The Motzi Bakery Story
It’s hard to think anything could ever beat our mother’s baking, however, local Motzi Bakery is certainly giving Philadelphia mothers a run for their money. Bakery President, Alan Mathason is by far no stranger to the baking industry. As a fourth-generation baker, he has been ingrained with a “make it from scratch” mindset and his dedication to quality is evident in every one of his hand-developed creations. While the bakery industry has been changing rapidly throughout the years, Motzi is not interested in trading quality and natural ingredients in exchange for high turnovers.
“I strive to spend money efficiently and save where I can, but won’t touch the quality of the product. I’m happy to say my ingredients only improve over time.”
In remaining dedicated to using only freshly milled flour, small batch from-scratch baking, and choosing quality natural ingredients over chemical additives, the bakery is creating a quality difference made clear in the first bite. Alan shares how he maintains his dedication to quality and community while discussing how to navigate the challenges of starting a new business.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Making Motzi Bakery’s products for people who really enjoy them is what inspires me to grow the business. So much of today’s baked goods are ‘hollow’ with cheap as possible ingredients. We strive to make baked goods that are balanced, support the local economy, and delight everyone who tries it.
What is a recent challenge that you have overcome, and how did you do it?
Since the bakery is so new, just being able to open a food business and try out ideas commercially felt like a huge accomplishment. There is a lot of process to navigate with the city, the health department, incorporation, sourcing, branding, accounting, creating a sales platform, selling, marketing, logistics, and…oh yeah, developing the product. I’ve had a lot of guesses of what would work in all these areas. Some were right, some were wrong. The win here is to learn how to test these guesses quickly and try new approaches when things don’t play out as you hoped.
How can the process be simplified to help more food businesses start, grow, and thrive?
I feel fortunate in that I was able to find a number of resources throughout Philadelphia to guide my first steps into a food business. There are certainly a lot of steps involved and different local and federal agencies to contact, but with a healthy amount of reading and a lot of perseverance, it’s possible to break out on your own.
Of particular help — the Office of Food Protection. Once I realized where they were and wandered in one day, they were extremely helpful and available for questions. They also publish a guide, here.
I also took some classes at the Restaurant School — some for technique, but one exceptionally eye-opening class with Harris Eckstut details here gave me a reality check of how the food business operates and helped me form my own strategy of how I would start out and manage my risk.
As for what could have been easier if I was starting it again, I’d say to find a mentor that can help guide, make recommendations, etc. Thinking about what the city could do, I feel like the biggest challenge is coordinating all the rules from the different agencies, when to go to which agency, and in what order. There are certainly benefits in place to make it easier for a business in Philadelphia to get off the ground, but navigating them can be a challenge. I think having someone available for those information session or VERY detailed examples of step by step instructions across different agencies for a few kinds of businesses would help.
What’s your personal networking strategy and what role does your community play in the success of your business?
For me, the key is to look for ways to help the people you work with. You can hope for help back, but never demand it.
When a good relationship develops, things just start ‘clicking.’
Can you walk us through one of your triple bottom line practices and the impact it has had on your business?
I’m trained as a systems engineer — and it helps me think holistically. As I develop my baked goods and conduct my business, I keep the triple bottom line in mind. It’s an exciting challenge to make a premium small-batch product profitable. I strive to spend money efficiently and save where I can, but won’t touch the quality of the product. I’m happy to say my ingredients only improve over time. Socially, I work to develop as many local vendors and sales outlets as possible. These relationships, helping each other out, are gratifying and make the business so much more than just a transaction. Motzi’s story is about quality and tradition — and I won’t treat them like commodities. I also scrutinize my process and its impact on the environment. There are a lot of tradeoffs in every step of the process — from ingredients, packaging, baking times, water use, you name it. It’s all a balance, and I strive to find a certain ‘elegant’ answer to these challenges.
Can you tell us about your ideal day off in Philadelphia, and where you would spend it?
My wife and I have lived in the Fairmount area for the past 8 years. Although we’ve explored a lot of the city and outlying suburbs, we really love walking around Fairmount and visiting the museums. Though I wouldn’t have guessed it, being able to see the Barnes Foundation gallery over and over again just doesn’t get old.
What is one thing that most people do not know about your business that you would like them to know?
I’m the fourth generation in my family to have something to do with baking, but it’s really my uncle that got me started. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him growing up, but he’d often show me how to make sweet breads or talk about how to listen to the dough for cues to make changes. For me, baking is a mix of art, science, and tradition. I’m always striving to improve my techniques, style, and honor the tradition of baking.
Motzi Bakery’s offering is currently online (motzibakery.com) and in select Philadelphia markets and cafes including Riverwards Produce, Philly Foodworks, Kayuh Bicycles & Cafe, and Front Street Cafe. The bakery uses Greensgrow’s shared commercial kitchen, but is already starting to outgrow the space. Alan is looking for partnership opportunities to help increase the offering and serve more customers. Please reach at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss ways your business could work with Motzi Bakery.
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