aubrey Lee, so we’re the Aubs. You know?
Oh, wow, that’s awesome!
It’s really cool, too, because my dad is 77 this year. So, it’s something he likes to do that gets him up and moving. And, you know, he always says that the only reason we get old is because we sit down and we let ourselves get old. So as long as you stay active, it kind of helps you.
So Aub’s Bananza Bread became a full-time job. We were doing farmers markets, and trying to do any pop-ups that we could get into And then, I mean, we were doing pretty well. We were just gradually doing more and more events, getting into the expos and things.
So when I heard they were redoing the inside of the old Welch’s factory to make the public market, I thought, “Oh, my gosh; this is my chance to have an actual set location with actual set hours.” So I hopped on that immediately. We still do farmers markets and events though, as much as possible.
Your bread must be great! You have something like 40 reviews on your Facebook page and you have a full five stars — not four and a half… every single person has given you five stars, so it must be amazing!
Here, let me quote a couple of reviews. One says:
“This is the best, most unique banana bread I have ever had! The flavors are delicious! My kids beg me for this stuff every weekend.”
Most of the reviews are like that… saying it’s the best bread they’ve ever tasted.
This one made me giggle:
“Holy crap this is THE BEST banana bread I have ever had. Not your regular shmegular, this is banana bread to another level. I had the bananza box with all the flavors and I cannot tell you which one was my favorite because you simply cannot have one. This girl is killing it!! I cannot wait to get my hands on more.”
I have to share one more; it’s probably my favorite. It’s so weird (which is kind of on-brand for us) and also so sweet:
“I was sitting at a train cross on A Street in Pasco today and jamming out to some Backstreet Boys when Aub’s pulled up next to me and we were jamming out to Backstreet Boys together. She looked over and then asked me if I liked Banana Bread (and then Peanut Butter Cups) to which I said yes. She then said, ‘Let me get you some Banana Bread,’ and gave me a loaf of the bread. I tried it tonight and hands down [the] best bread I’ve had in a long time. I would highly recommend it. 5 out of 5 stars.”
I thought that was made up, but based on the comments back and forth, it sounds like it really happened! People really, really love your bread.
I'm so grateful. I'm so grateful. It still blows my mind. And that’s part of why we’re Aub's Bananza Bread. You know, the definition of ‘bonanza’ with the proper spelling is like a sudden influx of wealth. You know what I mean? We struck gold. That’s really what happened. Like, I had no intention of making this my business or my livelihood at all. Like, literally, I just tell everyone, I’m blessed. Like, there’s no way, girl. If Starbucks hadn’t been out of banana bread that day, this would not exist. You know what I mean? This wasn’t on my radar. Not at all.
Talk to me about flavors.
Okay! There are about 18 that I keep in rotation. But I’ve experimented with so many. I’ll tell you about a few of them: We’ve got the traditional loaf we call the OG Classic. We have one called Nutty Buddy that has both walnuts and pecans. We also have what I call our fun flavors, like Oreos and Reese’s. I do a Piña Colada with coconut and pineapple. I do a Pumpkin Cheesecake — it’s got a sweet cream swirl in there. That one is available even when it’s not fall. It’s the number one most requested.
Everything I do, it’s all throughout the entire loaf, not just on top. So you get crushed Oreos in every bite, or Reese’s bits in every bite. Let’s see… we do Cranberry White Chocolate, and I have one called Death by Chocolate. If you like chocolate at all, that’s the one. Three different types. But yeah, it’s just a ton of different flavors and I’m always experimenting with new ones. We do our Candy Yam loaf in the fall. We’ve done Marshmallow S’mores…. If it’s something sweet, I’ve probably put it in banana bread. And it just works.
Aub’s Bananza Bread is at the Public Market @ Columbia River Warehouse, 10 E Bruneau Ave, Building C, Kennewick, WA 99336.