Baking Up A Business

by Dave on October 14, 2010

Kogler's 'Cinnamon Shorties' are often the first item to sell out at area Farmer's Markets.

There seems to be little that Steve Kogler won’t try. He’s worked on lobster boats in Ireland, owned a garment manufacturing business in Baltimore and worked at the Cape Gazette. He’s currently launching a career in finance.

His roots, however, are in the hospitality industry, and it’s his love of food and wine that has gained him recognition in coastal Sussex. Since 2002, Kogler and wife Jennifer have owned Teller Wines in Lewes. But lately, he’s been getting a rise out of customers with Old World Breads, which he started in 2007.

His cinnamon buns were the talk of the Historic Lewes Farmers’ Market this year, and people line up for his sourdough at the Bethany Farmers’ Market. “His cinnamon bread is amazing,” says Patricia Talorico of Lewes. “I froze it and it warmed up beautifully.”

For Kogler, the bakery is a labor of love. He jokes that he made more in high school, working more than 30 hours in a restaurant, than he does now.

Kogler, who grew up in Baltimore, was 14 when he lied about his age to get a busboy job in a harbor restaurant. By the time he was in high school, he worked after school and did double shifts on weekends. “It was fun,” he says, “and I made a lot of money.”

After living in Ireland for a year, the avid windsurfer headed to the beach, where his two brothers were part of the staff opening the Blue Moon in Rehoboth Beach. It was here that he met wife-to-be Jennifer, who was a waitress. Kogler estimates that over the years, he’s worked at about 20 restaurants, including The Back Porch.

He took a detour from the hospitality business to start a garment manufacturing company, but working 80 hours a week became a grind. Although Jennifer had a good job working in city museums, Kogler sold his business and the couple moved to the beach full time. Kogler went from pasting up the Cape Gazette—this was pre-PCs, when copy was printed out and literally pasted on pages—to managing a Bose store, which led to a position as a trainer for the company.

Then came 9/11 and an economic dip. His job disappeared in the restructuring that rattled corporate America. The Koglers sold their beach house and opened Teller Wines. The name comes from their desire to “tell” people about wine and create wine advocates.

Meanwhile, Kogler decided to try baking. Why not? His mother and grandmother were both big bakers and cooks. Totally self-taught, he’s relied on tips learned from chefs throughout the years and books by baking gurus Raymond Calvel and Jeffrey Hamelman. He also got advice from Teller Wine customer Jason Stickler, owner of DiBonaventure’s Provincial Bakery, who allowed Kogler to experiment in the bakery’s ovens.

Kogler has learned more than a few tricks. First, find recipes that rely on weight measurements rather than cups and teaspoons. “Twelve people could measure a cup and it would be different every time,” he notes. Next, use non-bleached King Arthur Flour, his favorite.

Then, keep track of the humidity. A span of dry weather means he’ll add more water. He adapts again if it’s been raining.

Don’t think the environment makes a difference? Think again. Kogler was frustrated when his San Francisco-style sourdough was hardly like the bread found in San Francisco. Credit the wild microorganisms in the air there. San Fran bakers use flour and water as bait to capture yeasts and bacteria, including Lactobacillus sanfrancisco, to create a starter.

Here in Delaware, where the bacteria is different, Kogler has adapted by using a New England starter and adds 24 hours to the usual fermentation period. The sourdough is now his top seller. “It’s crunchy on the outside with a beautiful texture,” he says. Whole grain bread and baguettes are also favorites.

In the resort season, he makes about 700 loaves of bread for the Lewes market and 1,000 to 1,500 for Bethany. That is in addition to wholesale products. A specially built commercial bakery on his Ellendale farm hums with activity 18 hours a day. “We’re never off in summer,” he says. He cuts back to about 10 hours off-season.

Kogler, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, is planning for a time when he may not be able to bake by developing financial skills. Fans of his bread, however, hope that time is far in the future.

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Old World Breads are available at Lloyd’s Market in Lewes from Thursday through Sunday, Annabella’s Bakery, Hickman’s Meat Market and Good Earth Market in Clarksville.

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