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Going against the grain: Houston’s “Bread Man” is shaking up the bakery scene.

There isn’t a person in this world who doesn’t get a warm feeling when they smell freshly baked bread.

You know exactly how it feels. It reminds you of home, it makes you comfortable and a little hungry. It lingers in your mind – it’s a scent you don’t forget.

When I first arrived at the Bread Man Baking Company’s Bakehouse, I got that warm feeling, and I knew it would be a place I wouldn’t soon forget.

I was immediately greeted by the Bread Man himself – Tasos Katsaounis. Tasos is a warm, creative spirit who has a passion for bringing high-quality artisan loaves of bread to Houstonians. The Bread Man Baking Company’s bread is all handmade, and all done with care.

Looking around the Bakehouse, the place is an unassuming operation, but big things are coming out of their shop. Some of those things are familiar, like classic sourdough bread. Others are things that could only come out of the mind of a creative bread genius.

I first discovered The Bread Man Baking Company through Instagram. I saw the most beautiful loaf of bread I’ve ever seen. It was like art – something that had to be so made with love and expertise. I started liking the photos and eventually had to know when I could get my hands on this bread.

And that’s how I ended up at the Bakehouse, watching skillful artisans experiment in their bread lab, with the aroma of freshly baked bread all around us. I asked Tasos to tell me about how this all started. Check out our Q & A below (which has been edited for length, and clarity):

 

Photo by BrandTree Media

Tasos Katsaounis, The Bread Man: All that I’ve had the chance to do – it all just stems from the community. Them supporting us and the demand. This whole thing started as a hobby out of my home kitchen, and I learned how to bake bread when I was 10.

My parents being Greek immigrants, it was more affordable for them to buy a bag of flour and make bread than to buy really good bread, which is what they were used to in the village back in Greece.

So twice a week, sometimes 3 days a week, my mom and I would be in the kitchen baking bread for the house and I baked every day or every other day until I was probably 17.

Now fast forward to February of last year [2017] Roula, my wife, and I were having a conversation in our kitchen about how we missed her father’s bread that he would make for Easter and that’s when I raised my hand I told her “you know I know how to make bread?”

She’s like “let me get this straight – we’ve been married for 8 years, and I didn’t know this?” Because when did I have time to make bread, right? So she said, “do you think you can make some?”

I said “let me give it a try,” because it’s a process, and I was raised on making artisan breads which are naturally fermented products. I made my starter, which we still use today, and [the business] grew from the end of February until June when I quit my job and we were doing this full time.

At the time, we had moved into a smaller kitchen on the north side of town, and then the demand kept growing from a wholesale perspective.

Mila Clarke Buckley: So, what was it like getting that first customer?

TK: Our first customer was a hotel, and they contacted us, and they really forced our hand to create a company, take that next leap, and get a kitchen to start producing. When they called me I was a little in shock.

I told him that you have the wrong number, I’m not a bakery and they said “is this Tasos?” and I said yes, and they said, “no, we have the right number can you come down here next week with some samples?”

So it just kind of transpired from that conversation and we still service that hotel [Westin Hotel Downtown] that was our first wholesale customer and its grown since then and now we’re getting ready to open this facility [The Breadman Baking Company Bakehouse].

Photo by BrandTree Media

MCB: So what about the name?

TK: It’s funny the name of the company actually was named by my then six-year-old daughter. She’s now 7, but she loves to tell everybody that “I named daddy’s company.”

How it happened was when I was just baking for the local community out of my home and selling the neighbors. Picture a six-year-old with an island of bread cooling. Naturally, there’s the smell, and they want to touch and grab everything. And my oldest goes “Well, daddy if this is not for us who’s it for?” and I said well it’s it’s for other people, and she said oh, so you’re a Bread Man Baking Company.

And I said “wait a minute, what did you say?” and she repeated it and I thought – that’s the name. My wife was like ‘you better write that down!’

MCB: How does your upbringing play into your business?

TK: We decided to take the approach that we’re both first generation Greek kids that grew up very differently than your typical American child and so we’re taking that European approach which is the inspiration for the whole thing.

Some of the recipes that we use are my grandmother’s and my mom’s which we still use today. All of the braided loaves of bread that my grandmother would make when we go to Greece. So, I said this reminds me of my YiaYia; let’s make it and it worked, it’s our signature bread and our highest selling bread that we have.

With the other bread, I just I have a very creative side of me to that I like to explore and I also love food because I grew up in the food industry back home and Dallas, my parents had a restaurant as well.

I just like to do something that I don’t see everyday, so we’re exploring with a lot of different flavor profiles that we think would be very good on a seasonal basis as well as an everyday table bread. We have a combination of sweet and savory that we feel our [wholesale] customers would want to then in-turn let their customers experience.

Photo by BrandTree Media

MCB: So, it must be great to see the reaction from your customers.

TK: That’s the fun part about this, seeing the end product after all the hours that it takes to produce one of these and then to get people’s reactions like “wow I’ve never heard of that before I can’t wait to try that.” And when they do try it, they fall in love with it as much as you do and so that’s the satisfying side of what we do.

MCB: What do you think sets you apart from other bakeries?

TK: Our primary focus is quality – to us, it makes more sense. That also translates into the highest quality bread that you can make for a customer. The one thing I can’t stand is something that comes out of the oven that doesn’t look the part or taste the part because people eat with their eyes and the last thing I ever want to do is put out a product that’s not representative of our brand.

We’re not in the interest of getting our bread everywhere. We’re doing things a little bit differently taking a more selective approach. So I think that’s going to be different as well as the different types of flavor profiles that were created. We’re also going to use some ancient and heritage grains which others aren’t using. We’re trying to stick to the true definition of artisan.

MCB: What do you think is the best compliment you’ve ever gotten about your bread?

TK: I think the best compliment I’ve ever gotten was from Ronnie Killen,
who told me “I can see how good that tastes through a picture before I even put it in my mouth” and I was like wow. And then when Ronnie was kind enough to try he said, “yep I was right.”

As someone who is accomplished as he is and is well-known for what he stands for and what his brand stands for, that was a huge validating moment for me – especially how this whole thing kind of came to be and to have someone like him who is a total believer in your product.

Photo by BrandTree Media

MCB: I’m a total believer that people are meant to do what they’re meant to do so like one way or another you’re always going to like come into the thing that you’re supposed to be doing.

TK: And I feel like that’s what’s happened here. I’ve had a lot of pinch-me moments, you know? Like did I really just hear someone say that? Did I really see that happen? It’s just been real poetic how its led us to get to this point.

You’re standing in our bakehouse, with our new team, and I feel fortunate to be having this conversation.

MCB: Did you ever think that you were going to go from baking bread in your kitchen to having your own Bakehouse?

TK: No, not at all, I thought this was cool, and I like doing it. I would take bread to the family restaurant so we could privately eat it in the back room when we had dinners. No, I never thought this was… no, never.

I had a dream job with my dream company that always wanted to work for, and I had a global role with a global team. I had the salary and benefits and all of what you want when you have three kids and a wife, and now I have a bakery, which to me is super exciting. And my wife is incredibly supportive of this, and that to me also means everything.

It was really Roula’s doing to push me out of the nest to do this full-time. I felt like okay if you’re a hundred percent on board and you’re telling me I should do this and maybe I should pay attention.

MCB: That’s pretty incredible because especially when you have that stability you can be addicted to that paycheck in the benefits.

TK: A lot of it’s also because of that one conversation in our kitchen where we were talking about her dad. We lost my father in law in 2013 and Roula and her dad had a really tight relationship. So, the way we see it is like it’s almost like my father-in-law is kind of shining a light on this to sort of saying hey you need to really go down this path – this is where you need to be, and so we both look at it like that.

MCB: That’s so awesome I can tell you have so much pride.

TK: I think we have a real future here. Houston is going to get on board.

MCB: I think Houston’s already on board. I’ll go and look at the [Instagram] comments, and it’s just so funny to see people like okay, tell me, tell me! I want to know where to get this bread.

TK: Our Social Media forced to get this to make us real because it all started with hey look at this pretty bread I made at home from my personal account and then when we realized wow, people want this, and now they’re all about what we’re doing that’s when we really started.

This whole thing spawned out of the conversation, and some social media posts and people started trying it, and buying it, and loving it, and then word of mouth. Instagram played a big part in this.

MCB: Do you think that it would be like if you didn’t have social media at your disposal? Do you think that you’d be having a different conversation?

In my option, social media plays such a big role it’s just a way to really connect quicker and easier to your to your potential customer base and even to your community. Bakeries are supported by the community maybe [it would have been] a different game or would have taken longer likely to have had something like this happen. It happened fairly quickly, unexpectedly.

MCB: It’s awesome to see it. It’s so refreshing to actually experience it. Thanks for letting me come to see it.

Where to find The Bread Man Baking Company

You can find The Bread Man Baking Company’s specialty breads at Spec’s on Smith Street, Tres Market Foods in Memorial and Typhoon Texas in Katy.

Additionally, if you frequent Killen’s Steakhouse, Killen’s STQ, Houston Dairymaids, Reese, Bosscat Kitchen, BCK, Miss Carousel, Indianola or Vinny’s – you’ve probably already had the Bread Man’s bread, and you should go back to try it again.

To hear more about what The Bread Man Baking Company is up to, sign up for their newsletter at breadmanco.com, and follow them on Instagram @breadmanco.

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4 Comments

  1. July 24, 2018 / 3:18 pm

    I love family owned and inspired companies. Especially when it comes to food, you know they are putting love into their product and often the skill of numerous past generations!

  2. July 24, 2018 / 7:42 am

    Wow!! I can stay there the whole day!! I love fresh bread!

  3. July 24, 2018 / 7:20 am

    Omg I’m in Ckear Lake but can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this place! I’m Italian too so bread is an obsession 😬 Def going there when we get back from vacation!

  4. July 23, 2018 / 8:28 pm

    This bread looks great, I can only imagine how delicious it tastes!

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