Denver artisan bakery Rebel Bread quickly expanding wholesale business

When bakery owner Zach Martinucci moved to Denver about five years ago, people told him there were plenty of bakeries in the area.

“I was like, ‘Oh, no, there’s so much room,’” Martinucci replied. “I had come from San Francisco, where there was a bakery on every street corner and you could still open more because of the love of good bread.”

Since starting Rebel Bread, an artisan bakery, Martinucci has seen more bakeries and coffee shops open in the Denver area. As the worst of the pandemic passed, his wholesale business surged to meet the rising demand for scones, muffins and croissants to go with all those cups of coffee.

“We’ve always done wholesale. It’s been our priority for a while now,” Martinucci said.

But the number of the bakery’s wholesale accounts approximately has doubled since November.

“We’re now serving about 60 different accounts, up from 30. They’re mostly independent coffee shops in Denver, some restaurants and grocery programs,” Martinucci said. “Most of that growth was in January, February. There was like a six-week period where we picked up 20 accounts.”

Martinucci attributes the jump in Rebel Bread’s activity to a confluence of factors: The bakery is becoming more well-known, some bakeries have closed, and other bakeries are focusing more on retail than wholesale.

“The dream of most bakers is to get enough retail traffic that you don’t have to wholesale anymore,” Martinucci said. “We really want to specialize in wholesale. It actually feels like there’s more baking going in Denver, just in different areas.”

There’s absolutely more baking happening on Rebel Bread’s premises on the Design Center campus at 675 S. Broadway in Denver. On a recent afternoon, the 1,200-square-foot work area was full of employees and noise as people talked back and forth, clanged big steel bowls and rolled tall carts stacked with loaves of bread and pastries on their way to the oven. It was the time of day when the teams that make the bread and pastries overlap with the team that does the baking.

Martinucci said the bakery produces an average of 200 loaves of bread a day and as many as 500 a day. The average pastry production is about 1,000 a day.

“There’s never a dull moment in there, especially with the growth,” Cassandra Bullock, the production director, said after stepping outside the main work area.

Bullock started as a baker on the evening shift when she joined Rebel Bread about two years ago. After about eight months, she was head of the bread team.

“I moved up to production director as we were exponentially growing,” Bullock said. “So many times I think there’s no way we could grow anymore. Then I just take a step back and problem-solve.”

This is Bullock’s first job as professional baker. She is an avid home baker and worked in other bakeries, but as a barista or in a front-of-the-shop position.

“We often prefer the home bakers because we like to train them in our style,” Martinucci said. “Most of us were home bakers first.

Martinucci studied culinary anthropology at the University of California-Los Angeles and attended the San Francisco Baking Institute.

About 25 people work for Rebel Bread, the majority of them as bakers. Others are support staffers. Martinucci has hired more people and created new positions as the orders have increased. Tasks that people would fit in around their regular work, like making jam, have turned into new jobs.

Although Rebel Bread focuses on the wholesale side, it still operates a retail counter just off its kitchen 8 a.m.-noon Thursday through Sunday. The bakery offers a “bread club,” an online market and delivery service started in 2021 to provide artisan bakeries another outlet when farmers markets are closed for the season.

Rebel Bread also offers bakery tours for the public and special gatherings for its wholesale clients. Regan Cary, who has worked for the bakery for almost two years, looks forward to the open houses for clients to get feedback on the products, like the tiramisu croissant knot she created.

“Each month we come out with a new specialty pastry and products, and the clients decide if they want to order it. And they give us feedback on previous ones,” said Cary as she helped prepare the buttered layers of dough for the croissant knots, which also get mascarpone cream filling.

The next creation?

“We’re testing out key lime pastry, which will be in a bicolor croissant,” Cary said.

Other sweets are raspberry cream cheese croissant squares, almond bear claws, twice-baked blueberry almond croissants and cinnamon rolls.

The breads include sourdough; sourdough with 50% wheat flour; sourdough filled with roasted garlic, rosemary, sage and extra virgin olive oil; olive ciabatta; chocolate ciabatta; baguettes; and sour and marble rye.

Rebel Bread started in a shared kitchen in the Five Points neighborhood. Now the bakery is looking at expanding its current kitchen into an adjacent space.

“We still have accounts from our original opening in Five Points, but this kitchen has really allowed us to become the version of the business that we are now,” Martinucci said.

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