PETE MERZBACHER, 25, of Olney, lives above the bakery Philly Bread, which he founded. The startup beat out nine other finalists on June 19 in the inaugural "Lightning in a Bottle Competition" sponsored mainly by ab+c Creative Intelligence, a marketing-and-communications firm in Wilmington and Philly. Winning netted Philly Bread a year's worth of free marketing. The bakery makes a healthy version of the English muffin, dubbed the "Philly Muffin."
Q: The idea for Philly Bread?
A: It came from a desire to eat a certain style of bread I'd eaten in western Massachusetts but couldn't find here. I'd been an urban farmer and wanted to bake bread out of curiosity.
Q: Startup money?
A: The equipment is my own and I bought it with personal savings. I later sold some for $20,000 because I found an oven in a vacant bakery [in Olney]. I put $20,000 toward a lease here.
Q: How's a Philly Muffin differ from an English muffin?
A: If you pull it apart, it looks the same, but otherwise it's very different. It's leavened biologically with two different cultures. I've developed a knack for fermenting bread and use the best ingredients. The white flour is King Arthur, unbleached and unbromated. The whole-wheat flour is milled here at Castle Valley Mill, which uses locally grown wheat and corn. The muffins are baked daily, there's no preservatives and they're made in Philly.
Q: When did you start?
A: In April 2013, at a pizzeria in West Philly. I moved into this space in October and signed a lease in February.
Q: The biz model?
A: Local co-ops were my first customers. We also sell to local markets like MOM's Organic Market, Greensgrow Markets and Essene Market. Green Line Cafe, Fair Food Farmstand at Reading Terminal Market and a few restaurants are customers.
Q: How many muffins do you sell each week?
A: About 1,800 packs, in four varieties: original white, everything, heirloom wheat and cinnamon raisin.
Q: How big a biz?
A: The first year, I did about $40,000 in revenue. We have two full-time and two part-time workers. The challenge is not customers, it's producing enough product and it's tricky.
Q: What do you mean?
A: There's a lot of variation in the fermentation process. In the summer, the dough ferments faster and flavor is impacted by temperature. As temperature changes, you have to adjust the amount of yeast you use.
Q: What do you expect from ab+c Creative Intelligence?
A: I'd like to channel their expertise so in the next year Philly Muffin is on all the brunch menus of restaurants here and is carried in grocery stores.