Founded in 2013, Pete Merzbacher’s Philly Bread started out mainly catering to wholesale clients and a bread “CSA”, relying on word-of-mouth marketing from satisfied grain-lovers to take his loaves to new places. That all changed, however, when he won Philly’s Lightning in a Bottle competition in 2014, along with the grand prize of a year of marketing services from ab+c Creative Intelligence, valued at $60K.
Bolstered with a creative team at his back, Merzbacher shifted focus to his goal of making his signature Philly Muffin – an English muffin-bagel hybrid – “world famous like the cheese steak.” And though other breads are still part of the story at Philly Bread (though it appears the CSA is no longer, at least from what I can tell), the bakery’s marketing and external distribution is entirely centered around the muffin.
Though these compare to bagels in size (they’re huge!) and in the flavors offered (plain, whole wheat, everything, cinnamon raisin), they’re otherwise more similar to English muffins, featuring those melted-butter-cradling nooks and crannies and a light, airy texture. Though I rarely find a Thomas’ product on my plate anymore, the taste and texture here is enough to provide some nostalgia from my youth.
In addition, Merzbacher’s proprietary sourdough starter brings forth a nicely subtle tang, and the whole wheat variety – the one I tasted – offers a hearty, rich grain, packed with malty, rustic flavor.
These are great simply as toast, but also strong enough to serve as sandwich bread, with endless possibilities in between. It’s easy to see how the contest judges were swayed!
Still somewhat limited in availability, these are sold at select specialty stores around the Philly area or can be ordered online to be picked up at the bakery in Olney. One of the tenets of Merzbacher’s Lightning in a Bottle application, however, was that his product was scalable, so hopefully he’ll be able to expand his reach (while maintaining the high-quality of his products, of course) in the near future.