Edible Innovations: Steven and the Californian Baking Movement

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Edible Innovations: Steven and the Californian Baking Movement

From Singapore to the USA and all around Europe, Edible Innovations profiles food makers that engage in improving the global food system at every stage, from production to distribution to eating and shopping. Join us as we explore the main trends in the industry from a maker perspective. Chiara Cecchini of Food Innovation Program — an ecosystem with a strong educational core that promotes food innovation as a key tool to tackle the great challenges of the future — introduces you to the faces, stories, and experiences of food makers around the globe. Check back on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new installments.

This is a crazy story of disruption — a disruption that has now been ongoing for more than 30 years.

Steven and Susie Sullivan founded The Acme Bread Company in 1983 to bake bread for restaurants and stores that wanted to offer better bread than was generally available on the wholesale market at the time. They saw a lack of good bread on a larger scale. “Good bakeries were small ones that were not able to serve restaurants “ says Steven, “that’s why everything started.”

Steven started working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, along with Alice Waters (@AliceWaters). There wasn’t a big food movement going on at the time and “Silicon Valley” was still just known as the “Bay Area.” He was 18 the first time he went into Chez Panisse. He started working in the kitchen while attending UC Berkeley. After sometime working, Alice pushed him to go to France and there he started getting into bread: he was really fascinated by baking and needed to know more. After two years he came back and started baking occasionally for a co-op in order to learn more. Soon he was giving bread to restaurants to try it out. He was a maker: he did it just because he enjoyed doing it. Plus, he saw a need for what he was doing. Eventually he made a job out of it.

Since the beginning all Acme’s whole-grain flours have been organic, and since the nineties, they have incorporated as many organic and locally sourced ingredients as possible. Most significantly, in 1999 they made the switch to 100% organic flour. They use organic California olive oil, organic raisins, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds, as well as organic California sweet cream butter. Today the company is run by a group of six managing share-holders including Rick Kirkby, Doug Volkmer, Drew Westcott, and Claudio Rezende, along with Steven and Suzie. They have 200 employees. Acme is principally a wholesale bakery but has two retail shops. One is Acme’s original location at the corner of Cedar and San Pablo in Berkeley and the other is in San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace on the Embarcadero. It supplies bread to dozens of restaurants around the Bay Area as well.

Steven talks about himself as a “participant” in the California baking movement, even if he has been the protagonist. He started making organic bread and democratising it when there was a huge need, catalysing a new trend with remarkable impacts. Furthermore, Steven and his team never stopped impacting society: in 2008 they covered their largest wholesale bakery in Berkeley with photovoltaic panels, they fuel all of their diesel trucks (and diesel generators) with “renewable diesel,” they donate all leftover bread to charitable organizations, schools, and non-profits, and they encourage their customers to minimize paper waste by offering a five-cent-per-loaf discount when they forgo all packaging on bread they purchase in Acme shops.

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Chiara is fascinated by food as a means to impact bodies, minds, and environment. She has studied international business in three different countries, and is an alumni of the Food Innovation Program and US Director at the Future Food Institute.

Based in California, she is also a Research Scholar at Food Science and Technology at UC Davis, working on building the first comprehensive Internet of Food to enable food care through food systems semantics. She is a selected member of Barilla Center Food Nutrition Foundation, a Research Affiliate at Institute For The Future, Board Member at Maker Faire and selected member of the Global Shapers, a young global network of innovators promoted by the World Economic Forum.

She is passionate about social entrepreneurship and impact investing, and aims to leave her mark on society.

View more articles by Chiara Cecchini


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