It’s not often that a person walks away from a successful, 22-year as a consultant to become a baker, but Tasos Katsaounis isn’t some overmatched Nailed It contestant trying (and failing) to recreate an elaborate cake. The man, who some might recognize as the husband of popular Houston radio personality Roula Christie (The Roula & Ryan Show), has been baking all his life.
“My mother was taught at a young age by my grandmother how to make bread,” Katsaounis tells CultureMap. “My mother taught me how to bake bread. About two or three days a week, mom and I would bake bread until life got too busy for me.”
Life stayed too busy until last February, when a conversation with Christie prompted Katsaounis to resume baking as a hobby; he thought he might be able to gift friends and family with an occasional loaf, as his father-in-law, Houston restaurant legend Jim Christie (Christie’s Seafood) had done prior to his death. Within weeks, people who saw pictures of his efforts on social media inquired about purchasing bread.
“Probably around 10 to 12 weeks in the whole story, my first wholesale customer contacted me, which was the Westin hotel downtown across from Minute Maid Park,” Katsaounis says. “I said, ‘I’m not a bakery; I’m a home baker,’ [but] I’m not one to turn down a meeting. With a mouthful of bread, he started talking to me about invoicing terms. I reminded him I’m not a bakery. He said, ‘listen, go get set up and call me when you’re ready.’”
With a push from his wife, Katsaounis leased space in a commercial kitchen in north Houston to launch a new company, the Bread Man Baking Company. Initially, he worked as a consultant during the day and baked at night, but Bread Man received such an enthusiastic response that he quit his job last June to devote himself to growing the concept full-time. Earlier this month, Bread Man moved into a dedicated, 5,000-square-foot bake house with the deck ovens and other equipment necessary to meet the growing demand for his products.
Even as he scales Bread Man, Katsaounis is still using his grandmother’s recipes and artisan techniques to create his products, just like he did in his home kitchen. All of its loaves and baguettes are naturally fermented, sourdough-based breads that are shaped by hand on a wooden bench. The company’s products include its signature kalamata olive and oregano bread, a farmhouse sourdough, and a jalapeno cheese bread that’s proven to be popular with barbecue joints.
“We’re being mindful of our catalogue in terms of how large we want it to be,” Katsaounis says. “We’re taking a small batch approach to the process and the product. That way we can remain consistent and at the high quality our customers expect and are paying for.”
Currently, Bread Man products can be found at a couple of retail outlets around town, including the Spec’s in Midtown, but Katsaounis has an innovative idea to get his bread to as many Houstonians as possible. Similar to companies like Blue Apron, Bread Man will soon launch a subscription service that will deliver a loaf of bread per week to homes across Houston. Details on which zip codes will be available initially and pricing are still being finalized, but Katsaounis intends to begin the program in the next few weeks.
The subscription will also come with a charitable component. For every loaf Bread Man sells via the program, it will donate a loaf to local nonprofit Second Servings to help food insecure families across the city. Overall, Katsaounis is feeling very optimistic about the program and Bread Man’s future.
“I think the subscription component is going to do well,” he says. “The people who have helped us are excited about it.”
Ultimately, he has a vision for a Bread Man storefront that’s inspired by Greek cafes. In addition to giving people a dedicated place to buy bread, it could serve pastries and coffee. That may be a little farther away, but, given how far Katsaounis has come since last February, maybe it isn’t.