Houston Chronicle

By Greg Morago

During the pandemic, when bread making became a thing, home cooks were busy fussing with yeasts, proofing and sourdough starters to make their own crusty loaves, one mother dough at a time.

During the same period, Tasos Katsaounis was quietly plotting his own bread making ambitions but on a larger scale. Much larger.

The owner/founder of Bread Man Baking Co., Katsaounis’ pandemic months were spent readying the opening of a new production facility that would take his company from an already thriving bread business to one that would make him a major player not just in Houston but in the Texas artisan bread market. That new commercial bakery at 305 Gellhorn opened in December and began pumping out a variety of yeasty products that positions Bread Man to become bread king.

It’s a huge leap for the first-generation Greek American who began baking bread from his home in 2017 for family and friends while he was working as a longtime management consultant. In 2018, he left the corporate life for bread life, opening his first commercial artisan bakery on Stella Link, making sourdough and naturally leavened breads for a few wholesale clients. Bread Man’s reputation grew quickly, and soon, his breads found a home in Whole Foods stores and on the tables of some of Houston’s most distinguished restaurants.

It became clear that the commercial bakery wasn’t big enough to keep up with demand, prompting Katsaounis to begin planning for a larger facility. The new commercial bakery has allowed Bread Man to increase output from 5,000 pieces a day to as much as 30,000 a day — beautiful, golden sourdough buns and boules, ciabatta, focaccia, baguettes, hoagie rolls, brioche burger buns, Parker House rolls and Pullman sandwich loaves. Today, Bread Man can be found in Whole Foods throughout Texas and at select H-E-B stores, with another major retailer coming online soon. More than 170 restaurants (including in Dallas and San Antonio) buy from Katsaounis, including, locally, Brennan’s of Houston, Georgia James steakhouse, Postino, Killen’s restaurants, Pier 6 Seafood & Oyster House, Acme Oyster House, La Colombe d’Or and the Post Oak Hotel.

Moving into the expanded facility cost Bread Man about $3.5 million, including $2 million in new equipment.

But Katsaounis also has invested in key people to help Bread Man rise, including plant manager Leo Garza, a 20-year veteran who has worked with H-E-B bakeries and the giant multinational Bimbo Bakeries, as well as director of operations Drew Gimma, who joined the business in 2020 after running the bread programs at Common Bond and Squable (where he was co-chef de cuisine) and whose résumé includes work at superchef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro and Per Se restaurants.

This summer, Bread Man will add other states to its growing list of vendors, and eventually, Katsaounis hopes, the company will have a national reputation.

Not bad for a man who began baking bread as a hobby with his daughter Alexandra, whom he shares with his wife, KRBE radio personality Roula Christie, of the Christie’s Seafood & Steaks family. Those nostalgic breads were based on his own yiayia’s (grandmother) Greek recipes. What started out as an exercise, he said to escape the stress and rigors of his corporate life, has now turned into a Houston business success story.

Q: What does bread mean to you?

A: Bread is synonymous with family and community. It occupies an important place in the world. In time of tragedy, celebration, or just because it’s a Tuesday, people are sharing a food that has exceptional nutritional value and is capable of creating lifelong memories.

Q: What did the pandemic teach you about food trends?

A: People have always wanted to feed their families well. Whether its bread or anything else, they want to understand the ingredients. Now, more than ever, people are paying attention to what they’re feeding their families. You’re seeing it everywhere.

Q: Do you still bake bread at home?

A: I typically work between 70-75 hours per week, and I’m striving to improve my work life balance this year. That said, when I do have free time at home, I love baking with my three children, who share my passion for artisan bread.

Q: What did you make of all the at-home bread baking during the pandemic?

A: It brought a smile to my face. I enjoyed seeing many go to social media sharing pictures of their accomplishments. I think it also brought light to the difficulty of producing an artisan product like sourdough and the skill, knowledge and patience that it requires.

Q: Is Houston getting better bread these days, including other artisan bread operations?

A: I love seeing more bakeries and breads available in the market. Bread is a passion of mine, and I love to see it’s shared by others as well.

Q: Are there other local bread programs or bread bakers you admire?

A: I had the pleasure of meeting Mathieu Cabon, formally of Magnol (French Baking). I really enjoyed his bread, and I was sad to see him leave the company. I wish him well in his new endeavors.

Q: What is your favorite type of bread?

A: My favorite bread will always be my yiayia’s kalamata olive and oregano village bread. The flavor is incredible. We produced that bread when we first opened, but I discovered Houstonians weren’t big fans of olives and oregano.

Q: What does it mean to you to know that your bread is going into some of the city’s best restaurants?

A: It’s who I targeted and identified as a customer when I first opened our Stella Link location. I wanted our premium product to be served by Houston’s best. It makes me proud knowing our city’s top chefs, restaurateurs and operators appreciate the work we put toward quality and consistency, day in and day out. The relationships we’ve formed with our customers are the lifeline to our business.

Q: Is there a bread you’re not making now but wish you could?

A: Drew and I want the opportunity to be more creative in the bakery. We’ve been exploring different flavor profiles to possibly introduce to our retail partners. If we come up with something mind blowing, it may create an opportunity to bring it direct to the consumer. You never know…

Q: Do people call you the “bread man” and do you answer to it?

A: Yes, actually they do. I hear it more and more nowadays. At first, I thought it was silly, but now, I proudly answer to it. I see it as a huge compliment.


Bread Man Rising
Bread Man Rising

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