Micah Taylor freely admits that his business’ humble beginnings probably allowed him and partner Nate Houge to carve out a bit of a niche.
“Sometimes, I don’t think we’d have gotten as much publicity if we weren’t two idiots on our bikes,” he said Thursday.
But it’s the bread, the varied loaves of naturally leavened bread — along with the cookies, scones and rolls — that allowed these musicians-turned-bakers and their new bakery, Brake Bread, to win over hundreds of customers in the W. 7th Street area of St. Paul. The continued delivery of their goods by bicycle throughout the West End of the city probably doesn’t hurt either.
In a Twin Cities metropolitan area that is increasingly embracing all things bicycle — from commuting to delivering tacos, coffee and sandwiches — Taylor and Houge’s two-wheeled business beginnings aren’t all that unusual, said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. He ticked off the names of several businesses that got their start pedaling to peddle their wares, such as Taco Cat, Peace Coffee and Beez Kneez.
“Our bike friendliness has certainly attracted more bicycle-focused businesses and encourages other businesses to use biking more as well,” he said in an e-mail, pointing to the more than 10,000 Minneapolis residents who commute to work by bike, a 6,000-person increase from a decade ago.
He also noted that the Twin Cities are home to a range of businesses that revolve around bikes, from recreation like Pedal Pub to multiple shops catering to riders and employing hundreds of people.
Food by bicycle
Minneapolis’ Taco Cat got its start in April 2014, renting a commercial kitchen and doing night deliveries, said co-owner Dan Laeger-Hagemeister. Now, they also offer customers a walk-up space at their own stall at Midtown Global Market.
Laeger-Hagemeister said their customers are about a 50-50 split between walk-up and bike delivery, which is year-round. They deliver 150-200 meals a day, he said, “and that’s conservative.”
Brian Gioielli, the former proprietor of Geno’s Gelato, said that considering that a food truck can cost $100,000 or more, getting a food-oriented business rolling with bicycles makes a lot of sense.
“This allows you to build that brand awareness,” he said.
“People are excited about something unique, and biking a product around has a grass-roots kind of theme. A lot of stuff connected to bike culture can make a good vibe.”
Alas, Geno’s Gelato is no more. Gioielli pedaled around town selling gelato for a little more than two years. But he had recently gotten married and has a full-time job he enjoys.
Still, the business made money, he said. And he enjoyed it too.
“It was probably one of the more amazing things I have had a chance to do in my life,” he said. “I definitely could have kept it going.”
Houge and Taylor say they got into pedaling with bread because they like bicycling, but they are not pushing any kind of transportation agenda. “We make bread. We are bakers,” Taylor said.
Musicians who had played together, they said they warmed to the idea because Houge liked baking and was tiring of a musician’s life on the road and Taylor didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in a cubicle.
Brake Bread started in January 2014, baking in Houge’s kitchen.
But the expected handful of customers quickly ballooned into 50 subscribers — each of whom get a once-a-week delivery by bike — and prompted their renting a commercial kitchen three months later.
After pulling together more than $200,000 — more than $20,000 of which came from a successful Kickstarter campaign — they opened their bakery on W. 7th in May. The area’s artistic vibe (it’s home to dozens of musicians and the Schmidt Artist Lofts are nearby) seemed a natural fit for them, Taylor said.
“Something’s going on in this neighborhood,” he said.
Thursday morning, a steady stream of customers popped into the shop for its cardamom rolls, After School Special cookies and Classic Cruiser naturally leavened bread.
Brake Bread products are now being sold at Mississippi Market’s area store and the Midtown Farmers Market in Minneapolis. But more than 100 customers, from Lowertown to Highland Park, still get their bread delivered by bicycle on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays.
“This is our area,” Taylor said, as Houge scooped cookie dough onto a baking sheet nearby. “This is where we live.”