From a recent issue of Country Lifestyle magazine:
Rollin’ in Dough
With the help of yeast, flour and a good oven, a San Marcos baker turns passion into profit
Story by Pamela Price
Steve Blank’s inspiration for his new career grew slowly over several years. “My wife and I would drive up to Austin on weekends, stopping into Whole Foods and Central Market for fresh bread,” says Blank. “I guess you’d say that we’re foodies. And it eventually dawned on us that what San Marcos really needed was a good bread store.”
Blank opened his 800-square foot Phoenix Rising Bakery in September 2006. “The bakery is small, but I set it up so that customers can see every aspect of the process,” says Blank. “I designed it to be one big open room, with mixers and tables in full view. When you walk in the front door, you see the large, wood-fired brick oven right away.”
The oven, together with Blank’s commitment to using quality, all-natural ingredients, sets Phoenix Rising apart from large commercial operations. In an age in which grocery chains rely upon ready-made bases and mixes to create goods labeled “artisan,” Blank insists upon the age-old—and time-consuming—bread-making process.
“I take my time. My dough is allowed to rise overnight. Flavor needs time to develop,” he says. “And when people taste what bread is supposed to taste like, they crave it. That’s why I have such a large repeat business.”
Like many of us, who are drawn to the aroma, texture and flavor of homemade bread and spend ample time perfecting our own recipes, Blank experimented at home for a decade, prior to opening Phoenix Rising. “The recipe doesn’t tell you everything. And my wife will tell you that only one in four of those early loaves actually worked out,” Blank notes. “I don’t have a culinary degree. I didn’t want to go that route. But I know what I’m doing.”
Blank believes practice helped make perfect in his home kitchen and, eventually, the bakery. Of course, when it comes to transitioning from a few loaves made at home to a full-tilt operation, he needed a fair amount of business savvy. Blank was prepared on that front, too. “Selling widgets is selling widgets,” he says, chuckling. “I’ve had several businesses. Some I’ve let go, others I’ve stayed with [in some capacity]. With the bakery, however, there’s such an experience level required to make it work that…well, it’d take a long time to let it go.”
For this baker, this bakery is much more than just a business. “I miss it when I’m not baking in the morning,” he says. “I love that connection with bread, getting up early… It’s very relaxing, very Zen.”
Blank also takes pleasure in selling his goods at local farmer’s markets, where his bread, cookies, cinnamon rolls and pizza crusts are very popular. During much of the year, he visits six or seven markets each week. To meet demand, he bakes, on average, 120 loaves of bread each day. With the exception of a few retail items (sandwiches and drinks), market shoppers have access to everything sold in the main bakery.
“Initially, the only market that I knew about was the one in San Marcos. Then I branched out to other locations—New Braunfels, Leon Springs, Cibolo. This year, I plan to be in Schertz and Grey Forest,” he says. “I actually make most of my money from the markets.”
Whether at his oven or on the road, Blank enjoys chatting with customers who share his enthusiasm for great bread. “I love to talk to people who bake at home. I don’t ever want to take the place of that,” he says. “That’s who I am. I’m basically one of them.”
One of Blank’s frozen pizza crusts served as the base for a Hill Country peach pizza I wrote about on MySA.com.