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Pastry Progress

Houston's best bread company plans Austin expansion

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12 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
Slow Dough Bread Co. is expanding to the Austin market.  Photo by Eric Sandler
11 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
Slow Dough Bread Co.'s co-owner Heath Wendell.  Photo by Eric Sandler
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Slow Dough produces over 5,000 hamburgers buns daily.  Photo by Eric Sandler
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Preparing baguettes.  Photo by Eric Sandler
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Loading dough onto a roller.  Photo by Eric Sandler
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This massive mixer holds 500 pounds of dough. Photo by Eric Sandler
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Out of the mixer and into the proofer.  Photo by Eric Sandler
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The finished product. Photo by Eric Sandler
12 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
11 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
5 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
3 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
2 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
1 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
8 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
10 Slow Dough bread making June 2014

While Heath Wendell could be content with Houston-based Slow Dough Bread Co.'s growth over the past five years, he isn't the sort of person to rest on his laurels. That's why the company, which supplies freshly baked bread to many of Houston's finest restaurants (Wendell estimates that as many as 20,000 Houstonians per day eat the company's bread), is set to expand even further by moving into the Austin market and opening a retail storefront in Houston.

And the Austin expansion has already begun. A Slow Dough truck heads west four days per week to service six accounts that include celebrated charcuterie shop Salt & Time, Royal Blue Grocery and the Farmhouse delivery service. General manager Clayton Garrett tells CultureMap that Slow Dough is responding to demand from Austin restaurants that couldn't purchase bread from Austin's existing commercial bakers.

"We made the decision because of the amount of phone calls we received," Wendell adds. "We're really, really excited about it."

To meet the expected demand, the company has added two new trucks and will soon install two massive new deck ovens to double its production capacity. In addition, manager Thomas Massey, who spent years working for Whole Foods in Austin, will be in the city full-time to serve as a resource for customers. Massey notes that despite the growth of Austin's restaurant scene, the city's existing bakeries don't have "enough capacity to handle the desire for new, different and better." Still, he says, "I love Austin. There's tons of room for everyone."

If there's sufficient demand, Wendell thinks Slow Dough could even open a bakery in Austin to service Austin and San Antonio. Once the demand justifies the expense, Wendell says he'd like to find a business-minded baker in Austin who could partner with the company and train in Houston. "It would be nice," he says.

As the Austin expansion is happening, Slow Dough will also launch its first retail space as part of the Weights + Measures complex in Midtown Houston. The development, a joint venture between urban designer/developer Ian Rosenberg, 13 Celsius owner Mike Sammons, Brown Paper Chocolates owner Richard Kaplan and Slow Dough, will feature a 600-square-foot retail bakery that sells sweet and savory breads and pastries.

"When you have a retail store, you can see people's reactions to your product," Wendell notes. "I'm totally looking forward to it." The menu is still under development, but it will include donuts, as well as what Wendell calls the "rustic side of pastries . . .  Things I grew up making."

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