The majority of corner bakeries have been casualties of the modern demands of life, which prioritize convenience over quality. A pair of Duluth entrepreneurs is turning the corner bakery model on its head with a limited menu of artisan products, a mix of wholesale, retail and subscription sales and just the right amount of wit.
If you visit Duluth’s Best Bread, in the old Mama Mia’s Pizza building at 2632 W. Third St., be prepared for a playful side of sarcasm with your sourdough. The artisan bakery turns one next week and is owned by brothers Michael and Robert Lillegard, who never take themselves too seriously. Robert says they were inspired to run a “one-for-one sale” on Thursday, Sept. 15, in commemoration of the milestone.
Robert is in charge of spin and media relations for Duluth’s Best Bread, while Michael heads up baking and bookkeeping. They have three other staff members to assist with baking and other tasks. Michael has a Master’s degree in math and Robert is a writer with a public relations business. A bakery might seem like an unlikely joint venture for the duo. “Bread is the average between math and writing. And we both ate a lot of it,” Robert explains.
When in graduate school, Michael and his dad built a wood-fired oven. Michael’s baking hobby became a passion as he spent countless hours perfecting a sourdough bread recipe. Anyone who has done serious baking understands that math skills come in handy. The brothers say Michael’s patience for repetition and rote, developed during his double black-belt karate training, helps too.
Sourdough bread is the bakery’s flagship product. The bread is made with wild yeast harvested in Duluth and domesticated by Michael. “We had to have a discussion about why its wild behavior was unacceptable,” he quips.
The yeast contains lactobacilli — the same bacteria found in yogurt — which gives it a slight tang. The dough is cold fermented and loaves are baked at a high temperature. Michael added a steam injector to the pizza oven which helps accomplish an impossibly crisp crust and moist, spongy center.
The diminutive bake shop has a surprising output. The bakers crank out 330 loaves and 850 miscellaneous treats, like cinnamon rolls, each week. The menu is purposefully limited. The Lillegards agree there are others in the area making good cookies and brownies, so you won’t find such baked goods at Duluth’s Best Bread.
“Michael only wants to make difficult things — things that other people find too labor intensive and technical,” says Robert.
Regular offerings include plain croissants as well as a pain au chocolat that rival those from an authentic French bakery. French macarons are available by special order. The bakery’s newest item is Bavarian pretzels, dubbed “Big Fat German Pretzels.”
Since opening to the public on Sept. 24 of last year, Duluth’s Best Bread has quadrupled its output. This success has a bit of a downfall — it means Michael is baking every day of the week. But he says over the year he’s become “less overwhelmed and more organized” and has developed more of a plan of action.
Humor clearly helps the brothers get through the hard work. The bakery’s marketing materials are clever and comical. The Lillegards produced a video that depicts Michael using martial arts to fight off a bread bandit and recently secured the international endorsement of Germany’s leading arm wrestler, Matthias “Hellboy” Schlitte.
All joking aside, the Lillegards have serious entrepreneurial aspirations. “Entrepreneurship is more secure than traditional jobs, because you can never become collateral damage. But you need to convince the world that your product is worth it,” says Robert. They would like Duluth’s Best Bread to become known as one of Minnesota’s premier bakeries in the next five years, with large accounts and a consistent presence. With clients like Whole Foods Coop and good reviews from the City Pages and the Heavy Table, they’re on their way.
Where to get Duluth’s Best Bread:
The bakery is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bread can also be found at Whole Foods Co-op. Treats like chocolate croissants are available at the Red Mug and Beaner’s Central. Individuals can sign up for weekly bread shares too. For more information about where to find products, visit duluthsbestbread.com.
Leave a Comment
Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here