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Bread Bike's vision for the future involves a symbiotic relationship with the community, being part of California's grain economy, and of course, lots of bread

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What does it mean to be a community-supported bakery?

For Bread Bike, the concept has evolved with their business. When owners Mariah Grady and Sam DeNicola first started out, they were baking and biking bread to SLO locals' homes—like a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box, but for bread.

FRESH BAKED Bread Bike co-owner and baker Mariah Grady pulls a fresh batch of cookies out of the oven. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTIAN RAMIREZ
  • Photo Courtesy Of Christian Ramirez
  • FRESH BAKED Bread Bike co-owner and baker Mariah Grady pulls a fresh batch of cookies out of the oven.

You can still get bread delivered to your door by bike, but now you'll also find Bread Bike under an easy-up tent at local farmers' markets, or at the bakery's newly built-out space on Parker Street.

From the public's view, Bread Bike's bakery space popped up rather seamlessly. Behind the scenes, it was months of laborious days as DeNicola and his dad turned a completely blank space into a fully functioning bakery. Meanwhile, Grady and Matt Gamarra—formerly of Loaf Osos, and now Bread Bike's third co-owner alongside Grady and DeNicola—kept pastry and bread-making afloat. Now about 16 people have a hand in Bread Bike's operations.

Though it's been open to the public for a few months, Bread Bike celebrated the grand opening of its bakery space with a free pizza party on April 9. It was a joyous event filled with food, music, and dancing, attended by hundreds of supporters.

DeNicola remembers the moment he and Grady realized they needed their own bakery space. At the beginning, Bread Bike rented space from existing bakeries in SLO, but business was quickly outgrowing a shared space. So the pair met at Triangle Park in 2020, where they often hold their business meetings, and decided to start working toward getting a bakery all to themselves.

"It was these big questions of, I know I need a location. I know I need this big, expensive equipment that takes a long time to procure. ... And I also know I need a ton of money to do all of that," DeNicola said. "I didn't know how to start. I felt really paralyzed."

That's when he discovered Slow Money SLO, a nonprofit with a mission to support the sustainable growth of small food, beverage, and farm businesses. The organization facilitates peer-to-peer loans to help businesses like Bread Bike get the capital they need to, say, build a bakery from scratch.

"Different people were like, this is an awesome project, I would like to contribute $5,000, or I would like to contribute $20,000, or whatever, and that was the beginning," DeNicola said. "This came from 10 to 15 different individuals who live here in the county, who want to see this exist."

From there, things started to click into place.

"It was a year ago almost exactly that I signed the lease on this space," DeNicola said. "This project basically was run by myself and my father, because my dad's a general contractor."

DeNicola said he often marvels at all the little things that allowed Bread Bike to happen: the loans through Slow Money SLO, his dad being able to help him build, the community members who stepped up and pitched in.

"It's a feeling of gratitude. Things just work for Bread Bike, somehow," he said. "I think that's because we're just trying to make something for the community. No one's trying to get rich, we're just trying to make good food. And people see that."

Bread Bike's front entrance is bright and cheery. Verdant pothos plants wind their vines around ceiling beams, and a glass counter display is filled with fresh-made gallettes, scones, cookies, and rolls. Slanted wooden shelves behind the front counter are overflowing with baguettes and loaves.

Bakers scurry around in the back, weighing butter, pushing bags of grain on carts, popping in and out of the walk-in fridge, and maneuvering around the massive, 8-foot-tall bread oven. Leaning against a burnt orange wall are bags of poppy and sesame seeds, a flat of oranges, and fresh grain. And then there's Bread Bike's latest addition, the pièce de résistance: a stone mill, which is basically two slabs of stone granite that grind grain into flour.

WHOLE GRAIN Sam DeNicola hopes that Bread Bike's new stone mill will allow the bakery to become part of the local grain economy. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BREAD BIKE
  • Photo Courtesy Of Bread Bike
  • WHOLE GRAIN Sam DeNicola hopes that Bread Bike's new stone mill will allow the bakery to become part of the local grain economy.

"Our bread begins in fields," DeNicola said. "All the grain we use is grown organically."

In the past, Bread Bike purchased its grains already in flour form. But the mill will change that.

"We're working on adjusting our recipes so 100 percent of our whole grain components in the bread are going to be freshly stone milled," DeNicola said.

Stone mills are what allow grain to remain whole, he explained. A grain kernel is made up of three pieces: bran, endosperm, and germ.

"White flour is just purely the endosperm," DeNicola said. "Then the bran and the germ, that's where you have a lot of your nutrition, and also flavor and oils in there."

But flavor and oil are also what make food go bad.

"That's the great invention of white flour: It can sit on the shelf forever and it doesn't go rancid," DeNicola said. "And the great loss is, well, you stripped it of all the nutrients. But we don't have to worry about things going bad because we're milling it, and the same day, or the next day, we're using that in our flour. That's preserving nutrition, but it's also preserving flavor and aroma."

With the addition of the mill, DeNicola envisions the bakery becoming "a part of California's grain economy." Five years down the road, he could see Bread Bike having a whole facility dedicated to milling, "really becoming a part of this economy that we think has value."

"When you have strong local connections, you can do stuff that, when there's a war somewhere else and global wheat production goes down, it doesn't affect us here," he said.

But as Bread Bike evolves, DeNicola said, what it means to be a community-supported bakery stays steady.

"I think at its core, a community-supported bakery is just this idea that our job is to support the community—and at the same time, and equally so, we are only able to do that if the community supports us," he said. "It's a symbiotic relationship, and we cannot exist without the community's support." Δ

Staff Writer Malea Martin is munching on a Bread Bike baguette. Reach her at mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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