A Dog’s Walk Bakery: A bread paradox
By Ariel Cianfarano and Emma Keider
Down a quiet Flagstaff neighborhood street is a small business equipped with a filing cabinet and two white tables stationed in a driveway. On top of these tables are different flavored sourdough, cookies and brownies. Neighbors come in cars, ride their bikes or walk over with their dogs to get some bread and other bakery items from Adam Neisen, the owner of A Dog’s Walk Bakery, and mastermind of the pop-up shops for his bread business.
After moving from Fort Collins, Colorado to Flagstaff, Neisen attended school at NAU as a journalism major. He dropped out after two years, though, because he fell in love with food instead.
“The more I started cooking, the less I was writing,” Neisen said.
He started to work at several restaurants in town for about 10 years — Bigfoot BBQ, Cuvee 928 and Root Public House to name a few. After long hours working in the kitchen, he would make bread to decompress. Neisen enjoyed baking, so he decided to take the leap and quit his job to make bread full time.
As a small-business owner, Neisen thought the Arizona Home Baked and Confectionary Goods program would be the best way to support his vision. The program allows anyone to start their own business and sell baked goods from home without taking out loans or buying a place to work out of. This can help many people who want extra income, or just want to develop and share their baking skills with others. In Neisen’s case, it is a combination of both.
“One of my friends, she was in the program and she reached out to me to kind of pick my brain and see what I thought about it, and I had no idea at the time,” Neisen said. “So, I was kind of intrigued by it. She’s kind of a little smaller operation, so then when I was talking to my wife — my wife’s name is Amy — I was like, ‘Oh that would be cool to do, but I couldn’t sell two to three cookies a week. I’m thinking like 600 loaves of bread a week.’”
From ordering 5 pounds of flour starting out to now ordering 50 pounds of flour, Neisen is on his way to becoming a bread mogul. He aims to have pop-up shops 2–3 times a week, with expansion on his mind. The pop-up shops are hosted by local businesses in town, either approached by Neisen himself or by his customers that recommend businesses to contact A Dog’s Walk Bakery.
Some days, the pop-up shops are just in his driveway with the filing cabinet — for easy access — and a few tables.
Neisen started the pop-up shop concept just this past year, but he’s been cultivating his business for almost two years. All of his breads are sourdough, and Neisen usually starts baking his dough around 4 a.m. before the pop-up shop later that day.
The dough ingredients are simple: water, flour, salt and sourdough starter. All Neisen needs is 6–8 hours for it rise and sit, and then it’s baking time. Equipped with two refrigerators at home, he is able to make enough bread to keep customers satisfied and coming back.
“I enjoy fresh ingredients, unbleached flour and we just mix it all together and hope it works,” Neisen said.
Country loaf, purple sweet potato and sesame, garlic and herb, and blueberry white chocolate are a few different types of sourdough Neisen has available, according to A Dog’s Walk Bakery website. Some of the flavors differ depending on the pop-up shop day.
The bread sells for $6 a loaf. His cookies, brownies and focaccia are all under $6.
“Usually, it’s just kind of whatever I want to eat. At the end of the day I’m like, ‘Man, I’m hungry.’ Or even like what’s around, what have I run across. When I first started out, I would go online and find recipes or get ideas,” Neisen said.
He would also use his experience cooking in restaurants to try out tasty food pairings for his different flavors of bread. After looking online for recipes and ideas, Neisen realized there are other home bakers cooking bread for their communities, which inspired him.
Making homemade bread and then selling it at different locations may seem easy when first hearing about it, but the Arizona Home Baked and Confectionary program has its own rules and regulations. A food handler’s license is required, clean surfaces and sanitary food handling practices are essential, according to the Arizona Home Baked and Confectionary program website.
When Neisen is ready to wrap the bread and other bakery items he makes in white or brown paper bags, there are also labeling rules he has to abide by. According to the Arizona Cottage Food Law, the address and contact information for the home baker must be on the label, as well as a list of ingredients and that the product was made in a private home.
Neisen’s food handler license from Coconino County, Arizona Home Baked and Confectionary Goods program registration and an Occupational Business license is conveniently placed on the infamous filing cabinet for customers to see.
When Neisen first started the filing cabinet with bread in it, some of his neighbors were apprehensive about the whole operation.
“We started by just putting a file cabinet in the front yard and seeing whoever stopped by,” Neisen said. “I have customers and friends now, and they’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, the first time we walked up to that file cabinet and it said “sourdough bread” on it, we were like ‘Is this for real?’”
Soon after more and more neighbors started to support A Dog’s Walk Bakery and buying bread exclusively from Neisen.
“I found out through word-of-mouth. Another friend who lives down the block was telling me how awesome his bread was and so we tried it and we have been coming whenever we can,” Abby Sislo said, a dedicated customer of Neisen’s bakery. “We used to live close to Adam, but we recently moved so we have to drive to his pop-up shops now.”
A Dog’s Walk Bakery started with selling only 1–2 loaves per week. But, now Neisen is selling enough to keep going, and building a community around his bread business.
“You see neighbors, but you don’t really talk to them. So, then this was great because neighbors come over and then you get to meet them and kind of build relationships,” Neisen said. “With the pop-up shop, we were hoping to expand our relationship or building this community to more of the city and get other local businesses involved and that way we can show our customers their businesses and some of their customers can come get some bread.”
Another customer, Russ Dickerson, lives several houses down from Neisen and makes it a priority to buy bakery items from the pop-up shops.
“I usually get a couple loaves of bread and then an add-on of focaccia or cookies. It makes it painful to go to the store and buy any other kind of bread really. It is the best bread anywhere and you can’t beat the convenience,” Dickerson said. “Adam is super creative and always comes up with super interesting things. There is usually a rotating stock of super reliable and standard breads, and then something wild to keep things interesting. It is a good formula.”
Neisen’s next pop-up shop will be Tuesday, April 30 at his home and there will be another hosted by The Elite Team at Re/Max Peak Properties on May 4, according to A Dog’s Walk Bakery website.
The more businesses host, the more the bakery can expand. Although he is unsure how big he can actual make his bakery, he hopes to keep making connections with customers.
“We just want to keep feeding people tasty bread,” Neisen said. “I always figured I have the best customers because they would come to my house, make their own change, put it in the jar, get their bread from the file cabinet, and take off. It’s been very cool that way, kind of building a community, starting with the neighborhood and then expanding out.”