By Vic Dolcourt
When I spoke to Sadie Scheffer, the owner of Bread SRSLY, it became clear that she likes to take on difficult projects. That got her into MIT’s mechanical engineering program and finally to San Francisco, but that is its own story. Sadie cooks gluten-free, bakes, likes to experiment with flavors and textures, is into pickling and fermentation, and is athletic. She put it all together and after a year of experimentation the outcome was Bread SRSLY – authentic San Francisco sourdough bread and other gluten-free baked goodies delivered by bicycle. “At first, everything I sold was an experiment,” Sadie related, “but my customers were amazingly loyal. As the bread got better and better, I started to narrow down the product line and really focus on baking the best sourdough bread.”
Today, sourdough bread is Bread SRSLY’s staple. It comes as classic sourdough, sourdough rolls, and sourdough with interesting flavors, such as seeded, sweet onion, kale, and apricot fennel. Sadie sources organic ingredients locally.
It’s all about the culture
Bread SRSLY started out making both sourdough and yeasted breads, but it became clear to Sadie that strictly sourdough was the only way to go. “I wanted Bread SRSLY to be all about sourdough after learning about the history of bread. For thousands of years there was only sourdough and long fermentation. Once baker’s yeast became widely available, bread could be made quickly. But it also meant that the bread grains would no longer be thoroughly acted upon by the multitude of natural organisms in the sourdough culture. This transformation to speed was fantastic for industry, but it also meant that some people would react to the tough proteins and sugars that baker’s yeast did not digest. Enter gluten-intolerance, and with it, but lesser known, baker’s yeast sensitivities. ” [Learn more about how changes in bread making through history impact its digestibility in The Trouble with Bread.]
Delivered by bicycle
In August 2011 when she began the business, Sadie was baking and delivering just a few loaves and some muffins per week, but by mid-2012 she and a few friends were both baking and pedaling more than 80 loaves of sourdough bread per week in backpacks and bicycle trailers. Her travels took her all over hilly San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. She needed to reach more and more customers with more and more loaves, and once she got her first few grocery stores, delivering by bike became much harder.
“Then I lucked out,” Sadie said. “I started combining my deliveries with a local gluten-free granola company, Nana Joes, and was able to spend more time baking and selling loaves. After a while we realized that we could include more companies in this delivery-sharing project, and started a cooperative. There are five businesses now, and we share delivery routes to different parts of the Bay Area. We deliver bread, granola, pickles, jams and olive oil. It is so much easier and more efficient than each of us delivering on our own, it keeps cars off the road, and it has helped me keep my business running smoothly.”
Gluten-free was not enough
Sadie’s baked goods have been free of gluten ingredients since she moved to San Francisco. But in late 2011 after she had perfected great sourdough bread she discovered that her bread was making her ill. She had to eliminate potatoes, tapioca and chickpeas from her diet. “When you wake up at 4:00 a.m. and bake and bike all day, you have to love what you are doing. And I was not loving my bread. But I wanted to,” Sadie said. So what did she do? “I rewrote all my recipes to eliminate tapioca, which was one of the main ingredients in the original loaf. I switched to arrowroot, a more digestible starch, and also cut the amount of starch down by 2/3 to add more whole grain flours. I was so determined to make a loaf that almost anyone could eat; I needed to cover all the bases. In addition to being free of wheat and gluten-containing ingredients, Bread SRSLY is also free of nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, chickpeas, potato and tapioca. ”
From grain to table
Everything at Bread SRSLY is hand-mixed and handmade. Sadie hired her first employee after a siege of workdays that lasted from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Now with three capable bakers on staff, Sadie oversees dough production as the loaves ferment overnight to develop their delicious flavor and sour character. The breads are baked, packaged, and boxed up for delivery. Much of the bread is delivered to retail outlets in San Francisco, Berkeley, Sausalito, Burlingame and Palo Alto. A little more than 10% of the weekly baking is sent by U.S. mail on Tuesdays to people who have ordered packs online. A third way to get Bread SRSLY is through Good Eggs, a delivery network for local foods. Volume through this channel has increased by more than 10 times since Sadie started working with Good Eggs in 2012.
Although the daily production runs smoothly, the drought has thrown a wild card. It has caused some of the ingredient prices to double since December, and sometimes wholesale suppliers don’t ship because they have run out of the products Sadie needs. “We don’t have enough production capacity to meet the demand from new stores, so we’re gearing up for a move to a new, dedicated gluten-free facility in San Francisco during the next couple months. We’re expecting to grow like wildfire once that happens.” Loaves will continue to be hand-formed and watchfully fermented for long periods to ensure that the quality remains consistently high. Sadie has also secured new ingredient suppliers who will give her access to consistent supplies of a wide variety of organic flours.
At its core
“The absolutely most important part of my bread is a living thing. The sourdough culture is very much alive. It has to be fed and cared for. My customers tell me that my bread is getting better and better, but the sourdough culture we’re using is the same one I originally developed in my San Francisco apartment two and a half years ago. It’s getting better all on its own,” Sadie related.
Where to find Bread SRSLY
Bread SRSLY is currently available at 17 Bay Area locations in addition to Good Eggs and mail order. Sadie said still more retailers are waiting in the wings until production can increase. Information on where to buy her sourdough bread can be found at www.breadsrsly.com and www.facebook.com/BreadSRSLY. Keep checking – Bread SRSLY is likely to show up at a market close to you.
Photo credits: All food photos by Kimberley Hasselbrink, and portrait by Molly DeCoudreaux.