Tangletown — On most weekday afternoons, Philip Gates’ Tangletown home smells more like a full-scale bakery than an ordinary two-story abode.
That’s because Gates, 14, and his friends, Leah and Shana Crawford, have teamed up to create Bicycle Bread, a business for which the teens bake homemade bread and deliver it by bike around their neighborhood.
At the beginning of the summer, the trio planned to make money completing odd jobs for their neighbors. But when they discovered that painting and weeding were fairly laborious, they decided to find an alternative.
It was then that Gates realized he could use a simple recipe to make and sell the bread his family had been eating for some time.
The recipe, which only includes flour, salt, yeast, and water, was derived from a cookbook written by Gates’ neighbor, Jeff Hertzberg.
On a warm Wednesday afternoon, one white roll and three 50/50 wheat rolls (the business’s two kinds) baked in the Gates’ oven. The smell of freshly baked bread filled the small kitchen as another bowl of rising dough sat among a spattering of flour on the counter. When the timer rang, Philip carefully removed the spherical breads, placing them on recycled grocery bags to be wrapped. He folded and taped the paper around the flour-coated roll as if diapering a newborn baby. Later, Shana placed a sticker with Bicycle Bread’s logo on the wrapping.
“Thank you for ordering,” she scrawled on the sticker, adding a small smiley face.
Soon after the teens readied the order, Denise DeVictoria came to pick up her bread because she lives outside the business’s delivery zone (west of I-35W, east of Penn Avenue, north of 54th Street and south of 36th Street).
“It gives them a summer job. It’s local and supporting the neighborhood,” said DeVictoria, who added she thinks she’ll make a regular order. “Who doesn’t love bread? They smell good.”
Earlier this summer, the three set up a tent at a local ice cream social. At the event, they passed out slices of their bread and flyers.
But they didn’t stop there. The teens continued door to door, spreading the word.
Since they started baking, they’ve created a website, bicycle-bread.com, and have seen a mix of repeat and new customers. Now, they’re trying to cultivate the repeat orders while not expanding beyond their capabilities.
As the business has blossomed, each teen has taken on a specific role: Philip makes the dough and bakes it, Leah wraps the bread and sometimes answers the phone and Shana handles “the books,” as she calls it.
“A lot of process and work goes into it,” said Philip, a soon-to-be freshman at Southwest High School. “You have to do something you like to succeed.”
While Shana said many of their customers think Bicycle Bread is “such a cool idea,” she views the business as a learning experience. And some of the difficulty, they said, comes in making sure the operation and the bread are streamlined.
“How to organize things, what the time has to be, how to bake it around the same: It’s hard to have it the same each time,” she said. “We’re working on that.”
Usually, they make the dough days in advance and put it in the oven at 3 p.m. on the day it’s supposed to be delivered.
If customers call in their orders by 11 a.m., the business will have the bread ready and at the door by dinner time. One order of two 12-ounce loaves is only $7 and each additional loaf costs $4. They can also offer discounts for special events and regular deliveries. But leave your cash and plastic at the door. Bicycle Bread only accepts checks.
“I’m really impressed,” said Paul Gates, Philip’s dad. “I’m not sure how far it’s going to go. It’s got a life of its own now. It’s not hugely lucrative yet, but it’s fun to watch.”
Philip placed two rolls in a black canvas bag attached to his blue and silver Schwinn and pedaled toward his final stop. He and Shana walked up to the front door, handing their customer the still-hot packages.
“Here’s your bread,” they said in a cheery voice.