Tasos Katsaounis is a businessman by trade and a baker by heart, and he’s running down a dream.

As a young boy, the first-generation Greek-American grew up baking his grandmother’s Old World olive and oregano bread with his mother until he went to college. Then after 22 years of stressful consulting for C-suite clients at global companies, he sought solace in baking as a hobby again, chucked a job he didn’t enjoy and started Bread Man Baking in 2018.

“I was always a person who wanted to be passionate and enjoy what I did,” said Mr. Katsaounis, president and chief executive officer of the Houston-based artisan bakery. “Call me a dreamer if you will. I found myself happier baking, and the demand grew out of my own kitchen.”

After less than four years of producing naturally long-fermented breads and rolls for many of the top restaurants throughout south Texas, the bustling 4,800-square-foot bakery needed a bigger home. That prompted Mr. Katsaounis to develop a comprehensive plan with 25 Excel charts for growing the business.

But as the saying goes, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and the enemy was time.

After five months of delays because of equipment and other supply chain issues, the new 40,000-square-foot operation with three semiautomatic lines began production right after Christmas last year.

“We expected to have two months of training at the old facility as we got this one up to speed and tested everything, and we had two days before we began delivering product,” Mr. Katsaounis recalled. “When it came to expanding in the middle of COVID, most people would look at it as insane, but in reality, we had done a good job developing a pipeline for a bunch of businesses that we couldn’t do in our old facility.”

Bread Man Baking has come a long way in a short time. The new $3.5 million facility, replete with $2 million in new equipment, can turn out up to 30,000 units a day compared to 5,000 pieces daily at its previous operation.

The bakery offers 37 varieties of its top-selling sourdough breads, artisan batards and brioche buns along with ciabatta, focaccia, Parker House dinner rolls and Pullman-style sandwich breads. All these clean label baked goods are made with natural starters. 

“It’s always been about time and fermentation,” noted Drew Gimma, director of operations. “We don’t skimp on fermentation ever because then we’re not producing the bread that we’re known for. We also do not use any chemical additives. That’s a hard-and-fast rule that we will not change. If someone says they want a one-month shelf life with this bread, we tell them we’ll work with clean additives only up to 10 days, but we can’t do one month with this particular bread.”

Bread Man Baking currently distributes fresh products to 170 high-end restaurants along with a rising number of retailers throughout Texas, and it recently expanded to Denver and Atlanta through a foodservice partnership. Moreover, the company recently hired a sales representative to broaden distribution nationally.

Although most of Bread Man Baking’s production is fresh, Mr. Katsaounis pointed out the leased facility fortunately came with a 6,000-square-foot freezer with a 500-pallet storage capacity that allows it to broaden its frozen, fully baked goods program with a goal of 70% frozen in the future.

“We went from one revenue stream of fresh foodservice and retail,” Mr. Katsaounis said. “Now we have frozen foodservice, and we’re bringing on a new frozen retailer from a distribution perspective. It’s allowed us to do so much more than we did before.”

Furthermore, he noted, the freezer capacity will allow the bakery to build inventory and extend production runs to drive efficiencies while expanding the bakery’s presence in the market.

As a management consultant, Mr. Katsaounis taught companies about exceeding expectations as the core tenant of customer service.

“We don’t operate transactionally and treat customers as invoices,” he said. “We create long-term partnerships. That has put us in a place where people want to work with us because of how they’re treated.”

An intense focus on quality provides the second part of the equation.

“Artisan products can be the least forgiving bread that you can produce day in and day out,” Mr. Katsaounis observed. “Every day, we make sure the ugly ones stay in the building and the pretty ones go out.”

Since production began, sales have grown more than 20% ahead of projections. Apparently, starting up a bakery during a pandemic ended up being perfect timing in a perfect storm.

“It was actually a major benefit for us to open when we did,” Mr. Gimma said. “A lot of bakeries were having labor issues or didn’t want to invest in a brand-new facility given the uncertainty.”

He added that the inability of some bakers to meet customers’ needs because of industrywide workforce and supply chain issues provided an opportunity for the operation.

“We sought out a lot of sales, but we have a lot of people knocking on our doors,” Mr. Gimma observed. “We’re able to help them when bakeries have slowed down and are not able to do it.”

Bread Man Baking’s plan calls for controlled steady growth, but the diversified business has a life of its own.

“It’s never allowed me to do that, frankly,” Mr. Katsaounis said. “It has wanted to grow at a faster pace than what it’s growing at now.”

Still, his preparation, along with the operational management from Mr. Gimma, an artisan baker who’s worked with several award-winning chefs, and Leo Garza, plant manager with 20-plus years of commercial baking experience, allows the day-to-day operation to go with the flow and ramp up production when required.

“We have been very persistent and resilient, and we adjust as needed,” Mr. Katsaounis said. “The investment and the time we put into it are really paying off. The bakery has exceeded my expectations with the amount of additional business that we now have outside of the initial pipeline that we had built into this initial expansion.”

Over the next five years, he expects to maximize the existing facility and possibly grow by expansion and via acquisition to provide another regional location to better serve its national market. 

That may sound ambitious, but not to Mr. Katsaounis, whose daughter came up with the company’s name just a few years ago.

“We are literally creating and living our American dream here,” he said, recalling one of his favorite stories. “My parents came here with $100 and a suitcase between the two of them. And it didn’t hit me until I brought my parents to this facility, and my mom started bursting into tears. I asked her why she was crying. She said, ‘This is why we came to this country; we can do things like this.’ It really helped me understand what we’re doing and how important it is to my family.”

Certainly, few, if any, initial plans go as expected, but Bread Man Baking is just starting its next journey, which for Mr. Katsaounis and his team, is a dream in and of itself.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Bread Man Baking Co., click here.