kneading a change

Houston entrepreneur on how he cooked up a new career

How Tasos Katsaounis took his hobby and let it rise into a booming Houston business. Image via breadmanco.com

Four years ago, while looking to escape the daily rigors of his corporate work stress, Houstonian Tasos Katsaounis began to bake bread between Zoom calls.

And while for many during the pandemic it became somewhat of a cliché to bake sourdough at home, Katsaounis was getting a head start on developing the ingredients for Bread Man Baking Co. – a Houston-based artisan bread business that can now be tasted in restaurants all throughout the city.

“You know, there’s just something about the idea of growing something from nothing,” Katsaounis, CEO and founder of the company, tells InnovationMap. “I really feel like for the first time in my 26 years of working professionally, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm super passionate about what I do every day.”

At the end of 2021, the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston, close to the Budweiser and Kroger distribution buildings. At the time of the move, it had 17 employees and this year it has since grown to 42.

While in growth mode, Bread Man Baking Co. had to change its entire production process, investing in state-of-the-art industrial bakery equipment to allow them to produce at scale. The company now also uses cutting-edge breadmaking machinery to emulate Katsaounis’ Yiaya recipes from Greece to get the “hand shaping,” homemade effect in the dough.

They have also developed the capability of flash freezing their product to preserve the product’s integrity for distribution purposes without filling it with chemically based preservatives or conditioners that are traditionally used in the food industry.

“We are all about innovation and evolution, but it’s bread at the end of the day,” he says. “You have to look at it from the standpoint that there’s no way for us to triple our production and maintain quality and the integrity of an artisan bread product without innovating, without evolving, without adapting. We believe in the artisan process.”

Bread Man Baking Co. naturally ferments a majority of its products and bakes the bread in a stone deck, a traditional hearth oven with steam to obtain the coveted crusty bread that patrons desire.

The bread is sold in 65 restaurants around Houston – including Postino Wine Cafe's four locations, Georgia James, and the Tiny Boxwood concepts. The company is now also distributing to Whole Foods and H-E-B retailers, pushing out bread to five states total.

“We’ve done all this in the last six months since moving into our new facility,” he says. “It's been fun to watch. Every month is a new high sales month and we're just like, let’s keep this going.”

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Building Houston

 
 

Hannah Le founded RE.STATEMENT to provide a much-needed platform for sustainable fashion finds.

When shopping online one day, Hannah Le saw a need for a platform that allowed transactions between upcycling fashion designers and shoppers looking for unique, sustainable pieces.

Le created RE.STATEMENT, an online shopping marketplace for upcycled clothing. Before RE.STATEMENT, designers were limited to Etsy, which is focused on handmade pieces, or Poshmark and Depop, which are dedicated to thrift finds. Upcycle fashion designers didn't have their own, unique platform to sell on — and, likewise, shoppers were scattered across sites too.

"These marketplaces are really good for what they do," Le says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but, whenever I think of someone looking for something unique and sustainable, it's hard for me to imagine finding that on these marketplaces."

The platform soft launched in December with 25 upcycling designers and over 1,200 buyers that had been on the company's waitlist for almost nine months. Now that the site is live, Le hopes to give both buyers and sellers quick access to transactions.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le explains. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

Le says that she started with buyers to see what exactly they were looking for, then she searched and found the designers looking to sell their pieces, and the current platform is dynamic and flexible to the needs of users within her community.

"Even today, it changes every single day depending on how users are interacting with the website and what sellers are saying that they need — really communicating with buyers and sellers is how the marketplace is evolving," she says.

RE.STATEMENT's ability to quickly evolve has been due to its early stage, Le explains on the show. She's not yet taken on institutional funding or hired anyone else other than tech support. She says this allows her to quickly make changes or try out new things for users.

"For me, there are still so many things I want to prove to myself before I bring others involved," she says. "To start, it's coming up with new opportunities for buyers to interact with the website so that we can keep learning from them."

Le has already proven some success to herself. Last year, she took home one of three prizes offered at the city's Liftoff Houston competition. The contest, which gives Houston entrepreneurs pitch practice and mentorship, awarded RE.STATEMENT $10,000 for winning in the product category.

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le says of the competition where she got to introduce her business to Mayor Sylvester Turner and a whole new audience of people. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shares more about her vision for RE.STATEMENT and the integral role Houston plays in her success on the show.


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