Tasos Katsaounis remembers a mentor who always said to “hire people who are smarter than you.”

As someone without a baking background, the president and chief executive officer of Bread Man Baking in Houston thinks he did a great job by hiring Drew Gimma as director of operations. Mr. Gimma, who had run the bread programs at top Houston establishments like Common Bond and Squable, provides the heart and soul of artisan baking.

Mr. Katsaounis then enlisted Leo Garza as plant manager who has more than 20 years working in major wholesale bakeries in Texas. He provides the commercial baking operational expertise with his experience in starting up bakeries and in lean management. 

“Together, Drew and Leo combine their respective talents and expertise in both the artisan process and commercial baking to scale Bread Man’s production with quality and efficiency at the forefront,” Mr. Katsaounis said. “They can technically learn from each other’s areas of expertise. It’s probably the best marriage that I have been a part of in terms of being a matchmaker in a business context.”

The businessman doesn’t make decisions without consulting the two bakers to make sure everyone brings their knowledge to the table. Before rolling out products, for instance, Mr. Katsaounis crunches the numbers to calculate the labor and margin requirements, then lets the bakery duo begin formulation before green-lighting a project. 

“We’ve turned some business away because it was going to be too disruptive to the business and would have taken up a good portion of our capacity and production throughput or not allow for any other opportunities that come down the line with a better margin,” he explained.

When it comes to managing a bakery, Mr. Katsaounis said, the decision is to always work with bright people whose talents complement one another, and then let them do their jobs.

Overall, moving into the baking industry has the career consultant acknowledging he has learned a lot from his experiences over the past five years.

 “I would have never opened our first facility — just something larger,” Mr. Katsaounis said. “I would have taken into consideration the potential amount of growth that was there. I take a conservative approach to every decision I make, but at times, I’m too conservative, and it’s to my detriment.”

And what would the consultant turned bakery owner advise others looking to venture into this industry?

“I would advise people to carefully consider the level of investment they’re willing to make into a facility but look at the ROI clearly to understand what you are walking into and what you can do with that space,” he added. “In terms of capitalizing your business, I would take a super conservative approach.”

He also has advice for other artisan bakers planning to scale up their bakeries.

“I was smart enough to do enough market research to understand who my customer was,” Mr. Katsaounis said. “I would identify who is your customer and the level of service you’re offering. To me, it’s not just bread. Our customers have said they buy bread from us because it’s really good and because hey know they’re also paying for the relationship.”

Moreover, he said, craft bakers who never ran a much larger operation should looks for others who can minimize the risk of failure and identify those opportunities that will enhance the potential for success.

“Find yourself a business partner and learn from each other,” Mr. Katsaounis said. “I would take more time in purchasing equipment by going to these vendors with your dough and understand if that’s really the right piece of equipment for me.”

Finally, with today’s labor market, he has another observation from years of consulting global companies.

“We want people to have a quality of life,” he said. “Burning people out in a sweaty bakery doesn’t help with that. You want to give them a comfortable place to work every day.”

Much like the air-conditioned bakery he runs in Texas. 

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.