Updated 12:45 p.m. March 22
Attention Pittsburghers with a sweet tooth: Starting this spring, you can taste sweet treats from four bakers under one roof at The Bakery Society Pittsburgh, the region’s first bakery incubator.
TBSP announced this week its inaugural cohort of bakers in residence, including a sweet-and-savory expert, a sourdough artisan and a pretzel pro.
Modeled after culinary incubators like the Strip District’s Smallman Galley and New York’s Hot Bread Kitchen, the four participants will their sell baked goods at the TBSP storefront at 225 Brownsville Road (Mt. Oliver Borough), the site of the former Kullman’s Bakery, which closed in 2013 after nearly 60 years in operation.
A tentative opening date has been set for mid-May.
This cohort of bakers will undergo 18 months of culinary instruction in TBSP’s commercial kitchen along with training in marketing, business management, and everything else it will take to launch and sustain a business after the program’s completion.
Unlike some culinary incubators, TBSP will retain no equity stake in any future businesses that might result from the program. Bakers retain 70 percent of the profit from the sale of their baked goods, and another 5 percent goes into a savings account to be used toward the eventual opening of their future business. The remaining 25 percent goes to TBSP to help cover operating costs.
“They’re going to do everything in this bakery that they would have to do in their own business,” said TBSP general manager, Phil Enck, an Art Institute of Pittsburgh instructor with a background in education, culinary arts and business management.
Meet the bakers
Sam Cobbett, 29, of Lawrenceville
With eight years of professional baking experience, including the past two-and-a-half years as a baker at Five Points Artisan Bake Shop in Squirrel Hill, Cobbett has a fondness for soft pretzels and “things made with lots of butter” — think croissants, brioche, danish and pączki. He hopes eventually to open a small, neighborhood bake shop in Pittsburgh.
Christina Decker, 46, of Squirrel Hill
Decker will be making the jump from local catering and home meal delivery service Thyme – A Modern Cookery, where she served as chef and partner. Some of her specialties include cookies, quiche, tiramisu and parfait. She hopes to open a bakery and cafe after the program, where she can “marry the sweet and the savory.”
Jewel Edwards, 35, of Downtown
With 17 years of professional baking experience, Edwards currently serves as baker at Children’s Hospital. She is a fan of anything sweet, and her specialities include cheesecake, brownies and bread pudding. She hopes to open a bakery/lounge where people can gather with friends to socialize and enjoy programming.
Christopher Hoffman, 57, of Beechview
A Pennsylvania native, Hoffman returned to the state after decades working in California and Las Vegas as a musical director and musician. After returning two-and-a-half years ago, he worked at both La Gourmandine and Five Points. His specialty is bread, specifically sourdough. One day he hopes to open a bakery and cafe of his own, complete with live music.
‘Creating something great’
In 2015, not long after Kullman’s shut its doors, Jami Pasquinelli, Economic Development South’s director of community projects and initiatives, launched a series of popular pop-up bakery events in the area called “Sweet Saturdays,” which helped convince the group that a bakery incubator and retail storefront would be viable.
TBSP is an initiative of community development corporation Economic Development South, with financial assistance from The Hillman Foundation.
Mt. Oliver Borough Manager Rick Hopkinson described Kullman’s closure as a huge blow to the community and said he is hopeful that TBSP can become a destination both locally and regionally.
“At the end of the day, we are looking for businesses that are locally serving,” he said.
What’s more, Hopkinson added, TBSP may attract people from outside the area, especially the 30,000 people who drive along Brownsville Road every day.
Pasquinelli said the incubator has already been a boon to Mt. Oliver: An investor has purchased a local bar and an adjacent blighted property for development in part due to TBSP’s transformative potential.
While the storefront occupies the first floor, bakers will cook out of a 2,600 square-foot kitchen on the third floor, complete with a wood-fired pizza oven and other state-of-the-art equipment. Eventually, the second floor will be transformed into office and classroom space.
Another baker-in-residence position may be offered about four months into the program, Enck said.
In the meantime, space is still open for those interested in becoming a “tenant baker,” which will allow experienced bakers sell their wares at the storefront without the 40-hour-a-week commitment. Local residents can also apply to serve as community bakers, and neighborhood groups can use the commercial kitchen for a flat rate of $12 an hour to make products for bake sales and other events.
“We want to give a sense of place back to the community,” Pasquinelli said, “while creating something great for all of Pittsburgh.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Christopher Hoffman’s hometown.