We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelly Fenson-Hood & Kieran Murphy and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelly Fenson-Hood & Kieran Murphy, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
We started our bakery without major funding, which forced us to take very strategic, calculated risks… and so far it’s paid off in spades. A great example was our decision to start the bakery under the Colorado Cottage Foods Act (cdphe.colorado.gov/cottage-foods-act), rather than opening a retail location. Under Cottage Foods we were able to bake out of our home kitchen and test our business model without making a huge investment. We did it for a year and quickly hit the ceiling to produce enough baked goods to meet the demand for our products. In the beginning of our second year (January 2020), we turned a 700 square-foot building, conveniently located in our backyard, into a large kitchen. We were able to scale up our operation at a minimal cost, while continuing to avoid the financial risk of operating a brick and mortar store. That decision quickly paid off when COVID hit a few months later. We were able to quickly and smoothly pivot our business model from being a “pop-up bakery,” selling baked goods at local breweries (similar to a food-truck), to online ordering with curbside pickup. Risk is often accompanied with a little luck. We live on a slightly busier street and decided to put a sign on the curb that read, “Sourdough Bread & Pies.” That sign drove tons of business and even though it was the middle of the pandemic, our sales increased 70% over one year without spending a dime on advertising. That sign worked hard for us. We worked hard to produce high-quality, consistent, hand-made products; and in return, our customers helped us grow through rave reviews and spreading the word to the community. Now we’re starting our third year. We again hit the ceiling for what we could produce so we’re expanding the kitchen and excited for what 2021 will bring.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
The foundation of our bakery is carefully crafted, handmade baked goods. Our flagship product is our old-world style sourdough breads. This way of making bread is somewhat of a lost art these days – we use a natural yeast starter and a 12-hour long fermentation process. The old-world technique requires time and patience but the end product is more delicious, not to mention nutritious and easier to digest. We have also begun to be recognized for our pies. Some of the most popular are blueberry crumb pie and raspberry-rhubarb crumb pie. The crust is delicate and flaky and the crunchy buttery crumb topping is addictive. The bakery is part of a bigger plan for creating the company and life we want. Like many others in our generation, we are tired of profit-driven, bottom-line thinking companies who don’t value their employees. No longer are we succumbing to 60 hour work weeks sitting in cubicles staring at computer screens while our kids grow up in daycare. We’re thinking outside the box to build a better future. Part of that vision is developing Red Branch as a worker-owned co-op. We feel it is important that the people whose labor helped generate the success of the business also get to share in the profits. Because the bakery is on our property, it is a key component of our larger urban homesteading plan which also includes growing much of our own food, raising bees and chickens and creating a life that is more self-sustaining.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We love living in Loveland. Our favorite places to hang out (when we’re not enduring a pandemic) are the breweries. Breweries in Loveland are like bakeries in Long Island – there’s a good one on every corner. If you like IPAs, Loveland Aleworks is the place for you. Verboten Brewing is also on the top of our list – you can taste the love that goes into each batch of beer and the owners and staff are like family. Our other favorite gem is Mrs. Torrelli’s Wine Flat. Grateful Dead records are often playing and the owner, Sean, knows more about wine than anyone. He hand selects every bottle and can tell you the full back story about how it was produced and who made it.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Kieran, the baker, grew up in Long Island where bakeries are a dime a dozen. He quickly discovered that in Colorado it is rare to find a good bakery, and the bread here is… well, not good. Coming from a cooking background, he was inspired to learn the art of sourdough bread making. Thanks to the guidance of Dave Kaminer of Raleigh St. Bakery, Kieran developed his craft. He also drew inspiration from his favorite childhood bakery, Tilda’s, to expand the menu which includes pretzels, cookies, crumb cake, cupcakes and pies, to name a few. Of course a good bakery must have delicious products, but a solid business operation cannot be overlooked. While Kelly runs the business, she could not do it without the masterful expertise of Vladimir Bakinovskiy, our accountant. If there’s one piece of advise, it’s get a good accountant. Finally, we must give a shoutout to our parents. We had a pandemic baby in September 2020, followed by the busiest holiday season in our business history. We could not have survived without the grandparents helping to care for the baby, making sure that we didn’t forget to eat during 17 hour work days, and keeping up the house. We truly are a family bakery and are so blessed to have amazing parents who support our dreams.
Maureen Ruddy Burkhart