Bridge Bread: Baked Goods With A Cause
In keeping with this issue’s “Do Good” theme, we’re taking a look at a new establishment that gives back to the community while enhancing the local food scene.
The Cherokee Street of 2015 is a success story few would have predicted in 2011. Back then, shoppers in the antique district rarely crossed Jefferson Avenue to the west, and diners at Cherokee Street’s Mexican restaurants rarely ventured east. The indie breweries, vintage shops and galleries that line the street today were just a dream for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Fred Domke—the owner of one Cherokee’s newest businesses, Bridge Bread—recounts his dream after attending a church sermon in 2011: He was at The Bridge Outreach, a daytime homeless center, making bread with the guests. “When I awoke, I felt I had been given my instructions,” he says. “We went to The Bridge the very next week, recruited a couple of guests from the dining room and started making bread. We sold it that week at my church. That was well over 100,000 loaves ago.”
Bridge Bread’s concept is simple: teach work-related skills in the baking industry to people facing housing insecurity. Sell the wares and return all the proceeds to the nonprofit operation (70 percent to the bakers and 30 percent for supplies—everything else is donated, including rent, utilities, marketing and insurance). At first, Domke and his crew sold most of their loaves at tables set up in church foyers. But his dream was bigger than that. In July the not-for-profit organization opened its first retail outlet, the Bake Shop on Cherokee. By August, Bridge was selling its bread at Lucky’s Market and Farmers Super Market.
Shoppers enter a small storefront that’s screened off from the desk where Domke does his tech and IT work. At first he intended to use the vacant storefront as an office, but then he noticed the neighborhood’s growing foot traffic—and indeed, he says that most of the Bake Shop’s sales come from local residents and passersby. His current success is feeding his plans for more neighborhood outlets that will be supplied by the baking facility on South Grand Avenue.
The Bridge’s chef, Al Ramsey, helped the program with its first sourdough starter and a recipe for brioche bread. The rest is dreamt up by the bakers and, Domke says, perfected through trial and error. He doesn’t rule out the possibility of celestial intervention, however: “Maybe a little divine inspiration came into play—have you seen our chocolate rolls?”
Speaking of heavenly creations, the “xxxx Chocolate Rolls” are a top pick, with decadently rich chocolate in the dough, filling and frosting. Domke loves the Cherry Pie Cinnamon Rolls and the “magic” Apple Cinnamon Bread. “If I leave a loaf next to my computer, I look back an hour later and it’s gone!” he says. Fruits feature heavily in Bridge Bread’s sweet offerings. Cranberries, oranges, raisins, apples and cherries all dot old-fashioned squares of sweet dough swirled through with cinnamon. Sticking to all-natural ingredients means the rolls don’t have an endless shelf life, but any that manage not to be eaten for more than a day can be perked back up with a few seconds in the microwave.
Savory breads include sourdough in whole wheat and white varieties, plus a light brioche in loaves, buns and an in-between size perfect for carving into a bowl of soup. Domke dips his light brioche in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but it’s equally tasty straight out of the bag.
Volunteers eagerly answer questions about the products and share success stories about the bakers. Of the dozen who’ve been involved, Domke says, only a few have fallen out of the program. Undeterred, the others continue to prosper.
Domke’s proudest moment came earlier this year, right after he explained the new nonprofit designation to the bakers. One of the employees, Terrance, asked him what a 401K was. “A little over a year prior, Terrance had slept in a commercial air-conditioning unit on top of a restaurant Downtown,” says Domke. “But because of Bridge Bread, he was thinking about about retirement.”
2604 Cherokee St. • 314.296.3077
Breads & Rolls: $2 to 5
Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10am-8pm
Top dish: Chocolate Rolls
Best bet: The daily specials in the window
Insider tip: Chat with the all-volunteer sales team to learn more about the video loops of the bakers, and consider becoming a volunteer yourself.
This story appeared in the November 2015 issue.