By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Apr 05, 2012 at 9:04 AM

These days, sprouted grains are all the rage. Known for their superior nutritional content and advanced digestibility, you'll see them in products on shelves at Outpost Natural Food Coop, Whole Foods and a variety of other local retailers. If you didn't know better, you'd think sprouted grains were something new.

But, a Milwaukee-area wholesale bakery has been specializing in breads made with good-for-you sprouted grain since 1969. In fact, it's the only sprouted grain bakery in the Midwest. Originally owned by the Cyrus family, Cybros was purchased in 2009 by an unlikely couple from Milwaukee.

James Marino was in the mortgage business. He ran four mortgage origination and servicing companies for the $20 billion Chicago hedge fund Citadel LLC, and he made the commute to Chicago every day without fail.

But, with so much uncertainty in the financial markets, paired with his desire to spend more time with wife, Jenny, and his two daughters, Marino decided to take control of his own destiny and begin the search for a Milwaukee-based business to purchase.

The couple didn't intend to buy a bakery, but they were looking for a local business that had great growth potential, and it turned out that Cybros fit the bill.

"While the bakery was one of the very first businesses we looked at, we dismissed it as being too far out of our comfort zone," says Jenny Marino, co-owner of the bakery. "Only after looking at many other businesses and tasting the bread and buns did we circle back to Cybros, The Sprouted Bakehouse."

In addition to falling in love with the sprouted grain products that Cybros produced, the Marinos found themselves drawn to the potential for bringing fresh sprouted grain products to the eastern half of the country. But, the purchase of the bakery was by no means a turn-key purchase – and it wasn't just that baking sprouted grain breads presented a new challenge.

"While the learning curve in terms of baking the breads was significant in that neither James nor I are bakers by trade, our biggest challenge was putting together an infrastructure and systems internally," Marino explains.

After taking ownership and monitoring every process closely, the Marinos realized that standards needed to be better defined and monitored. All orders and production schedules were recorded by hand. And, although the business was shipping out plenty of bread, there was much work to be done to bring efficiency to their processes.

"James came from a highly technical world where processes were beautifully streamlined," Marino remarks. "When we bought the bakery, they had one phone line, one general email address, no type of tracking, inventory or accounting software ... baking was done with a 'little bit of this, little bit of that' attitude, and production was anything but efficient. It took us months to build an internal system to track and streamline all aspects of the business.

"Now, everything down to ingredients and sales data can be viewed with the click of a button, and production runs with fierce efficiency."

These processes, paired with in-store marketing efforts, point-of-sale displays and an overall educational campaign to increase awareness at a grass roots level, have resulted in unprecedented growth. Sales have nearly tripled since the Marinos purchased the bakery nearly two and a half years ago.

But, despite their success, their well-established brand and loyal following, James and Jenny have no plans to sit back and rest on their laurels.

"We believe in the tremendous benefits of sprouted grain products and feel strongly that Americans need to eat better," James writes on the Cybros Fan Club blog. "With all of the debate today surrounding the real problem of rising health care costs, everyone can agree that Americans need to start eating healthier and what better place to start than with whole grain breads in their purest form?"

To give you a better idea of what James is talking about, let's talk for a moment about the advantages of sprouted grain products.

Flour, by nature, is a dry, flavorless substance. Most healthy breads made from regular flour require significant amounts of fat, sugar and salt in order to make them palatable. But, not sprouted grain products.

During the sprouting process, the complex carbohydrates in grains break down into simple sugars, and the proteins break down into amino acids; both are easier for the body to process. Sprouting neutralizes phytic acid – a substance present in grains – that inhibits absorption of nutrients. In addition, the sprouted grains have the advantage of being higher in protein and fiber, and lower in both carbohydrates and calories.

Cybros uses house-sprouted red wheat berries as a processed flour substitute. Because they're made from whole-wheat kernels, sprouted grain breads are an excellent source of whole grains. The process, along with the fact that Cybros bread contains no unrefined sugars, fats or preservatives, gives the product a natural advantage over breads made with traditionally milled flour.

An even bigger difference is apparent when it comes to flavor. Unlike their traditional whole grain counterparts, Cybros sprouted grain breads are surprisingly soft, with a flavor that is both earthy and nutty. And, unlike their West Coast competitors, Cybros packages and sells its products fresh, rather than frozen.

"The biggest challenge in using freshly ground sprouted grains to make our products comes in forecasting orders," Marino says. "We don't have the luxury of opening bags of flour when orders are surprisingly high. The die is cast days in advance when we determine how much grain to set."

Cybros currently produces a variety of sprouted grain products including hamburger and hot dog buns, baguettes, six types of bread and a frozen sprouted grain pizza dough. Although the Marinos are currently focused on creating a pre-baked, ready-to-use pizza dough product, similar to Boboli, they would like to produce a full line of sprouted grain products, including dry goods such as crackers and croutons.

"We are passionate about great tasting, good-for-you food products, and are always looking for creative ways to use sprouted grains," Marino explains. "We believe strongly that anything that is made from flour can and should be made from sprouted grains."

For more information and for a list of retailers that carry Cybros products, visit

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.