Zenith Bread Project takes baking to a new level
Like many young entrepreneurs creating their own opportunities in Duluth, Amanda Belcher hasn’t had a straightforward career trajectory. She started studying exercise physiology at the College of St. Scholastica. Instead of continuing on to graduate school, she decided to become a professional baker.
Her Zenith Bread Project produces sweet treats sold at Amity Coffee, Duluth Coffee Company and Snooty Fox Tea Shop. Bagels and English muffins are also available at Whole Foods Co-op. Bent Paddle Brewing‘s taproom occasionally serves Belcher’s soft pretzels with beer, and Blacklist Artisan Ales features her doughnuts and pastries on Saturdays.
Opting for real-world training rather than culinary school, Belcher got her start working for five years at Bars Bakery in St. Paul learning the art and science behind crafting delicate pastries.
Several years ago she noticed an opportunity in Duluth. At the time, there weren’t bakeries offering specialty items like sourdough bread, English muffins or croissants. She launched Zenith Bread Project as a small wholesale operation in 2014 and has been building this boutique artisan bakery ever since.
When Belcher started the company, she was doing a lot of experimenting with naturally leavened breads and yeasted loaves. But she has since found a bigger wholesale market for her pastries and sweet bakes.
All the baking is done in a rented commercial kitchen. Sometimes Belcher hires people to help with packaging and events but she generally does all the work herself.
“It’s a weird balance. It’s fun but also can be crazy,” she admits. “It’s a slow road when you’re starting out small.”
Belcher says she’s spent a lot of time practicing and honing recipes. Once she mastered some basic formulas, she started playing around with ingredients.
“I like doing pastries. The process is fun. I like that it’s both creative and physical,” she says.
Belcher finds inspiration in baking trends and the changing of seasons. Her love for this endeavor is as evident as her artistry. This past winter, as Duluthians were craving vitamin D, she incorporated blood orange into poppy seed muffins. For Valentine’s Day, Zenith Bread Project teamed up with Saffron & Grey Couture Floral Design to sell trios of brioche-style doughnuts along with the bouquets. One of the flavors was rose and pistachio, appropriately enough. More recently, she made Irish soda bread scones with currants and caraway.
Though it can be expensive and challenging, Belcher takes care to use quality ingredients. She sources locally whenever she can. She uses honey from Bar Bell Bee Ranch and Locally Laid eggs.
“It’s not always organic but most of my stuff is clean — it doesn’t have GMOs or artificial ingredients,” she says.
In addition to the regular retail locations, her microbakery’s inventive wares are also available at community events like Fall Fest at Chester Bowl and the Duluth Winter Village. Belcher recently acquired a trailer she’s hoping to use this summer in Lincoln Park. The mobile storefront would allow folks to grab coffee and sweets to go. Belcher is also hoping to have more breads available this summer, including sourdough, sandwich loaves, baguettes and rye.
She would eventually like to have a retail spot for her bakery, but space and timing are considerations — as is energy. She’s currently working seven days a week. In addition to all the baking, she does deliveries and is reluctant to give up that piece because she enjoys the interactions with area business owners.
“I do all the deliveries. But that’s a fun part of it since I spend most of the day by myself. It’s nice to get to talk to people from other small businesses. It’s a good community,” Belcher says.
Zenith Bread Project was the runner up in Perfect Duluth Day’s perfect bakery poll in 2016, with 27 percent of the popular vote.
Fans can keep up with the latest bakes and where to find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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