Baltimore resident Lane Levine might have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Harvard University, but he prefers working with his hands. After 12 years of doing nonprofit work in advocacy and community building in New York City, Humboldt County, California, and back home in Baltimore at LifeBridge Health, Levine, 34, started baking bread.
Since last year, the Krieger Schechter Day School alum has been the owner/operator of A Friendly Bread, a bread-baking and delivery service based out of Baltimore. After moving to a commercial kitchen in May 2018, Levine took on the business as a full-time operation and hired a full-time baker, Joe Kelly, to help boost productivity.
He is currently enrolled in a part-time MBA program at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, where he works with his classmates on business problem-solving strategies using his own company.
How did you get into baking bread?
For a couple years, my husband, David, and I lived in rural Northern California in Humboldt County. There was a tiny Jewish community there and there was a bakery that was owned by a couple — one was a Mexican Catholic and the other was Jewish — called Los Bagels. They had a fantastic challah. I would order it every week and I forgot one week that Friday was Christmas Eve. Since they weren’t just a Jewish bakery, they were closed. We were still going to a Shabbat dinner that night, so I learned to make challah that night. When we finally left Humboldt County, I asked them for the challah recipe and they gladly gave it to me.
The bread I make now is all naturally leavened sourdough. It doesn’t use any commercial yeast. It’s yeast from a fermentation process. When I started experimenting with making my own sourdough starter, I was really bad at it. But once I got good at it, I shared it with people and they told me to stop giving it to them for free because they wanted to pay for it.
How does the company work?
The idea is to be like the milkman. No storefront, no wholesaling. Selling directly to consumers who order it and have it delivered to them. I also sell at farmers markets to meet people. But my target is going to luxury apartment buildings throughout the city and making connections to the leasing managers to promote the service to their residents as one of the building’s services. I come for tastings and participate in wine and cheese parties so they get to know me, and then they can get the bread sent to the front desk for them to pick up once a week.
What is the most challenging part of baking bread?
One thing, certainly, is getting consistency in the product. Sourdough itself is a living organism, and we don’t get to fully control living organisms, as much as we try. On the business side, bread is one of the oldest things that humans know, so people don’t really need to be convinced one way or the other whether they should eat bread. But I do have to contend with all of the notions that people have, whether carbs are good for you or bad for you, etc. It’s not a new business model to sell bread, but I have to figure out a way to get people to buy bread the way I want them to buy bread.
Do you plan to become kosher certified?
I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement to do it. It’s definitely something I actively consider, I just need to find a way to fit it into my business model.
What do you do for fun?
There’s a lot of things I used to do! My husband and I have chickens in our backyard. We have an idyllic home life that we enjoy. I am on hiatus from the Charm City Labor Chorus, where I was a tenor. I am also a hiatus from being involved in a couple activist organizations like Jews United for Justice. But I’ve been told by fellow business owners that starting a new business is like having a baby. You’re up all night with it, and you spend all your time worrying about it, and in a couple years it will be different. But this is my main focus right now.