Columbus OH, Craft, Ohio, Service, Food

Dan Riesenberger : Dan the Baker

How did you get your start?

I was working at North Star Cafe… The main baker there left... and I ended up buying a bunch of his in-home baking equipment… I started experimenting around in my house baking breads. Mainly just eating them myself, but I brought some to the farmers market and started selling them. People were like, “Oh, what is that? Who are you? What are you doing?” I thought it was cool. I’m making bread, making a few bucks here and there. I realized I liked doing it. One of the shopkeepers at the Clintonville farmers market let me set up next to their store. That was my start. The first day [that I set up at the farmers market] I sold out in 90 minutes. The bread definitely wasn’t as nice as it is now but it was cool how much demand there was for a product like this. 

I’m not professionally trained in any way. [North Star] was its own type of baking. So any of the bread making training that I’ve gotten has been self taught. I’m growing with the recipes, just working with them. Trying and failing many times. 

...I quit North Star before I started a bakery… I didn’t have a plan for after that. The baking gig turned into “well, I need to make money, so…” Definitely grew very organically. It was never, “I’m going to be a baker and have this huge operation.” I kind of fell into it all. “Well, I’m good at this, it makes sense, people really like it, I can’t turn back now.” ...

All of this time and money spent.

Right... I grew the business slow and methodical. I didn’t really change the processes a lot. I have a really small staff, it’s very personal. It’s very much a passion that we all have. It’s not some large corporate production. Yes, we make a lot of bread, but we try to have that handmade feel, bring the love to the dough. I mean whatever but it is true. 

It’s something I never really want to grow so much that it loses that feel. Because then what’s the point? That is why I work in the first place. That is why I’m happy with it in the first place. So many people want to grow so fast, you lose that initial excitement and then it’s just another corporation. 

Do you still wake up excited about coming to work?

Oh yea! I love it! So I went to San Francisco for the first time last week. That was just a mind-blowing experience. I’ve always followed Tartine Bakery and Josey Baker and Don Guerra in Tucson. So I finally got to make a trip out there. It was so inspiring to see all of these bakeries and compare your bread vs theirs. To have that experience, [I came back] more excited to work with the product. To bake what I know. We do a really good job, I felt like ours held up. We’re making an awesome product and we don’t need to change much. 

What is an unexpected favorite thing about running your own business?

…I guess finding people that are as passionate as you about it. That really has been awesome. [It’s also] something I’ve had to come to terms with, because I’ve not wanted to give up the responsibility of dough shaping, mixing, baking, all that… To grow the business and to have free time, I’ve had to [let go of some responsibility.] It’s been fun finding people that are as passionate about the product and the business and the whole philosophy as I am. I’m a pretty introverted person in general. So bringing in other people has been something outside of my comfort zone, but it’s been one of the best things.

Creating your own bread community. 

Yes. Watching that bread culture grow, and I don’t mean the sourdough culture. I mean the community around the city that appreciates this bread… Watching that grow and materialize over the last six years has been super sweet. It makes you feel a lot more grounded. More responsible and influential in a way too. You can really affect change in a pretty cool way. By making a product that people can’t find elsewhere and can really get behind. That’s one of the things I picked up from baker Don Guerra in Tucson. His community out-reach philosophy… Instead of just making a really great loaf of bread, really connecting to the community. Teaching people ... how it is different from something they would buy at the grocery store. It made me really appreciate that and want to do something like that in Columbus. 

Bringing the bakery back down to the community level. Like they used to be.

Right. It has become this celebrity thing, and I don’t feel like that’s necessarily how it going to ride out. It’s awesome that it has that sort of exposure right now, the local foods and ‘back to the old methods’ foods. I think in the longer term it is more going to be more intimate than that, less flash. But you know, it’s always going to change. 

What gave you the idea for the Toast Bar?

In San Francisco, Josey Baker has a shop called The Mill. They took the artisan toast trend of San Francisco [started by Trouble Coffee] and opened their own. I went to Intellensia Coffee in Chicago and they were doing a flight sort of deal as well. and I thought, “Man that’s a perfect idea!” People can get exposed to the bread and in a non-pretentious way. It’s really funny, because as soon as I launched the idea, people were like, “That’s so pretentious.” That’s exactly what I was not going for. People can feel how they will about it and come see it if they like. It’s just a way to try the different breads and grains and spreads and such without committing to a whole loaf! And it allows us to make our own butter, jams, almond butter, [etc].

To have an excuse to expand into more things!

Right. I’ve tried to expand things too much before. I get really crazy ideas and try to do too much. Business is better when it’s focused and streamlined. I’ve had to realize, with these crazy expansion ideas, what we’re the best at. Keep it limited, keep it focused. Until we’re really, really ready to grow past where we are… Knowledge is half the battle. To know that, to see how to adapt. 

The options are limitless. You have to calm down about trying to do everything.

Absolutely. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.