When Adam Neisen came to Flagstaff it was to walk in the footsteps of others before him: He’d been accepted to NAU and was moving to town for school.
But, as fate would have it, his path diverged into the culinary world, more specifically into the kitchens of local restaurants, where he quickly found his footing. After working in the service industry as a chef for 10 years with stints at Bigfoot BBQ, Cuvée 928 and, most recently, Root Public House, Neisen took up baking. Now, something that began as a hobby has become a full-fledged business, which Neisen and his co-owner and fiancée, Amy Rhodes, dubbed A Dog’s Walk Bakery.
A Dog’s Walk Bakery, named in honor of the couple’s own four-legged herd -- Paco, Harry and Luna — sells freshly baked bread out of a filing cabinet in front of their home in Coconino Estates. At first glance it might seem like a thrown-together, sell-it-on-Facebook-to-a-small-crowd type of venture. But a closer look reveals a fully established operation, with consistent baking schedules, detailed ingredient labels, food handlers certifications, and a business license -- something the couple acquired in October 2017.
“We kind of secretly hoped it would become an ‘If you make it, they shall come’ type thing,” Neisen said. He started baking two years ago, experimenting with a plethora of ingredients and giving the extra loaves to close friends and neighbors, who then encouraged him to sell his creations. “But it was initially a way to connect with our neighbors."
The bakery is also part of the Home Baked and Confectionary Goods program through the Arizona Department of Health Services, which is designed to support individuals and businesses that sell out of their home.
In a few words: It’s unorthodox… but that’s precisely what makes it interesting.
Rhodes and Neisen’s signature filing cabinet-turned-breadbox can be found on Kutch Street — which is showing off its verdant side as summer approaches — and is but four drawers tall. The cabinet is painted sky blue, outlined by a thick navy-colored trim and dotted with the bakery’s logo; it even has a doorbell that can be heard inside the main house. And each drawer, which has a label that corresponds to its contents, is able to fit several loaves of bread at once -- from a classic country loaf or a sourdough bake, to the more unusual but popular purple sweet potato sesame, the cabinet stays full throughout the day.
“I try to have a variety each week, including some classic bakes and a whole-wheat option plus our savory breads like garlic herb or our olive loaf.” Neisen said. “And we always like to have a sweet option on file, an orange chocolate or a blueberry white chocolate bread for example”. A Dog's Walk recently added a sumac bake with a Za'atar crust to the list of goods, and is currently working on what Niesen calls a mountain loaf--the Flagstaff counterpart to the well-known, lower in elevation country loaf.
Neisen, who is the primary operator of the business since Rhodes is occupied at her job as a paralegal during the day, wakes up at 5 a.m., gets the house oven going and begins baking, then places the goods of the day into the breadbox by 8 a.m. every Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and continues to fill it until closing time.
“Often we have a line of neighbors waiting for bread on the weekends, their kids still in their pajamas. Rhodes said. “It’s fantastic.”
As the lines of customers and neighbors alike suggest, the couple is working to keep up with the ever-increasing demand. Not only do they sell about 50 loaves a day according to Neisen, who said that business picked up considerably in May, they already have a loyal customer base that in turn is spreading the word through town.
But Neisen does not mind the popularity. “It’s a great problem to have”, he said.
Neither Rhodes nor Neisen are looking to expand the business drastically yet (beyond being on the lookout for a larger oven), they enjoy the idea of offering something unusual and keeping things relatively small for now.
“We started off small and we like the idea of being something different, as opposed to another brick and mortar that could potentially be confused with somebody else,” Neisen said.
The couple keeps their customers in the know via Facebook and their website, where they update their offerings with the day’s special as well as other bakes throughout the week.
“But really the main way word gets out is by our customers sitting down, sharing the loaf of bread with their friends.” Neisen said. “It is really community word of mouth”.
Neisen, who quit his job at Root Public House to commit to the bakery fulltime, hopes that someday the business will become the primary breadwinner (pun intended) for him and Rhodes. For now though, the couple will discuss their future plans over a slice of their mutual favorite, the bacon fig loaf.