Raising Dough for Zak the Baker
It’s another balmy Sunday morning at the farmers market at Pinecrest Gardens. Farmer Margie Pikarsky’s Bee Heaven Farm staff is stacking clusters of freshly harvested radishes. Arepas are sizzling on the grill. A long line has formed in front of a table with a sign that says: Zak the Baker will be here at 10:00 ish!
“Ish” means closer to 11. Zak Stern, his wife and sister-in-law arrive, unload bins of sourdough bread, and move quickly, dispatching the loaves until they sell out. When the rush is over, everyone relaxes under the shade. A friend drops by with a vacuum cleaner with a bow on it, a wedding present for newlyweds Zak and his wife. His parents are there, too. All that’s left on the table are crumbs, samples of cookies and sesame candies, and a clipboard announcing “Wynwood Bakery Opening! Help Our Kickstarter. 30% funded / 25 days to go.”
“It’s hard to ask for money when there are more important causes. We’re a profit business,” Zak says. “Why is it worth it? I wonder myself.” He turned to crowdfunding to raise $30,000 for cost overruns in construction of the Wynwood warehouse they’re converting to a bakery and café, scheduled to open in April. He is excited, nervous – and not entirely comfortable with asking friends and supporters for money for a for-profit company. “The main thing is that we’re owned and operated by the bakers,” says Zak. “We could have taken on investors, but we want independence, to keep control. My wife and I own 100%. It’s a mom and pop for real.”
There’s no question that in, Zak and his dense, crusty multigrain loaves have filled a longstanding void in artisan baking in South Florida. In less than two years, he’s gone from baking in a garage to a commissary and soon to the new shop; his loaves are sold in a variety of Miami-Dade bakeries and markets, through Farm Fresh Miami CSAs, and popular restaurants like Michy’s, the Local and Lorenzo; he takes on a variety of apprentices, including Hunter Reno; and he’s garnered a fair amount of media attention. He knows how to brand his product, but it’s not all show, he says; their approach aims for “a healthy balance of hippie idealism and capitalism.” And going from baking and peddling loaves to operating a bakery and café is a huge leap.
First, they’re becoming a kosher bakery. “The rules are capricious. Saturday we won’t be open. The café will be dairy, no meat. Everything will be made from scratch.” This forces the chef to be creative, he says. “Our goal is to make everything from scratch: Cure the salmon, pickle the herring, smoke the whitefish, jar the jam.” He is interested in embracing tradition and ancient ways, looking for Ashkenazi and Sephardic flavors. “We are not interested in fusion.”
Second, he genuinely sees the bakery as an effort in developing what can be an institution for members of the community. “I want this bakery to feel like something they’ve nurtured themselves. It’s not a French bakery. It’s a Miami bakery. Miami can be proud of this, watch it hatch out of its incubator.”
After one week of the Kickstarter campaign, Zak’s supporters have pledged $10,000, a third of what he is looking for in his 30-day campaign. Backers include South Florida’s food bloggers, artisans, friends, even strangers. “A mystery man came in with $2,000 last week,” says Zak, grateful and even a bit bewildered at the generosity.
Still, there’s a ways to go. He worries about keeping up the momentum until April 16. The project will only be funded if at least $30,000 is pledged by then. The bakery will open with or without the funding, but it will take longer to grow. Will the support keep coming? South Florida craft brewer Johnathan Wakefield, looking for $55,000 to start a brewery, quickly raised $110,710 for his project. Other local food artisans in search of funds for projects like pickling or smoking foods, couldn’t meet their goals.
Ultimately, Zak hopes his supporters will see the value of his product and his vision, and let him focus on turning out quality artisan bread and food. After all, he says: “We’re bakers, not salesmen.”
Zak the Baker’s Kickstarter Campaign
Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects, including food. Each project creator sets a funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they pledge money to make it happen. If the project reaches its goal, the backers’ credit cards are charged; if it falls short, no one is charged. Project creators offer rewards for backers. Zak the Baker’s rewards include:
- Pledge of $10 or more: A loaf of bread from the new Wynwood Bakery and a thank you.
- Pledge of $150 or more: Sourdough Bread Starter Kit (includes: dough scrapper, bench scraper, dough box, proofing basket, flour, mother, and instructions). Plus, lunch on the house, ZTB sticker, a loaf of bread, and a thank you.
- Pledge of $300 or more: Bread for a year! 1 loaf of bread a week for a year from the new Wynwood Village Bakery, plus a ZTB T-shirt or canvas bread bag, lunch on the house, ZTB sticker, and a thank you. Pledge $750 or more Apprentice for a day: Apprentice Zak The Baker at the new Wynwood bakery from mixing to shaping to baking! Plus a ZTB T-shirt or canvas bread bag, lunch on the house, ZTB sticker, and a thank you.
Contribute to Zak the Baker’s campaign.