Ryan Ritskes has been baking bread weekly for himself and friends for a couple years as his creative outlet, but after suffering a serious woodworking accident last year that led to the loss of a few finger parts, Ritskes found baking bread was healing.
Until then, he’d run his own small scale veggie farm but afterwards, his damaged hand didn’t bode well with the cold early-morning harvest.
“Baking bread was very therapeutic for me and helped me get through the long, dark days,” Ritskes reflects. He wanted to experiment and learn more about the ancient art of sourdough. “I couldn't eat all the bread that I wanted to make and was looking for a way to move my bread regularly. It started with just eight people agreeing to pay me to bake for them.”
The Bread Bandit was launched. In May 2015, Ritskes started baking out of Polestar Hearth’s still-hot brick ovens when they were done with them, and recently started subleasing his own baking space under Miijidaa Restaurant.
Fifty customers have signed up for his $25 per month bread share program, which features a fresh sourdough loaf delivered weekly to their homes by Ritskes and his bicycle. “Most of the times I get to people’s doorsteps while it’s still hot. It's just me, a real one-man show.”
Ritskes says he enjoys pushing the boundaries to highlight his craft by offering new and exciting flavours each week, from polenta to blue cheese and pear.
“My breads are moist, with an open crumb, contrasted nicely with a thin crackly crust.”
Current delivery areas include downtown, Sunnyacres and his own hood, the Ward, but he plans to expand to Exhibition Park, St. George's, the Junction and Old University. The Stone Store carries his bread on weekends, and it’s the only bread served at Filtr Co., the barista touts proudly, based on their clients’ insistence that their sandwich only be made with it.
Ritskes says he enjoys the idea of going back to “community bread” – a neighbourhood baker who also delivers to residents’ doors.
“The concept of having fresh bread delivered to your house isn't new, but it is novel, especially by bicycle.” He adds, “There are a few people who wait at the door for me or run out to their driveway.”
Ritskes says the Bread Bandit name stems from his early days of delivering when he’d “sneak” into friends’ backyards and tuck his loaves into a back door or BBQ without anyone seeing or hearing him; the name still resonates today.
For Ritskes, there’s nothing better than weaving his bicycle and trailer filled with freshly baked loaves of bread throughout the core.
“By riding my bicycle, I also get to interact with people who wave or stop to chat,” Ritskes says, adding that he’s done deliveries by car but finds it’s faster by bike and fits with Bread Bandit’s personable vibe.
“Sourdough is often a specialty bread in many bakeries, but it should be the only way we make bread.
it's important to me to use traditional methods of baking… to bring back something that has been distorted since the industrial revolution.”
Experts claim that the ancient fermenting methods used for sourdough allows even the gluten-sensitive to tolerate the bread.
“Real bread provides so many health and taste benefits. Bread made with commercial yeast is really not good for us,” Ritskes says.
For someone not even 30 years of age who’s moved and travelled around a lot, it’s more than ideal to settle in Guelph and call it home.
So far, Ritskes hasn’t done any conventional marketing, aside from participating in the odd local market or fair, and all of his customers are driven from word of mouth.
“It's a very romantic notion to have your own bakery and have everyone ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ over your bread, but I'd only want that if I could still bike and do deliveries,” Ritskes says. “It feels like a normal life; it works for me. I’m more than happy to do this as it’s still very exciting for me right now.”