The owners of this Bayview bakery don’t charge for bread. They barter.
An SF Minute "Original" story.
By: Elena Kadvany
Last month, Alex Andrews traded a loaf of fresh-baked sourdough bread for a lesson in collecting and preparing mussels.
He’s also bartered loaves for plants, ceramic mugs, homemade pasta, kimchi, a photoshoot , and online yoga classes.
In 2020, Andrews and his wife Elyse Yerman joined the ranks of home bakers who wanted to share their products more broadly. But the couple makes no money off their home-based bakery, Barter Bread. They swap bread for home-cooked meals, physical items, skills, and ultimately, community.
“If we’re bartering with people, there’s a lot more human connection that happens and relationships that can develop,” Andrews said.
The couple started Barter Bread out of their Bayview apartment last summer, and it’s since grown organically through word of mouth and social media. Andrews is a part-time software engineer who’s always dreamed of opening his own bakery. He’s made sourdough bread at home ever since a pivotal bite of hot-out-of-the-oven, home-baked garlic-rosemary bread some six years ago. Yerman is a graphic designer who made the Barter Bread website, oversees social media, and helps with the bread-baking.
Andrews and Yerman moved from Lower Nob Hill to the Bayview in late 2019, just a few months before the coronavirus shut down San Francisco. They didn’t have much time to meet their neighbors or put down roots in the neighborhood. But Andrews kept baking bread. He was inspired by the success of Bernal Bakery, a pandemic-born pop-up two chefs started out of their Bernal Heights home.
“It hit us: ‘We can do that. We can start a small bakery out of here,’” said Andrews, who was wearing a Bernal Bakery shirt when we met. “That was a pretty big mindset switch and realization.”
But he wasn’t sure how lucrative of a business he could build from his small scale home kitchen. It occurred to him: What if they took money completely out of the equation?
Sharing the dough
An early, memorable barter came from a man who offered to teach the couple how to solder copper pipes. They got to know him over the course of an afternoon in his backyard workshop, and he continues to regularly barter items for bread.
After connecting with a group of ceramicists, one made the couple custom mugs stamped with the name of the bakery. Another person handpainted a large sign that says “share the dough,” which they hang on their front door on pickup days. They’ve met other local bakers and makers and eaten people’s homemade chana masala and Argentinian pastries. Andrews loves the idea that they’re helping people explore hobbies or creative passions.
Yerman documents their trades on Instagram and Facebook, which has resulted in “customers” organically connecting with one another. In one case, a woman who owns chickens and trades fresh eggs for bread saw a post about a guy who brews his own natural energy drinks, and she reached out to orchestrate a side barter.
“It feels like we’re in a way hitting the tip of the iceberg in terms of creating a community and helping the community grow in Bayview specifically,” Andrews said. “I’m really excited to continue to meet people and … help us all together collectively feel that sense of community.”
They like to say that there’s no wrong way to barter, though they sometimes end up with too many of the same items (house plants, jams, and sweets) or stuff people want to give away. They encourage participants to give items that they would be happy to receive. (I, for one, bartered social media help for a loaf of chewy, tangy sourdough flecked with fennel seeds, half of which I immediately ate when I got home.)
A wishlist on the website offers some bartering ideas if you’re at a loss—fresh vegetables, magic tricks, and bread photoshoots are welcome. They also added an option to donate to local nonprofits, from Old Skool Cafe, a youth-run nonprofit supper club, to the Bayview YMCA.
Andrews’ baking days start at 4 a.m. He makes classic country sourdough bread but also likes to play with add-ins like olives, herbs, and seeds (ask him about his Flamin’ Hot Cheetos experiment). His loaves are baked with history: Andrews uses the same starter his great-grandfather did decades ago in a small town in southern Utah, where he was known for his “famous” sourdough biscuits. You can even barter for Grandpa Ray, the 100-plus-year-old starter named in honor of his great-grandfather.
Several months into the project, they now have repeat customers. Andrews isn’t sure what the future holds for Barter Bread and whether it might evolve into that dream bakery, partly because he wouldn’t want to lose the bartering aspect. They hope that when public health restrictions loosen and more in-person activities are allowed, they can grow the Barter Bread community in other ways.
For now, Andrews and Yerman savor the conversations they have with the people who come to swap bread—brief but meaningful chances to connect during an otherwise isolating time.
Orders must be placed two days in advance; the next pickup is this Wednesday, March 10. (So if you want some of their bread this week, you’ll need to place your order today!)
For more information and to order, go to barter-bread.com.
About the author: Elena Kadvany reports on education and food for the Palo Alto Weekly. If you’re interested in food happenings south of the city, her newsletter—The Peninsula Foodist—is a must-follow.
Quick note: Thanks so much for reading! And to clarify, we’ll still send out the weekday newsletter later today. We just heard about Barter Bread through the grapevine and thought it deserved to be a standalone piece.
In the future, I do imagine The SF Minute publishing more of these “Originals” alongside the newsletters. When we do, I’ll create separate email groups for people that just want the newsletters vs. those who want both newsletters and original stories. But that will likely be a ways away.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the occasional surprise story in your inbox. 😊 See you later! - Nick B.