Flour Power: Local Bread On the Rise

story by April White | photos by Emily Wren

Pete Merzbacher’s voice is muffled as he talks about his months-old West Philly-based baking company, Philly Bread. “It’s the flour,” he explains. “It’s everywhere. It’s in my phone now.” 

As Philly Bread’s owner and chief baker, Merzbacher, 23, transforms 250 pounds of GMO- and chemical-free flour each week into baguettes and boules for wholesale customers and a small but dedicated group of “bread CSA” members. Many discovered Merzbacher’s loaves through word of mouth or Facebook, where he announces his weekly specials—rosemary focaccia, olive and herb with orange zest, sunflower rye—and connects with Philly’s urban farmers and foragers to source ingredients.

Like the traditional farmer-run community supported agriculture (CSA)  model, Philly Bread CSA members invest in Philly Bread’s success. For $24 a month, members get a loaf of bread each week (or Philly Bread’s granola) and provide the upfront investment Merzbacher needs for the fledgling company. CSA members pick up their bread at West Philly’s Aladdin Pizza, where Merzbacher spends his days baking his loaves in the pizza ovens.

“Good bread takes time. You can’t rush bread,” says the Massachusetts native, who learned the art of bread–making from books, YouTube and lots of practice. “Good bread takes repetition and patience.”

Merzbacher is getting lots of practice making hundreds of his signature “Philly muffins” each weekend. The square breads, pan-fried in clarified butter, have all the nooks and crannies of a traditional English muffin and the tang of his made-in-Philly sourdough starter. As Merzbacher says, “Philly deserves to have its own great bread.” 

Pete Merzbacher’s voice is muffled as he talks about his months-old West Philly-based baking company, Philly Bread. “It’s the flour,” he explains. “It’s everywhere. It’s in my phone now.” As Philly Bread’s owner and chief baker, Merzbacher, 23, transforms 250 pounds of GMO- and chemical-free flour each week into baguettes and boules for wholesale customers and a small but dedicated group of “bread CSA” members. Many discovered Merzbacher’s loaves through word of mouth or Facebook, where he announces his weekly specials—rosemary focaccia, olive and herb with orange zest, sunflower rye—and connects with Philly’s urban farmers and foragers to source ingredients.Like the traditional farmer-run community supported agriculture (CSA)  model, Philly Bread CSA members invest in Philly Bread’s success. For $24 a month, members get a loaf of bread each week (or Philly Bread’s granola) and provide the upfront investment Merzbacher needs for the fledgling company. CSA members pick up their bread at West Philly’s Aladdin Pizza, where Merzbacher spends his days baking his loaves in the pizza ovens.“Good bread takes time. You can’t rush bread,” says the Massachusetts native, who learned the art of bread–making from books, YouTube and lots of practice. “Good bread takes repetition and patience.”Merzbacher is getting lots of practice making hundreds of his signature “Philly muffins” each weekend. The square breads, pan-fried in clarified butter, have all the nooks and crannies of a traditional English muffin and the tang of his made-in-Philly sourdough starter. As Merzbacher says, “Philly deserves to have its own great bread.”