“Incubator” programs – cultivating everything from tech companies to future chefs – are not a new concept in Pittsburgh. Organizations like AlphaLab in East Liberty, and The Smallman Galley in The Strip District, have already made their mark on the city.
In early 2018, another incubator program is coming to Mount Oliver, a neighborhood ten minutes south of Pittsburgh. The Bakery Society Pittsburgh – cleverly nicknamed “TBSP” – will be the region’s first bakery incubator.
Prospective bakers, both near and far, are invited to apply to be a TBSP “Baker-in-Residence,” and participate in the organization’s intensive, eighteen month incubation program. With the guidance of TBSP staff and partners, these bakers will refine their technical baking skills, as well as learning the marketing and financial knowledge necessary to start their own businesses.
TBSP plans to begin their program with three Bakers-in-Residence. It’s also possible to apply to be a “Community Baker,” with access to the TBSP kitchen, or a “Tenant Baker,” who sell their products at the bakery, have access to the kitchen, and learning marketing skills.
The inspiration for starting The Bakery Society Pittsburgh is completely attributed to the building that started it all.
TBSP will be housed inside the former Kullman’s Bakery space on Brownsville Road in Mount Oliver. Prior to closing, Kullman’s was a staple in the neighborhood for over 60 years. The space was a quintessential neighborhood bakery, selling fresh bread, donuts, and every type of sweet imaginable.
Kullman’s closed in 2013, despite continued demand from the neighborhood. The owners, who were ready to retire, had no one to succeed them.
“Everyone got their birthday cakes at Kullmans,” says Diane Rutten, a lifelong resident of Mount Oliver. “The smells were just incredible. Everyone knew everyone when you were in here.”
Just as the bakery was a crossroads for the neighborhood, Kullman’s redevelopment into TBSP is a community effort. Economic Development South (EDS), a neighborhood development organization focussed in south Pittsburgh has helped spearhead the project since the beginning.
In 2015, EDS began hosting “Sweet Saturday” events in Mount Oliver. Local bakers were invited to sell their baked goods along Brownsville Road. The final event in the series was held in the (then vacant) Kullman’s Bakery.
The overwhelming success of these events encouraged the EDS to create a more permanent solution. The following year, the borough bought the Kullman’s building, and the EDS worked to develop a business plans, and raise funds to renovate the space.
The bakery, which still features it’s original equipment, has a major transformation ahead. The entire third floor, where the sweets were made for over sixty years, will be turned into a giant, communal kitchen. Ambitious bakers will be able to make everything from cakes, to pizzas in a wood-fired oven.
The second floor of the building will become another community kitchen, as well as a prep area and coffee bar. The renovation plans honor as much of the original equipment and layout as possible.
The Mount Oliver borough and the EDS hope the TBSP program will excite young entrepreneurs about the idea of moving to the area.
And, just as bakers from all over the city (and beyond) are invited to apply and become part of the Mount Oliver community, current residents are encouraged to share memories, and contribute to the transformation of the building.
“We already know we need to find a way to have have ribbon hanging from the ceiling so we can tie up the boxes,” says Phil Enck, TBSP general manager. “Everyone has those little memories, and that’s what we want to bring back.”
One iconic aspect of Kullman’s that everyone remembers are the motorized dolls that were located in the front windows during the bakery’s heyday. The dolls were found in the back of the bakery when the building was purchased, and TBSP is planning to have the dolls repaired and returned to their original location.
The Bakers-in-Residence will create their treats on the third floor, which will be sold in the storefront below. TBSP will operate with a profit split. Bakers will receive 70% of all gross profit made from the sale of their goods, and an additional 5% will be placed in a savings account for the explicit purpose of continuing their efforts after the completion of the program. The remaining 25% will be kept by TBSP to assist in covering the cost of operation.
TBSP is currently accepting application for their first round of Bakers-in-Residence. The program plans to complete construction, and open to the public in the spring of 2018. More information can be found online.
The Bakery Society Pittsburgh (225 Brownsville Road)