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(Credit: Chris Casella)

Tastemaker: Dan Riesenberger

Owner, Dan the Baker

By Kimberly Stolz

Published January 21, 2013

Background: Trader Joe’s, Northstar, Brioso Education: Self-taught Hometown: Bexley
Favorite: We just started doing Danish dough and bear claws and that’s my new obsession – almond cream filling, cinnamon sugar; there’s cardamom and cinnamon in the dough and they are so rich with the grass-fed butter. Amazing.

On bread: Bread just feels so right to eat – you can’t deny that feeling. Sourdough bread is so elemental. These whole grain breads have such good nutrition, they feel so good. Sourdough is it’s own mother culture – it’s like fermented awesome. A crusty loaf of country sour is just amazing. Bread just found me … I have to make this, it’s a really wonderful product and I’m selling it. Bread just came naturally. My mom has been a baker my whole life. It wasn’t the same style baking, with sourdough and that kind, [but] still, being around yeasted bread products gave me inspiration. My family has always loved food, for sure. I remember when I was three and four years old going strawberry picking with my grandma and just eating as many as I could. And we do that still, every year. We were passionately involved with the food scene and still are, even though we didn’t know it was the popular or the right thing to do at the time. It was just what we did. We went to the fields and picked produce.

On the starter: Martha from Northstar gave me a sour dough culture she got from the Cordon Bleu. I’ve had it going since then, 2007. I take good care of it. I try not to worry about it. Reading about the science of the starter, you can really start anywhere. It’s more about the terroir: if you have good air, flour and water and can create a good environment for the bacteria to grow, you’ll have that same sourdough starter in a week or two. It would be a hassle to lose it, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. People are like, oh we have this 250-year-old San Francisco sourdough starter but there’s not even a minute bit of bacteria from back then. It’s all new, every time you start it. It’s an interesting perspective, but it is cool to have had it going on for five years, so we do take good care of it. It’s a very fun smelling and cool looking material.

On the politics of food: The political aspect of food – the way the food industry has changed in the past 70 or 80 years, food has become so much more industrial on a massive scale with a monoculture design – as opposed to small-scale family farmers growing many different varieties of produce on one plot of land, using more old fashioned methods of fertilizing and harvesting. People touching earth and composting and using manure, even using rotation methods – so many practices that have gone by the wayside. The advent of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides proliferated and created a certain type of agriculture that is extremely detrimental to the world, in my opinion. I wish to back away from that or change that. It wasn’t necessarily my driving force – ‘I wanna change the food world!’ – but, I mean, I do. These are the choices I am making for the breads I make, these are what’s delicious. I happened to be what people in Clintonville wanted. Buy this! We love this! This is amazing! We can’t get this anywhere else! It’s like, ‘whoa’ – I’d never gotten that response for anything before. It was awesome. It gives you inspiration. It’s much more work to find local sources, it’s much more expensive than the GFS supply, but I’m not supporting that industrial-military food supply. Those decisions make such a big difference when you own a business; the impact is so much and the choices you make are so direct and so much larger-scale than personal things. The citizen will vote with their dollar no matter what; a business has much more power to vote with their dollars. We choose who to support and what kind of worldview we want to succeed. If we can promote that with different people and get them excited about that, it’s a good thing.

On the local foods movement: Is this a fad or not? It’s such a popular thing. I was under the impression that, no it’s got to be temporary; it’s got to be short-lived because it feels like a bubble. But it’s not; it’s like the anti-bubble is what we’re realizing. It’s the solution … it’s such a permanent and good change. It’s going to become engrained in the culture. It’s such a beneficial thing for the people in society, for the land. For the future, for the economy, it’s just a good thing to be interested in, a good kind of popularity. I think it will grow and grow and grow. At the same time, maybe people taking pictures of their cocktails will fade away. But, then again, it’s cool.

On Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart has become the largest purveyor of organic things because they’re Wal-Mart. It’s like, ‘Ahhhhh, is it a necessary evil?” It’s a hard question. It puts the idea of organic into the populous, which seems a good thing. But at the same time, it’s a bad thing because it supports a less holistic company. But what’s wrong with that? This is America and we do a lot and everyone’s allowed to feel what they feel and support whatever company. Having those options available elsewhere is a good thing.

On Columbus: Columbus in the last five years has grown exponentially with food. It’s amazing. I was in Chicago and all the food was excellent, but they don’t have the local food thing that we have. I am not sure what it is in Columbus; this drive in Columbus to prove that we have the best, too – that we can do it just as well. We have great access to the agricultural system, combined with a really passionate populous really helps. People in Columbus are really excited about new things, and are forgiving about mistakes. We are just excited to keep going; there is so much enthusiasm in the people I meet. We are a less critical city than others. We’re a little more open to change. Four years ago, when I started doing this, compared to now, I just think about how busy the farmers’ markets have become. There is no comparison. The Clintonville Market, there was like 12 different people selling, and now there’s 60 and thousands of people – there is a 2,000-person count sometimes. And it’s an educated city; it’s a medium-sized city with a decently wealthy base.


Jim Wiggin @ 01/24/2013 05:03 pm

Thanks for this profile of an inspiring local success story. I remember eating some of Dan's first products a few years ago and being really impressed. It's great to see that his loaves are now available in a growing number of outlets.