Tucked away on a residential side street, Mighty Bread's audience has grown a lot during the pandemic. Soon the neighborhood will be able to buy fresh sourdough, sandwiches, and more five days a week.
Gerritt Street in South Philly is easily overlooked. Just below Reed, north of Dickinson, it vanishes and resurfaces as it threads through neighborhoods from Pennsport to Grays Ferry. In fact, Chris DiPiazza had lived around the corner for years before he discovered the small space at 1211 Gerritt St. that would become home to his bakery, Mighty Bread Co.
“We used to joke that we were in the worst retail location in the city, because even if you knew our address, it wasn’t guaranteed that you were gonna find us,” he said. “Now I feel like that’s become our strength. We’re on this tiny little street; it’s kind of this little adventure to figure out what’s going on in there.”
When it first moved to a brick-and-mortar location in 2018, Mighty Bread was mostly wholesale-driven. It opened every other Saturday for retail sales. Bewildered neighbors would stumble in with a cup of coffee from their own kitchens, and DiPiazza would wave them further inside to buy some sourdough.
Flash forward to 2021: DiPiazza and crew are about to open a 30-seat cafe serving breakfast sandwiches and pastries in the morning; sandwiches and toasts through the afternoon; and full-on brunch on weekends. A full coffee bar will source drip coffee from Herman’s in Pennsport and espresso from Elixr in Center City. Mighty Bread’s sourdough loaves, sesame-encrusted ciabatta, and crisp baguettes and a selection of pantry items — think granola, pesto, cultured butter, tomato conserva, Horseshoe Ranch eggs, a lineup from Third Wheel Cheese Co. — will be available all day Thursday through Monday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. The cafe debuts Thursday, Nov. 4.
The expansion builds on the bakery’s 12-seat courtyard, which had been closed during the height of the pandemic. Instead, it opened a pickup window that fronts the otherwise-residential street; lines to buy bread would stretch down the block and wrap around the corner of 12th Street. Lots of new customers discovered Mighty Bread during that time, DiPiazza said, and had no idea about the variety of products it whips up when the courtyard space reopened earlier this year.
“People were shocked. ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had sandwiches or toast or whatever.’ It was this great reintroduction of what we do.”
The cafe will open in the adjacent space formerly occupied by Ballroom Philadelphia. DiPiazza brought on 10 new hires in recent months, including general manager Zvi Finklestein (formerly at Middle Child), head baker Katie Lynch (Machine Shop Boulangerie), and head chef Sarah Dash (Laurel, ITV).
More room means the bakery can also grow its wholesale business. Besides servicing restaurants like Vernick, Irwin’s, and River Twice, Mighty Bread supplies Riverwards Produce, Herman’s, and Di Bruno Bros. It’s adding Rival Brothers locations and Middle Child Clubhouse to its client list.
And later this season, look out for the bakery’s gingerbread rowhouse kits, which were snapped up fast last year. Production has increased from 85 to more than 450 this year, and they’ll be available for shipping nationwide via Di Bruno’s.
It’s just another example of how once-small Mighty Bread has scaled up since DiPiazza launched in 2015, working out of West Philly’s Center for Culinary Enterprises and dropping off bread to scattered pickup sites. The baker said he’s come a long way from the days of bringing his sourdough starter on vacation (he was the only one to tend to it).
“It’s been a big jump for us on all fronts this year. And really, it’s solely been made possible by the support that we’ve gotten from our community,” DiPiazza said. “I’m just incredibly thankful that, week after week, there’s always people out there. We’re humbled to be able to provide all these products for everybody.”