One busy baker: building her brand from scratch

Zenith Bread Project In theory, everyone can bake. Walk into a kitchen, studiously pull out everything a recipe calls for and combine the ingredients as instructed.

But not everyone can bake.

Not everyone can look at a recipe, say, “Maybe if I did this, I could create something new, something different,” and gingerly mix together the flour and butter with something more to make a unique, delicious creation.

Thirty-year-old Amanda Belcher, founder of the Zenith Bread Project in Duluth, prides herself on being just such a creative baker.

“I like taking classic recipes and then kind of twisting them just a little bit or taking something like granola and just changing a little something about it like a spice or ingredient to make it sort of unique,” Belcher said.

In fact, her desire to experiment is, in part, what led the native Duluthian to name her budding 6-month-old business the Zenith Bread Project. Along with her nod to Duluth, which historically was referred to as the Zenith City, Belcher wanted customers to know that she would constantly be changing and experimenting with what she offered them.

“She is very good at doing what she wants to do, while still making it approachable to customers,” said Eric Faust, who, as owner of Duluth Coffee Company, carries some of Zenith Bread Project’s baked goods.

“I think I have tried everything she does, and it is all good,” Faust said. “She has a passion for craft and quality, and she really shows it in her product.”

Single-handedly running a business where everything is made from scratch and by hand can take its toll, making life a roller coaster of excitement and loneliness, according to Belcher. She tries to take it in stride, adjusting how many jobs she takes on outside of the Zenith Bread Project to leave time for herself, her social life and maybe even some hobbies. But it’s not easy. Belcher is just starting out, and she is the first to admit it is not quick or cheap to start a business from nothing.

So, she is taking it one 50-pound bag of flour at a time.

“To see my project kind of build itself up and slowly get a little bigger is really cool,” Belcher said.

That’s especially true considering she graduated from St. Scholastica with a degree in Exercise Physiology and never thought she would be doing this a mere six years later.

She has big dreams for her business.

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)-esque mobile bakery is on the drawing board, where Belcher will find a way to sell either bread subscriptions or small bread shares to people in the community who can then get her baked goods brought right to their door or delivered to a central location for pickup. She also hopes to open a small café that would serve as a local breakfast scene.

In short, Belcher is just looking to serve the area in which she grew up.

“It is just kind of fun to take action and be proactive about the things you want to see and have done in your community,” Belcher said. “When I was younger, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if Duluth had this? Or why doesn’t somebody do this?’ And it wasn’t until I got older that I realized, ‘Oh wait, that is me! I am supposed to do that!’”

Along with filling what she sees as a hole in the bakery niche of Duluth, Belcher wants to reach out and help other small businesses. She already is working with a small flour mill in Wisconsin to figure out a way to get a local supply of rye flour to use in her kitchen, and she is on the hunt for more people with which she can work to bring in the ingredients she needs for her products.

“When I was in school, I always thought I wanted to work for someone, but it was more about being a part of something,” Belcher said. “My brother and my dad are both small business owners, and I like having the control over myself as a single unit and the freedom and responsibility to work with the community.”

And work she does. In a single day Belcher can spend up to 12 hours in the kitchen mixing, dividing, fermenting and warming doughs, packaging finished products, working on custom orders, prepping for the next day and altogether running all over the place.

“(It’s) not romantic, but this is my story,” Belcher said.” It is a lot of work, but every day I feel closer to my ideal of being able to be devoted to Zenith Bread Project full time.”

Currently, Zenith Bread Project does not have its own storefront, but Belcher’s products can be found all around Duluth at the Whole Foods Coop Hillside location, Duluth Coffee Company, Amity Coffee, and Snooty Fox Tea Shop.

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