In a city where cookie tables are as important to brides and grooms as the wedding cake, skilled bakers are in high demand. But starting a business can be challenging, even for a baker who can whip up a delicious and popular product.
So The Bakery Society Pittsburgh (or TBSP, a play on the unit of measurement) is whipping up an entrepreneurial program from scratch.
This new “bakery incubator” — the first of its kind in the country — is an initiative of Economic Development South (EDS), an organization that works to support and strengthen business ventures in the southern part of Allegheny County. With funding from the Hillman Foundation and tax credits provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, EDS is converting a defunct bakery into a sweet way for local impresarios to make some bread.
“Pittsburgh is such a foodie town and embraces things that are different and unique,” says Tim Hindes, chief marketing officer for EDS. “By putting an old building back into use, we will spawn new businesses and attract folks to the idea.”
Inspired by the success of other restaurant incubator programs such as Smallman Galley in the Strip District, TBSP purchased the shuttered Kullman’s bakery building on Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver. They’re now in the process of transforming it into a factory that churns out new business owners the way the Kullman family used to churn out pastries.
Through Feb. 16, culinary artists can apply to join TBSP’s inaugural class of Bakers-in-Residence. This intensive, 18-month program will focus on both baking skills and business.
While honing their personal skills, the Bakers-in-Residence will also learn about marketing, customer service and finances. After making their goods in the sprawling, third-floor kitchen, the chefs will sell them downstairs in the retail shop.
The icing on the cake? Bakers receive 70 percent of the profits. And another five percent will go into a savings account that will give them capital toward eventually opening their own brick-and-mortar shops. TBSP plans to use the remaining 25 percent to cover operating costs.
While TBSP can only support three or four Bakers-in-Residence in this first group, there are other ways for other local bakers to participate.
Folks who are skilled at making a particularly delicious donut or honey bun can apply to become a Tenant Baker. TBSP will advertise and sell their wares — which they can create using on-site equipment and ingredients — and give them a portion of the profit.
TBSP also will open its doors and ovens to a select group of Community Bakers, people who are interested in eventually turning their edible hobby into a career.
Instead of producing hundreds of cookies in their own home kitchens, for example, Community Bakers will have access to a large, safe, health department-approved environment for baking their product.
Who should apply? Chef Philip Enck, TBSP’s general manager, tells us “a solid background in producing baked goods is a must.” But that doesn’t have to include professional experience. “I love some of the home cooks I have met during this process and what they are doing,” he says.
Enck also tells us applicants should “have a vision of what they want to do and the necessary passion to achieve their goal.”
Enck believes solid culinary education at a place like The Art Institute of Pittsburgh can be the strongest basis for a successful baking business.
But, he says, “if that isn’t a possibility, and for many of us, due to family obligations and schedules it isn’t, learn the basics of baking at home and become good at it. Do more than just cupcakes, but learn bread, pie and pastries. Experimentation, especially in baking, is a good thing. By learning new techniques and practicing them, we develop our passion which then makes us unstoppable!”
Once applicants are selected by TBSP’s advisory committee, the Bakers-in-Residence training will start. The facility is expected to open in May.
Pittsburghers, save some room for dessert.