Season 3 EP 6
May 20, 2021
David Napolitano, Founder of Breadico. Baking out of a garage. The perks of growing a business in a smaller market. Why we all got so into bread in 2020.
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I scoured the country to find a bread maker who could explain why all of my friends and colleagues bought sourdough starters on Etsy last year. This season we’ve talked a lot about primal instincts, and it turns out, it doesn’t get more primal than the desire to make bread. I was thrilled when Hugh Weber (also a beautiful thinker) recommended I talk with David. According to him, David makes the best bread in Sioux Falls. Of course I had to verify the quality, so I ordered a few loaves for myself. I highly recommend the cranberry sourdough.

David napolitano episode image

How did you come about starting Breadico in Sioux Falls?

I went to college out here in Sioux Falls in 2004, and it was just kind of a nice-sized city. It was quiet. I really enjoyed going around and getting to know some of the little businesses at the time. After graduation, I moved out East to Boston and became acquainted with some different types of food than I had been had out here in the Midwest. And part of that was bread, some Armenian and Italian bakeries with imported meats and cheeses. I really started to enjoy having the fresh bread every single day in a very European-style way. So when I moved back to Sioux Falls, I wanted to try baking bread. My parents and I had converted a little stall in their garage into a commercial bakery. I bought this little hearth-baked oven and started baking out of there. We went to just one little farmer’s market in downtown Sioux Falls every Saturday where we were only making 4 different breads. We got a great response.

Breadico di napolitano

About eight years have passed since we started in the garage and we’ve built a new facility here on the south side of town that has a temperature-controlled mixing room. We have a nice large walk-in refrigerator. We have our proof boxes and a nice large commercial oven. So we’re actually able to produce about 25 different breads this weekend for the farmer’s market. And we’ll keep that number going up as we continue through the season.

Breadico counter

That’s cool that you’re still doing farmer’s markets. Don’t you guys also have a storefront now?

Yeah, just one location in Sioux Falls. It’s only a storefront, so you can walk in and buy breads. And we’re also moving into pastries now. We previously had a restaurant and a cafe in interim, between the farmer’s market in the very beginning and what we’re doing now. We had developed a bakery that had turned itself into a restaurant, just by the demands of customers. And that was a lot of fun. But now we’re focusing again on just solely making bread.

Pizza di paola
Finished pizza

“We opened up Pizza Di Paolo because there was a demand for our pizza. But making pizza is quite demanding and it’s not something that I wanted to pour myself into so my father said, ‘I’ll run your pizza shop. Let me do it.’”

You and your parents also have a pizza business in Sioux Falls, right?

Yes. Pizza Di Paolo. After we had opened our little bakery downtown, which was about a year and a half after I had started, we had a lot people asking us, “Hey, do you guys make pizza?” And I think that’s a really great question for every bakery out there, since a lot of bakeries you see these days are making pizzas on the weekends. So we started venturing into that with our little bakery, back when we also had the restaurant.

As it turns out, making pizza is quite demanding. It’s not something that I necessarily wanted to pour myself into, because I knew that I wanted to be making bread. So when we closed the restaurant and started focusing on pizza, my father said, “Well, I’ll run your pizza shop. Let me do it.” So we went ahead and rented at a very good location on one of the main streets in Sioux Falls, and we built a pizza shop there. We’re doing cannolis and soda pops and salads and Italian pizzas. My dad’s running it with my mother, and I think they’re having a good time. It gives them something to do during retirement.

Normally a family business starts with the dad. To have a family business started by the son and then passed on to the dad is kind of a cool story. It’s not one that I hear that often.

I’m sure starting out in a smaller market like Sioux Falls has its disadvantages but what are some of the benefits?

Baking out of a garage, it was very difficult to control things. The consistency of our product was all over the board. And when you go sell to a restaurant with a different product every day, it gets them quite upset. But if they’re a small local business, and they want you to succeed as well, they’ll be a little more tolerant with you. And then to take that and step into a retail space and introduce myself to customers, it was the same idea. A lot of the customers have been so motivated to see us and a lot of small businesses around our town succeed, that they continue to go back. They walk in and they maybe have a bad experience, but they’ll come back next week, and they’ll continue to try to continue to support our businesses. If I had started our little bootstrap business in a larger city with a much more competitive market, we wouldn’t have been given the time of day after a number of months. You need so much grace from customers.

Breadico daily breads
Breadico pastry

“Sioux Falls wanted more food. They wanted, more flavor coming into town and, and we were able to provide that. They recognized what we were doing with Breadico and they continue to support us.”

We’re seeing somewhat of a resurgence of that same culture throughout the United States. And I say that because I think everybody knows that small businesses are struggling. There’s a war on small business right now. I hope that customers can kind of take that and expand on that same level of grace throughout the United States with what a lot of businesses are going through right now.

Yeah, I think you’re right. The artisan movement has been on the upswing for a while, but this new revival is coming from a place of supporting the community instead of elitism, which is a nice progression. Do you have plans to expand outside of South Dakota?

Well, I’m not really sure. I have poured the last eight years into this business. And this year, I’m just starting a little family. And so for the first time in a very long time, I’m starting to really dig into what my personal life looks like. And I’m very excited about that. To be honest, I really want to spend a year just to kind of dig into that. But I think that we have the capacity to expand. There are some offers for some franchises. I want more people to be able to eat bread, and I don’t necessarily mean I want more people to eat my bread. I’m humbled and excited about the potentials of a few franchises.

Breadico raisin bread

What’s the origin of the name, Breadico?

I wanted something that was very recognizable, in terms of what we do. And so I started with the word bread. And I also wanted something that was Italian, but sometimes when you walk into a place and it’s overtly Italian, it pigeonholes you. People walk in and talk to you with their accent that they throw at you. And being Italian, it’s not exactly what I wanted. I very much wanted something Italian-American, but artisan. So I was looking at all these different suffixes from Latin and Italian, and “ico” generally means small and little.

I was playing off of the Italian word for bakery, which is “panificio,” so I had taken that and added it to bread and just looked at it. And I’m very funny about letters and the way that aesthetically letters line up with each other. And those are some of my favorite letters, the way they look and the way they kind of hug each other. And the sound of it too. Breadico is easy to say. It’s very recognizable.

Breadico bread counter
Breadico rolling bread

“We use local wheats and we are trying to get back to making the kind of bread people used to make when they had only ice boxes, made bread in their hutches. They didn’t have access to the technology that we do today. It’s just a hands-on type process.“

Obviously, your last name is about as Italian as it gets, so I think it’s interesting to talk about wanting to really be an American bakery with an Italian heritage. Your grandparents immigrated from Italy, right?

Yes. My grandfather came through Ellis Island from Naples, Italy. And that’s where our name comes from, Napolitano. It means “man from Italy.” Whereas on my mother’s sides, they came from Mexico and Spain, and ended up in California. My family and I are originally from Southern California. But we came out here to South Dakota years ago because it was just a much quieter place.

Did growing up in that family influence where you took your career?

Oh, absolutely. My grandfather and father had a landscaping business out of California, so I grew up working with my hands in general. I loved that, I knew I wanted to do something with that. And my mother loved to cook, so we always had access to very good food. And then in addition, moving out here to South Dakota and being able to watch the farmers do what they do with wheat and all that influenced that as well. It’s a long stream of experiences. We never really quite know where we’re going to end up with some of the things we do along the way as we’re growing up and some of the talents we get. There’s a lot that I’ve learned that I didn’t know I was ever going to use.

Breadico fresh bread
Breadico david context

“If I had started our little bootstrap business in a larger, more competitive city we wouldn’t have been given the light of day because there was so much competition. It can be difficult especially for a young fledgling business that just needs so much grace sometimes.”

And I know you’ve got a lot of different skills and talents. How did you wind up choosing bread?

I moved to Minneapolis to put on a show that I had written with a friend of mine. And while I was there, I got a job at a bakery just up the street. I worked with them for a day and they just asked me all these questions about this and that. And I really just had to fake my way through it and say, “Yeah, absolutely. I know what I’m doing. I can totally do this.” I knew how to shape a loaf of bread ’cause I had known how to shape dough, and when he threw some dough on the table, I just slapped it out for him. And he said, “Oh, you’re excellent.” So I was put in charge of the bread program at this little pastry shop where they made a variety of breads. My boss gave me a sourdough starter and told me, “This is your workshop. Experiment, and make good bread.” And I said, “Okay.”

So I read some books and I grabbed that sourdough starter and I just started experimenting. I finally figured out how to make a leaven and how to use a starter. And one day it just clicked in terms of watching the fermentation and smelling it and understanding the heat and the cool and the temperature and the time. We started making these breads and they were selling out at the farmer’s market every week, just like my boss had wanted. So I worked there for about nine months. I finished up what I was doing in Minneapolis, and then I was thinking to myself, “What am I going to do now? Should I move to San Francisco and learn how to make bread out there?” And my father was like, “Why don’t you just come here and build a bakery in the garage?” So that’s when I moved home and built a bakery and made some of those same breads in Minneapolis. And people just loved it.

So you were just looking for any job, and you ended up at this bread shop?

Yeah. When I moved to Minneapolis, I had two job offers. One was at Finale, which is a company that makes music notation software, and it was about 45 minutes away. And then I had a job offer at this bakery, which was about four minutes away. And I thought, “Well, if I go to work in the morning and I come home in the afternoon, I’ll have a lot more of my day left to do what I’m doing here in Minneapolis. So I’m just gonna go ahead and take that job. I think it’s better.” It paid less, but to be able to go there and work with my hands and then come home and be able to work with my head a little bit was very good.

Early on in quarantine my friends were all over social media, talking about sourdough starters, and at-home bread making became a really big thing. Why do you think that happened?

I think everybody thinks to themselves, “I really want to learn how to make bread.” And nobody has the time. But with everybody at home and wanting to practice their skills, it’s one of those things that everyone kind of just took to and was able to do. And that’s really neat for me to be able to see. We have people coming in here now to say, “Hey, look, I made this loaf of bread when I was in quarantine. What do you think? Can I have a job?”

Breadico etsy sourdough

Sourdough starter from Etsy

A lot of people realized when they started making their bread, “When I go back to work, I’m not going to have time to do this.” But they liked what they had. We just recently started shipping our loaves online. A lot of people started buying our bread online and learning more about us. So we were able to sustain a production facility. Then when we turned around and spent the year building our new facility, part of that was intending to design the space so we could give classes when things open up, but also our facility for shipping. And so we’ve really pursued shipping bread out to customers all over the United States.

What makes your particular approach or product unique enough to order it online?

Well what we focus on with when we make our bread is the flavor. The second thing is the availability, we want it to be available to everyone who wants it. Our standard is to make sure that we take our dough as far as it’ll go before we bake it. There’s a very specific timeline where the dough still retains its integrity, but we take it to the point where the gluten just begins to deteriorate and break down the bonds. You can see it in the dough. And if we wait just a little bit too long and I’m talking half an hour, that structure will deteriorate and then you’ll have a doughy mess in the pan.

The purpose behind that is the flavor. But also, we’ve noticed that because we break down the gluten so far, I have a number of gluten-intolerant customers that have been eating our bread for years.

What’s your favorite bread to make?

The sunflower bread. I call it my masterpiece. I started making it for the farmer’s market eight years ago and I thought to myself, “I’m going to make this bread the best seller. I’m going to make people like this bread.” And the way to do that is just make it every day, whether it sells or not. And that’s what I did. It sells very, very well. Every time I go to another bakery around the U.S., and I taste the bread, I compare it to my sunflower loaf, and that’s how I decide if we’re still doing good work.

One last question, and I ask this to everyone: what does beautiful thinking mean to you?

I think beautiful thinking is being fair to yourself and honest about the work of your hands and the direction of your thoughts. You can pursue so many different things out there, but if you’re not honest with yourself, with your art, with your writing, with your work, with your hands — and all of that stems from your thoughts, right? If you’re not honest with all of it, then the value of it has no legs. This is something that I heard from a forum with Stephen Sondheim, actually. He says, “Good art always floats to the top.” So that’s what I take with me. My perspective has always been to keep my head down and focus on what I’m making, and that will float to the top.