Sunlight beams through the second story of the former Kullman's Bakery on Brownsville Road in Mount Oliver. Leaning against a stainless steel table, cook Jewel Edwards muses about her favorite confections.
“Cheesecakes, I like to do bars like brownie cookie bars,” she says, counting through the recipes on her fingers. “I also like to do small desserts like parfaits, cake pops, miniature cupcakes…”
Edwards has been preparing food professionally in Pittsburgh for nearly 17 years. She got into baking as a kid, watching Julia Child on PBS.
“Some people want to be firefighters, some people want to be nurses and doctors, I wanted to bake,” she said.
Now, she says she’s ready to start her own business.
“My goal is to open a bakery lounge, almost like a cafe, where there’s a small event space, people can come do meet and greets, if you’re having like a baby shower, bridal shower,” she explained. “Just a place to meet up and have a little something to eat, little something sweet.”
Soon, Edwards will be taking the first step toward owning her own business. She’s has been selected as a baker-in-residence at The Bakery Society of Pittsburgh’s new bakery incubator.
The concept is similar to restaurant incubators, like the local Federal and Smallman Galleys, where a few motivated chefs work for several months to perfect a business model.
In Mount Oliver, the incubator will occupy the former Kullman’s Bakery space at 225 Brownsville Road, which closed in 2014. The bakery incubator idea was hatched by Jami Pasquinelli, Director of Community Projects and Initiatives at Economic Development South.
“When I started working here finding out that [Kullman’s] closed, it was definitely a bummer because it was one of my favorite places,” Pasquinelli said. “The community took a hit for that.”
Soon, Pasquinelli was organizing “Sweet Saturdays” in Mount Oliver and heard from residents how badly the bakery was missed.
“I did my research and I looked at Smallman Galley and their model and [thought], well, no one’s doing a bakery model,” she said.
General Manager Phil Enck said the site is ideal, because it’ll attract both newcomers and people from the neighborhood that remember shopping at Kullman’s.
“[It’ll be good] whether they’re brand new and they’ve never been there and those smells hit them,” he said, “versus someone who [says], ‘I used to come here when I was a kid’ and, ‘oh, my stars, I remember this picture, I remember this pastry.’”
Over the course of 18 months, bakers will work on their own business and craft their brand. Enck said there will be three levels of participation, based on experience: bakers-in-residence, tenant bakers and community bakers.
Bakers-in-residence, Enck explained, will be employed full-time at the bakery, churning out products for the store, while building their reputation, business skills and networking. The tenant baker will have an established product, such as wedding cakes, and the incubator will give them a platform for advertising and space bake.
The community baker is someone who needs a facility to prepare baked goods, and can bake independently, or use the space as a step toward becoming a baker-in-residence, Enck said.
At the end of the 18 months, the bakers-in-residence will head out on their own. Mount Oliver Borough manager Rick Hopkinson says he’s looking forward to having the incubator on the community’s main road.
“For the longest time people have been you know seeing stores close,” he said. “I think for the first time in a long time there's just been this momentum of projects happening and things opening and the bakery, I think, is something that people are really going to be proud of.”
Once a bustling residential borough, Mount Oliver has struggled in recent years with crime and blight. But Hopkinson says he imagines the bakery incubator will help change the community’s reputation.
“I really believe that this project not only is going to serve the community, but I think it’s going to bring people up to the business district,” Hopkinson said.
The building is still under construction, and the Bakery Society of Pittsburgh team says they anticipate opening this Spring. While most of the building has been renovated and gutted, they have kept some of the original Kullman’s equipment that they’ll make available for the public to see
Jewel Edwards says she excited to get started.
“I cannot wait to step out to my own,” she said. “What more ways to make people happy than baked goods?”