Baker of the Month: Peter Merzbacher
Meet Peter Merzbacher: founder, owner, and head baker here at Philly Bread. He is at the forefront of a bold movement in New American Bread, a fresh take on baking that doesn’t just copy the best of Italian and French bread, but one that creates an approachable, inventive loaf that reflects the region in which it was created, right here in the United States.
Pete started pursuing a career in food early on, inspired by the approach that he took towards his education. “I designed my degree in college, so I learned how to identify a learning objective and work backward to achieve that,” Pete shares. “So I did the same with food. It was a self-designed learning adventure.” He started to spend time at farms, restaurants, and commissaries soaking up all the knowledge he could. He learned how to prepare many dishes and improve his culinary skills before he fatefully stumbled upon bread. His first loaf was based off a recipe from Tartine, a famous bakery in San Francisco, in December 2012. What started as a way to learn a new culinary skill quickly developed into a love affair.
He then began working out of his house and kitchens around the city to create his unique bread. He delivered his loaves via a bicycle trailer to friends and local businesses including Mariposa Food Co-op and Greensgrow Farms (still current Philly Bread customers). Eventually business got big enough that he moved into his current bakery in 2013 in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia. Business continued to grow to the point that there is now a small staff of fourteen that help the bakery run, doing everything from sales to mixing and baking to packaging to marketing.
The care and attention put into everything Philly Bread produces helped expand Pete's business. Using local grains that are milled in-house, natural fermentation techniques and more, a truly unique loaf of bread has been created. “It’s like coffee. You can’t just get a sack of coffee beans and call it a day. Everything from where those beans grow, to the roasting process, to preparing it for the customers are essential steps to give care and attention. That’s the same idea here. We want to have involvement in every aspect of the process and continuously make the freshest, best product we can put out there.” Pete is motivated to invest time, and attention to his approach to baking bread by questions like, “How much flavor can you pull from grain?” By continually asking questions, you’re continuously solving and improving. And that’s where you get unique products like that Philly Muffin.
Philly Bread’s signature product is an example of when experimentation and improvement make something great and original. Pete realized that there hadn’t been any improvements on the traditional English muffin in, well, ages. So with a bit of ingenuity and “accidental brilliance,” the Philly Muffin was born. The Muffin has a unique square shape with excellent flavor and texture and it provides a sturdy base on which to build a sandwich (and the air pockets give it the traditional look and feel of an English muffin). What makes it even more special is that it comes in many varietes including Original, Everything, Cinnamon Raisin, and house-milled Heirloom Wheat. Today the muffin is Philly Bread’s best-selling product and gives them a leg up on the competition with an offering that customers actually can’t find anywhere else.
Stay tuned here on Philly Bread’s blog for more in-depth looks at our process, the importance of milling our grain in-house, our all-star bakers, and more.