Aubrieann Johnson had always wanted to own her own business.
It was just that, for the longest time, the 32-year-old Pasco woman never could figure out what that would be.
It took going through some rough times before she found her answer: banana bread.
It happens to be a food that she herself couldn’t even stomach.
“No, not in a million years. It was not even on my radar,” she said. “I’m not even a fan of bananas.”
But here she is, two years into Aub’s Bananza Bread, with a storefront at the Pasco Specialty Kitchen and stalls at the Public Market at Columbia River Warehouse in Kennewick and Pasco Farmers Market to satisfy her ever-growing fan base.
“Banana bread is comfort food, and it makes people think about what grandma or mom made them,” Johnson said. “It becomes personal at that point.”
What’s she’s built has been impressive, but so is her journey and how she got there.
Johnson was working at Charter College as an admission representative when the pandemic hit.
She got sick, but it wasn’t Covid-19.
It took her six months of tests before she received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
During this time, like many others during the pandemic, she lost her job.
Trying to find something to do as she started to get better, she became a caregiver to a friend who had suffered a few strokes.
Part of her routine was to go to a local Starbucks each day to get her friend banana bread.
One day, though, Starbucks was out, so Johnson bought lemon loaf cake.
The friend rejected it and wanted her to make banana bread instead.
Never having made banana bread before – remember, Johnson doesn’t really like bananas – she found a recipe online and made a loaf.
Her friend loved it, and suddenly her banana bread would be the only one that would do.
Her friends and family tasted it, too.
“Honestly, my dad was the one who told me I could sell it,” she said.
That got her thinking: Maybe she could do it.
“I was raised by a single father (Aubrey Johnson Sr.), and for my entire life he never worked for anyone else,” she said. “He’s an entrepreneur, and he’s had a lot of different businesses. Among other things he was a cosmetologist, and he owned a barbecue restaurant.
She started slow, posting on Facebook that she was taking orders. Each week she got more and more.
The best part was working with her mom and dad.
“Feb. 15, 2021, was the first day I made it,” she said. “I’ll always remember that date. That became a normal routine. And I get to share this with my dad.”
Her father, who is in his late 70s, sometimes helps run the public market stall on weekends when Aub's has events.
Johnson said the key to her banana bread is texture. “It’s moist. It’s really flavorful,” she said.
But she is also a bit of a daredevil in the kitchen.
“I enjoy the experimental process of baking,” she said. “Everything is the same texture. It’s all chemistry. It’s just science. My passion is cooking. And that’s about chemical reactions. Add a little salt here, maybe some lemon juice there.”
And the friend who she cared for challenged her to experiment.
“She said, ‘What else can you do?’ So I added walnuts. I did extracts,” Johnson said.
There were failures along the way.
“Absolutely there are misses. But we’re actually up to 30 flavors now,” she said. “There is an ongoing list that I add to all of the time. People come for the flavor. And (those flavors are) ever changing. The possibilities of what you can do with banana bread are endless.”
Johnson said the most popular is the OG Classic, which is her take on the traditional banana bread loaf.
But other popular loaves are Nutty Buddy, Oreo, Reese’s, Death by Chocolate, Pina Colada and Pumpkin Cheesecake.
“The OG Classic is the base recipe for everything,” she said.
From there, she takes off. Just like her business.
The Johnsons average anywhere from 15 to 20 hours a week baking in the Pasco Specialty Kitchen. They bake two sizes: a mini loaf and a smaller bite-sized version.
“A regular week in the kitchen means anywhere from 250 to 450 bite size loaves; and 100 to 150 mini loaves,” Johnson said.
In a business that started with herself, her mom and dad, Johnson already has added another employee to help sell the merchandise.
Right now, her banana bread is sold in the Caterpillar Cafe at the Uptown Shopping Center in Richland, as well as Bubbly Boba in Kennewick.
The breads can be ordered for delivery via Tri-City Food Force delivery service, and she has approval to accept state food assistance cards.
It’s all about getting more people to eat Aub’s signature breads.
“I get excited seeing people’s reactions,” she said. “We have free samples. And I love it when someone says they don’t like banana bread. I tell them to just try it, and then I look at their faces.
“One customer walked away with a sample. When he tasted it, he turned his head around and looked at me.”
She’s got bigger dreams on the horizon.
“I’m thinking about expanding possibly into specialty snacks, like maybe make an ice cream sandwich with Bananza Bread,” Johnson said. “Now we’re looking at wholesaling, get it into stores. Ultimately, I’d love to be in grocery stores, like Yoke’s, so more people see the product.”
That would help her get to her goal.
“I want to be a household name,” said Johnson, who still doesn’t care for bananas or banana bread herself.
Then she stops herself.
“Well, I like mine,” she said.
She’s not the only one.
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