2016 San Francisco Rising Star BakerJosey Baker of Josey Baker Bread

2016 San Francisco Rising Star BakerJosey Baker of Josey Baker Bread
May 2016

Josey Baker has always been a Baker, just not always a baker. The New York native and longtime Vermonter moved to San Francisco in 2005, well before he got his hands into dough. Five years later, set to commence studies in psychology, a childhood friend gifted him a sourdough starter—he was hooked after the first loaf.  

Eventually, Baker out-paced his capacity to consume the bread he baked, filling his apartment with loaves and giving the rest away. One day, a friend paid cash for a loaf, and the word spread. On Thanksgiving, 60 strangers (say pilgrims) showed up at Baker’s door to buy bread. Having unwittingly turned an interest into an obsession, and an obsession into an inst-business, Baker quit his job and rented production space from Mission Pie and wood-fired Pizzaiolo in Oakland. He began selling loaves through a community supported bread program (a CSA for bread). 

In 2012, Josey Baker Bread opened in The Mill, a shared cafe-bakery space where he installed a mill, to process California wheat and rye, started baking loaves, and popularized one of the most unexpected trends to emerge from San Francisco in recent years: toast. In 2014, Baker published Josey Baker Bread, a book for beginning bakers. He currently leads a team of 11, is constructing a larger custom mill, and supplies bread to San Francisco’s top restaurants, including Petit Crenn, Nopa, and State Bird Provisions. 

Interview with San Francisco Rising Star Josey Baker of Josey Baker Bread

Sean Kenniff: How did you get into bread?
Josey Baker: My friend gave me a sourdough starter in 2010. So I started baking at home, and eventually selling my bread to friends and neighbors. That year, on Thanksgiving, 60 people showed up to my house to buy bread. So, I started working in a commisary kitchen in the mission, and then I was using the kitchen at Mission Pie and Pizzaiolo in Oakland. Four Barrel approached me in 2011 and said they were going to build a cafe, and asked if I wanted to have a bakery in their space. Now we have a space at The Mill.

SK: What’s your biggest daily challenge?
JB: It differs depending on the day. Personally, my biggest challenge is maintaining balance in all of this—the quality of the product, the quality of life for my team, the work-life balance for me and all of my bakers. Communication is important. It’s all very hard, definitely, it’s like the bread itself. If you’re not totally tuned into it, something is going to suffer. It’s also really hard to find passionate people that are really just trying to bake bread. 

SK: What’s your five year plan?
JB: People are always asking what I’m doing next, and if there’s going to be another location. But I need to focus on what I have here. There’s a lot of potential and I love it, and it needs me. We’ve built a family here, and the family is almost too big as it is. I want to know all of my staff really well.

SK: What restaurants source your bread?
JB: Petit Crenn, Nopa, Bar Agricole. State Bird buys my flour. I make 40 loaves a day, and there’s a wait list. There’s so much demand, and not enough local millers and bakeries to meet it.

SK: What are your favorite baking resources?
The Bread Builders by Alan Scott and Daniel Wing. It’s two parts: bread baking and oven building. I got into the baking part. Most helpful are my relationships with other bakers. They’re a real friendly lot. I reached out to people out of the blue, locally and back in Vermont where I’m from. I reached out to Dave Miller in Chicago. And Charlie Hallowell, I used his oven at Mission Pie and Pizzaiolo, I’m always picking his brain.