BreadHive is, at its heart, a cooperative enterprise: an employee-owned company of nine. Each of them works shifts making bread or manning the counter at their Connecticut Street storefront. So each of them has a stake in everything that goes on.
“We started out as a worker cooperative,” said founder and owner Emily Stewart. “We now have 18 employees and nine total owners. We make all our decisions about the business on a consensus basis.”
It’s a unique way to run a company, but it works for BreadHive, and it’s true to their roots. When founders Stewart, Allison Ewing and Victoria Kuper launched the company, it was called Fancy and Delicious and operated out of the Nickel City Housing Cooperative where the women were living.
Kuper decided to leave the company soon after they started, but Ewing and Stewart soldiered ahead selling their wares at the Clinton-Bailey Market and through a bread-share program. Eventually they saved enough to quit their jobs and make the company a full-time focus.
“It was a leap of faith in a lot of ways. I was working as a community organizer, Allison was at a credit union, but we didn’t own our jobs and we weren’t excited to go to work every day,” Stewart said.
The leap paid off. In 2013 they moved into space on Baynes Street, where they still bake the bread today, and set up shop with second-hand equipment. They soon landed their first commercial contracts with Lexington Co-op and Guercio’s Market and the business took off.
Two and a half years later, in 2016, they opened a retail location on Connecticut, which sells bread, bagels, sandwiches and other goodies.
No matter how big they get, their roots are important to them. Stewart said that the strong history of cooperatives in the city, as well as the people she and Ewing met here after moving to Buffalo as adults, facilitated the company’s growth.
“We love making bread on the West Side, like the West Side Sourdough,” said Stewart. “The bread takes on the qualities of the West Side’s water and the West Side’s air, it’s part of what we do.”
Making a loaf of West Side Sourdough
Meet Mom. Every bread the company creates starts with their sourdough starter the bakers call “Mom.” It was created six years ago in Ewing’s kitchen, and other bakers who have shared BreadHive’s space have added some of their own starter to it over the years.
Size up the supplies. To make the traditional West Side Sourdough, one of BreadHive’s most popular items, the ingredients are measured precisely before being added to the mixing bowl. The lineup is simple—flour, water, salt and starter—but the bakers believe the West Side’s water and air give it a distinctive character.
Mix it up. Dry ingredients go into the industrial mixer first and the wet ingredients follow. The mixers, like the oven and most of the other tools in the kitchen, were acquired second-hand as the company grew.
Good form. Once mixed, the dough is proportioned into loaf sizes. To form each loaf, the dough is folded twice and then shaped. It’s then left to proof overnight before it’s baked.
Bake it. The BreadHive kitchen has four ovens that can accommodate five loaves each—so they can cook just 20 at a time, keeping each batch small and made with love.
Savor. The finished breads are transported from the bakery on Baynes either to their shop on Connecticut or to one of the many stores where the bread is sold.