Local computer programmer Danny Gabriner says he has trouble focusing on one project at a time, a fact that makes a recent accomplishment all the more impressive. In an effort to start a business in baking, the Mission resident embarked on a six month mission to bake 1,000 loaves of bread in his Bryant Street apartment.
The results of this baking frenzy weren’t exactly what 24 year old Gabriner expected. Instead of a clearly defined business model, the newbie baker gained a network of foodie enthusiasts and a fully fledged sense of expertise in his new field.
“It started off — honestly, I ran some quick business numbers,” says Gabriner. Selling 1,000 loaves of bread a day at $4 a loaf for 250 days would yield $1 million in revenue. To get a feel for this seemingly random benchmark, Gabriner decided to see what baking 1,000 loaves of bread would be like. And since it was an experiment, he also decided to give away every loaf.
Sour Flour was born, and this is where the novice baker really learned something new. As it turns out, he tells me, “there’s more value in giving the bread away for free.” Instead of just being a marketing gimmick, the free bread has opened doors to both professional opportunity and community.The moniker
During the past six months, Gabriner has given bread to friends, family, neighbors, and local charities like Jewish Family and Children’s Services and Saint Gregory Church. This has fostered a great sense of community for Gabriner, who grew up “kind of between Glen Park and Noe Valley” and went to
high school elementary school in the Mission.
When asked who gets the bread, the baker starts listing off people and groups, but stops short and says, “You know, it’s the community. That’s who gets it. It’s San Francisco, that’s where the bread’s at.”
What’s more, Gabriner has connected with local foodies like Soul Cocina, as well as the Pizza Hacker, who has a pizza cart in the Mission (seriously, the guy converted a Weber barbecue into a pizza oven). The baker’s new found expertise with dough makes him a consultant of sorts, but one who is willing to trade his tips for yours. Gabriner offers classes based on whatever he’s baking at the moment, and so far about 20 or 30 people are in on the secret.
One weekly event that has gotten many apprentices involved is Bagel Monday. Gabriner takes orders for this giveaway and makes the dough a few days ahead of time. Then, starting at 7am on Mondays, he rolls, boils and bakes the bagels. Delivery can last through the afternoon and takes the baker all over the city.
Fascination and a sense of discovery seem to give Gabriner all the energy he needs for this ambitious schedule. “[Bread has] been around forever. It’s extremely simple, yet it’s extremely complex and mathematical,” he says. Creating the forum to geek out over bread with friends seems like motivation enough.
However, despite the flourishing of Sour Flour’s menu and connections, Gabriner knows he needs to roll up his sleeves and straighten out the business end of things. Having left his day job at CNET, he’s set up under a non-profit called Joyful Living to accept donations. Meanwhile, looking into a for-profit model as well. “I’m looking into the intersection between these two, like Pie Ranch and Mission Pie” (Pie Ranch is a non-profit, educational organic farm in Pescadero with ties to Mission Pie).
Right now, operation costs are the biggest concern. “Basically it’s money to keep the organization running,” says Gabriner. “This is my job.”
Plans for the future involve making bread “house calls” in other people’s kitchens, as well as moving into a larger facility.