Seylou means “eagle” in the Mandinka language of West Africa. While the eagle has long stood for spiritual quest and vision in many mythological and cultural traditions throughout history, for Jonathan and Jessica - owners of Seylou Bakery - this sacred bird also symbolizes the birthplace of Jonathan’s vision.
Several years ago, Jonathan ventured on an unforgettable journey to Senegal to study West African drumming. The following year he returned, ending up in a far-flung desert village where he made a deep connection and formed lifelong friendships with the locals, who helped him develop a new perspective on his life. Oftentimes in the late afternoon he would notice a majestic bird flying overhead, as if keeping him company. When he asked the village chief for the name of this beautiful bird, he was told its name was “seylou."
Filled with a strong, yet still un-defined purpose, Jonathan made a promise to himself that someday he would find a way to give back to this wonderful community that had treated him like family and taught him so much, designating “seylou” as a reminder of this promise.
Jonathan decided to change his focus from music to baking, but after training at the San Francisco Baking Institute and working in the Bay area for the next few years, he had serious questions about making a career commitment to baking. Not only was baking bread for a living incredibly hard work, but in addition, his wrists were painfully strained, three jobs still couldn't pay the rent and the gluten free fad was the latest food trend. Somewhat discouraged, and questioning his purpose, he needed a stronger resolve…a renewal of that promise made back in Senegal.
When he reconnected with his promise to give back to the village, things began to shift. He began to give away what he felt he did not have to give: money and time. He researched agriculture as a means to aid the people of the village, who were struggling for their next meal. His passion for baking returned in the form of whole grains, and the realm of baking opportunities began to unfold. He landed a job at Washington State University’s Bread Lab, working alongside Dr. Stephen Jones to bring together the art and science of baking and breeding. This revealed the importance of plant variety, farming practices, fresh milling and long fermentation, which all contribute to the flavor and nutritional benefits of grains. This undertaking also introduced him to world class chefs, farmers, bakers and millers throughout the country.
After three great years at the Bread Lab, Jonathan and Jessica decided it was time to start a business of their own, bringing the art of whole grain baking to the nation’s capital.
SEYLOU offers a unique experience, starting with the farmers and leading to the seeds, which are milled on-site and baked into 100% whole grain breads in a wood-fired oven. Eclectic and nutritious specialty items, pastries, coffees and teas are also available.
UPDATE: In the Fall of 2017, just prior to opening SEYLOU, we able to visit the original village Jonathan received his inspiration from on a consulting trip with the USDA's Millet Project. We have since been able to coordinate efforts in order to improve farming conditions in the village and are actively working with Jonathan's spiritual mentor to build a bakery which incorporates local cereals such as millet and maize. For more information on the status of the bakery in Touba Sanokho please click here.