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Houston's Hot New Bakery

Food game changer: Houston's best bread company is set to open its first local bakery — and expand to Austin

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11 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
Slow Dough Bread Co. co-owner Heath Wendell with a loaf of freshly baked bread. Photo by Eric Sandler
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Slow Dough produces over 150 different bread products every day.  Photo by Eric Sandler
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The production facility will add additional capacity soon.  Photo by Eric Sandler
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Two more deck ovens are coming.  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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Challah and croissant are ready for the oven. 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
11 Slow Dough bread making June 2014
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The numbers are staggering: 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of flour per week, 18,000 pieces per day (6,000 or more of which are hamburger buns), 300 customers from Conroe to Webster and Katy to Kingwood. All produced from an anonymous, unmarked warehouse space on Westpark.

Owner Heath Wendell estimates that as many as 20,000 Houstonians per day eat the bread produced by Slow Dough Bread Co. "It's just mind boggling for us," he tells CultureMap.

While Wendell could be content with Slow Dough's growth over the past five years, he isn't the sort of person to rest of his laurels. That's why the company, which supplies freshly baked bread to many of Houston's finest restaurants, is set to expand even further by moving into the Austin market and opening a retail storefront as part of the new Weights + Measures complex in Midtown. (CultureMap was first to report on the Weights + Measures complex.)

 The menu is still under development, but it will include donuts, as well as what Wendell calls the "rustic side of pastries . . . " 

Wendell recalls growing up in Chicago and working for Deerfields Bakery, a company his grandfather started. When he wanted to grow the business beyond what his uncles were comfortable with, Wendell's grandfather encouraged him to leave and start his own business.

"He recognized I was an entrepreneur," Wendell says. Eventually, Wendell arrived in Houston. "I came down here and recognized the need for bread," he says.   

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 both that city and San Antonio. Once the demand justifies the expense, Wendell says he'd like to find a business-minder 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. 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.

The partnership grew out of Wendell's longstanding relationship with Rosenberg and Sammons that began when Wendell and co-owner/fiancee Marlo Evans first started Slow Dough. The last stop on their delivery route was 13 Celsius, and they would stay to have a glass of wine and discuss their businesses. For four years, Rosenberg told Wendell that he wanted to help him open a retail location.  

"This project came up, and everything worked out," Wendell says. "Everything will be made there," he promises, rather than trucked in from the wholesale facility. 

"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."

The new space will also make pizza dough for an adjacent restaurant and serve as a training ground for bakers before they enter production at the wholesale facility, since they'll be freed from the pressure of having to make hundreds of pieces at a time.

"We'll be part of the retail community, which is pretty cool," Wendell says. 

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