Why become a math professor when you can plunge your hands into bread dough every day instead?
Michael Lillegard was finishing coursework for a master’s degree in math and getting his second black belt on the side when he came to this realization.
“The math degree will always be there and a straight job didn’t sound like much fun either,” said Lillegard, who's totally on to something.
So, he turned to the dough, which is what many insert-serious-professions-here do before becoming bakers and pastry chefs. Sometimes, real life just gets to be too much. The therapeutic nature of yeasts, oven warmth, and cinnamon rolls cannot be denied.
So he got some books and started teaching himself how to bake (he’s an overachiever, remember?), grabbed a spot at the farmer’s market, and sold out in 15 minutes. Inspired by the anger of the crowd after it sold out so quickly, he took all the dough out of the fridge and tried to make amends by offering a day of free home delivery.
“It’s a day we’re still trying to forget about,” says Lillegard’s brother Robert, who handles the business side of the operation.
“Things got better from there. We sell to several local restaurants and grocery stores, run a bread and treats share program with about 30 regular subscribers, and have store hours 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays."
They also have another full-time baker to help Michael, along with a couple of part-timers. And they've got their heads on straight: "Our three core values are product quality, slick branding, and hilarious jokes, and we pay attention to all three.”
They do. They’re fun guys who don’t take themselves too seriously. Except when they’re becoming math professors, black belts, and artisan bakers, of course.
Their ingredients policy: “All of our wheat and yeast is free range, cage free, and humanely treated. Our salt isn’t farm raised, but wild caught, and allowed to live out its natural salt life before being slaughtered. We make no guarantees about the water.”
See? Wunderkinds have fun, too.
Duluth's Best Bread pushes the boundaries of what Duluth currently has to offer — Michael says that there are a lot of “Minnesota bakeries” (his term) around, selling the likes of doughnuts and muffins, but they’re working with sourdoughs and croissants and other things that are “super hard to do.”
The breads are made with wild yeast and a cold fermentation process which produces a nice spongy interior with a thick, sweet-sour aroma that inspires face-burying. I would have liked a sturdier crust, but when sliced and toasted, it made some of the finest toast I’ve had in recent memory.
Cinnamon and caramel rolls are doughy and thick — these are what you’ll grab for the kids. For you, a chocolate croissant that’s embedded with no-nonsense dark Venezualan chocolate that's almost bitter. Definitely not kid's stuff, unless you’ve got a discerning kid. The Lillegards were probably that kind of kid.
The storefront is unassuming, a little out of the way, and fun to discover. It was once a pizzeria, and “about nine other things” before the Lillegards snatched it up, fired up the old Roto-Flex oven, and called it their own.
But be strategic. They only sell out of the storefront on Thursday and Saturday mornings. Or, find them in more than a dozen other Duluth establishments.
Or, just call them up and say you’re looking for that “free delivery today” special. (Just kidding, guys.)
Duluth’s Best Bread
2632 W. Third St., Duluth