The Food Pedalers: Why food companies in the Twin Cities are betting on bike delivery

Hannah Field heads out on a bike delivery to Brake Bread's customer // Photo by Sheila Regan

Hannah Field heads out on a bike delivery to Brake Bread’s customer // Photo by Sheila Regan

To start her bicycle delivery shift with Brake Bread bakery, Hannah Field straps her bike to a sizable trailer, which doubles as an advertisement and a bread transporter. “Fresh Bread By Bike to You” the trailer reads, “BrakeBread.com.”

As she makes her weekly deliveries to homes and local businesses, which serve as makeshift CSA stops for people that live outside of Brake Bread’s delivery area, people in cars and pedestrians wave and cheer her. Watching the recent Macalester graduate pull the white and baby blue trailer puts a smile on people’s faces.

Field was looking for a bicycle-related summer job, in part to train for a long distance bicycle trip across the Southern United States in the fall. “I was thinking working in a bike shop would be good, but then a friend of mine mentioned that this position was open, and I was like—that would be perfect!” Field says. “I can save up while getting in shape.”

At first, her two- to four-hour shifts were brutal, taking her much longer than the other deliverers because she was getting used to carrying the load and going up the hills. Now that she has gotten stronger, she breezes through St. Paul’s city streets like a pro.

The visibility of the deliverer at work not only serves as advertisement for the bakery, but helps publicly showcase the values at the heart of its mission.

“The whole idea of this business is what Nate [Houge] and myself value,” says Brake Bread co-owner Micah Taylor. “This business is an extension of how we prefer to do life, and we wanted that to be a reflection of how we impact our community.”

Minneapolis and St. Paul aren’t exactly overflowing with food businesses that use bike delivery, but there are enough successful businesses employing bike couriers to cause future entrepreneurs to consider the option. Taco Cat, Brake Bread, and The Beez Kneez, which delivers honey to club members and to wholesale accounts, are a few of the more successful ventures. There’s also Rock-It Delivery, which delivers food from businesses such as World Street Kitchen, Glam Doll Donuts, and other restaurants and liquor stores.

Peace Coffee inadvertently started the trend 21 years ago, a bit by accident. It formed when a nonprofit organization, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, sent staff to Mexico to explore options for partnering with farmer cooperative groups to help them with access to markets and fair prices. Due to some miscommunication, the farmers thought the nonprofit wanted to buy beans, and ended up sending IATP a 40,000 pound shipment of coffee. The nonprofit then created a for-profit arm to sell that coffee, which would eventually put money back into the nonprofit programs.

“I’d love to say this was all based purely on our ethos, based on a decision to be kinder—that is certainly part of it, but the very first phase was necessity because the company started with literally zero capital,” says Peace’s community manager Ryan Brown. “We started as an office inside of IATP with no equipment to roast coffee, package coffee, or deliver coffee. We know that first few years we just delivered coffee by bicycle out of necessity.”

Organic coffee beans at Peace Coffee // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Organic coffee beans at Peace Coffee // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Because they weren’t able to afford other means of transportation, Peace was led by bicycle enthusiasts who used bob trailers made for long trail biking. After about six years, Peace made a more formal decision to continue to use bikes as the business when they moved into their current roasting facility in South Minneapolis.

Taking a cue from the coffee growers in other countries, who often used bicycling themselves for transportation, “we had an aha moment,’ Brown says. “These farmers starting from very small means were using simple tools around them to enact a pretty efficient method of travel for their goods without using a lot of money. That’s when we thought we should build this program out. We should make this an integral part of our story.”

Besides goodwill and marketing, bike-driven business have the benefit of tapping into the bicycle community, and, more broadly, they cater to customers who are supportive of sustainability. Using bicycle couriers saves money on gas and vehicles, as well as parking costs when delivering to high-density areas, though it has its challenges as well.

“Good things take time,” is a common phrase that the Brake Bread owners use to describe the business, which reflects not only their bike delivery philosophy, but also the way they make bread. Using a natural leavening process, they tout the health benefits of avoiding commercial yeasts, for example. “We don’t have a gimmick,” Taylor says. “It’s just what we value.”

Houge and Taylor started their business three years ago, having known each other from the music scene, and opened their storefront last year. Right now, delivery makes up about 40 percent of their business.

Starting out, they looked to Peace Coffee as inspiration. “They have a great business, they have a great product, they have a great community impact,” Taylor says. “I wouldn’t say when we started out that we thought, ‘Let’s be like Peace Coffee,’ but it’s an easy elevator pitch thing to say. ‘What’s your business?’ ‘Well, we’re like the Peace Coffee of bread.’”

Brake Bread sought help from Peace when they were looking to get liability insurance, which Taylor says was extremely difficult.

Tristan Jimerson, who owns Taco Cat along with Daniel Laeger-Hagemeister, agrees. “Getting insurance was a nightmare,” he says. “We went through five to seven different insurance companies trying to get liability insurance.” Though they finally were able to find a broker, it took a while because “we just didn’t fit into what they knew how to sell us,” Jimerson says. “An insurance company doesn’t have numbers on how much of a risk something is, they’re not going to sell you insurance on it.”

Photos by Sasha Landskov

While getting insurance was a challenge, Jimerson says that bike delivery has its perks too. For example, they don’t need to worry about parking fees when they deliver to Uptown. While some homes that are farther south in Minneapolis take a bit longer to get to, homes along the Midtown Greenway are a snap. “We can just jump on the Greenway, and take it like a highway all the way down.”

Another advantage of bicycle delivery is that because many of their couriers are a part of the vibrant Twin Cities bike community, they act as ambassadors for the business.

“It attracts people in the bike scene here,” Jimerson says. “We’ve been involved with that community since we started.” The couriers go to bicycle events, or local races. “That whole time, they end up being spokespeople, letting people know about it.” Taco Cat’s location on the Greenway helps with this market too. “We end up being a nice stop for a lot of people in the community. No matter where they are, they can stop, grab a beer and get some tacos,” he says.

Susan Woehrle, a Taco Cat customer, says the business’ ethos was part of the reason she first ordered from Taco Cat. “When [Tristan] started Taco Cat, I couldn’t wait to order tacos delivered by bicycle and I was also pleased when I found out how delicious they were,” she remembers.

Now she orders Taco Cat all the time, but her continued business is more because she likes the tacos, with the added bonus of the business being sustainable. Ultimately, it’s got to taste good if you want people to buy your product.

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