Brake Bread: The Slow Way
West 7th Street’s Brake Bread bakes the most divine jalapeño cheddar loaf
It’s spicy, cheesy, yeasty. It’s a break-into-it-in-the-car-while-you’re-driving loaf. It’s a bury-your-face-in-it loaf. It’s a call-ahead-for-it loaf. It’s a loaf I don’t even really want to tell you about, because it’s hard enough to get one, but here goes anyway: Call on a Saturday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and tell them to set one aside for you. Go in and get it before 11 a.m. That’s it. Otherwise, too bad, so sad, you can wait until next Saturday and try again.
I tell you this story, that I don’t want to tell you about this loaf, because it’s sort of illustrative of Brake Bread itself, an unlikely little St. Paul bakery that’s closed on Sundays (“We want to stop while the party’s still fun.”) and delivers its loaves by bike.
The latter detail started somewhat accidentally. They baked bread, but had no retail space to sell it. “We already had bikes, and we loved to ride, so we figured we would just deliver that way instead of buying a delivery van,” says Nate Hogue, who co-owns the bakery with Micah Taylor. But their name, “Brake,” holds within in it the subtle message that they want to do things the slow way.
The logical conclusion to draw would be that delivering bread by bike is harder than it would be by car. But it ain’t necessarily so. In many cases, says Hogue, it’s way faster, especially when delivering in busy Lowertown, where parking a bike is never a hassle. And some of the routes they’ve figured out note things like “cut through the parking lot and take a left at the dumpster.”
“Obviously, you can’t do that in a car.”
Along with glorious loaves of Milk & Honey Sandwich Bread, naturally leavened baguettes as unique to one another as tree branches, and kalamata-studded Olive Bread (just to name a few) Hogue and his delivery staff tuck Bootstrap Coffee, Serious Jam, and of course, cookies into their Tupperware tubs. Then it all gets placed into trailers designed by Bikes at Work out of Ames, Iowa.
When they began delivering bread, they used regular old Burleys designed not for loaves of bread, but for kiddos. “One time I was biking and I heard a noise and felt a tug,” says Hogue. “And I kid you not, the wheel [from the trailer] rolled passed me. I was like, ‘This is out of a movie!'” It was then that they called Peace Coffee for advice and got sweet new industrial numbers with their logo emblazoned on them, almost a dog whistle for those who know and love them.
“Ninety-nine percent of the honks we get are people who recognize our logo and are giving us a thumbs-up.”
In wintertime, Hogue hooks the trailer up to a Surly Troll with an electric assist: “I don’t know what that will do for my street cred,” he says, but without the e-assist, there are days where he would never be able to pull the trailer through the slush. The company has two other bikes, another e-assist Rad Power Bike, and a “Frankenbike” with a Univega frame and accumulated parts.
“Those are our two company cars.”
Their delivery people are a band of “kind, practical, organized, problem-solving adventurers.” Among them is Sam, an Appalachian Clogger, and Hannah Field, the organizer of Women on Wheels for Wild Lands (WOWFWL), who are currently biking across the country to raise awareness about America’s public lands.
“There’s a certain spirit of adventure in doing bike delivery,” says Hogue. “We’re not hardcore messengers. We’re pulling big trailers for crying out loud. There’s nothing cool about it.” When I beg to differ, he defers: “Or at least it’s an unconventional cool.”
Unconventional cool is getting them pretty far with their subscribers, many of whom had Elizabeth Dickinson (St. Paul’s Green Party candidate for mayor) lawn signs posted this election season. He thinks a lot of his subscribers are folks who would definitely bike to work if they could. “They’re the kinds of people who think, ‘Oh, I want that sort of thing to exist in our world.’”
The bikes make for a deeper connection with the entire community than they’d otherwise see, says Hogue, and that’s been the best part of the whole enterprise. When they turn corners, they often run into other cyclists who want to ride and chat. When people see a Brake Bread tote bag, they often connect over the bond they share as a fellow subscriber. “Oh, we get Brake Bread, too!” They’re small, but they make a mighty impact.
“If we didn’t deliver by bike, I don’t know that we’d be able to connect as substantially as we do,” says Hogue. “It’s the slow way of doing things, but I think that’s a subversive move these days. And we need more of that I think.”
It’s a loaf of bread you’re willing to wait a week for, get out of bed early on a Saturday for, call a guy for, and then wait another week to get another. It takes awhile. You have to make a connection in order to get it.
It’s slow. And it’s totally, deliciously worth it.
Winter gear: Hogue says his hands get super cold, so in addition to gloves and hand warmers, he uses bar mitts too. But for bundling, he prefers cotton, jeans, a windbreaker, and a stocking hat under his helmet. Typically, he winds up stripping off a layer sometime during the ride. “It’s all about layers.”
Biggest disaster: On a practice ride “during one of the winter vortexes,” Hogue got pretty close to hypothermia after realizing that he didn’t eat enough calories for his body to warm itself up. “I got home and I was really low functioning. I needed help getting out of my gloves.” Now, he eats “a lot of bread,” a Luna Bar, or some hardboiled eggs halfway through the ride. “When it’s hot out, it’s hard to really hurt yourself, but when it’s cold, it can get bad if you’re not prepared.”
Best tip for winter riding: “Don’t go anywhere in a hurry.”
For more tips on how to prep for winter rides, read 7 Winter Riding Must-Haves.