How does a young guy who studied philosophy at Harvard and spent more than a decade working for social justice causes and communal organizations wind up with flour on his hands? Well, you start with one part childhood memories, add food-savvy friends and then season with a little career disillusionment.
Lane Levine’s grandfather used to bake frequently for all of his friends. Levine, who grew up in Owings Mills, fondly recalls the smell of baking bread as part of his childhood.
A graduate of Krieger Schechter Day School and Franklin High School, Levine, 34, recently launched an artisanal bread business. A Friendly Bread offers naturally leavened, chewy, crusty breads in more than 20 flavors, from simple country loaf to apricot cardamom.
Levine’s breads are currently delivered to customers who pre-order for pickup at a growing network of neighborhood drop-off sites and luxury apartment buildings.
He also can be found at three farmers markets — Pikesville, Fells Point and Canton — during the summer months.
Emily Sachs, a librarian for the Enoch Pratt Free Library, is one of Levine’s frequent customers. She particularly enjoys his bread in the mornings.
“Breakfast is generally a hectic meal eaten while standing up,” said Sachs, who lives in Hampden. “But when my wife and I order a loaf — my favorite is curry turmeric, hers is olive — we rather hilariously linger over the toaster, smacking our lips and shaking our heads, amazed by how good it tastes. I love Lane’s bread. It’s the perfect marriage of flavors and textures. One bite triggers endorphins — no joke! It’s truly top-notch stuff.”
The path to owning and operating a private baking business was long and complex for Levine. He graduated from Harvard and set out on a career as a community organizer, working for such organizations as the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, as well as LifeBridge Health and CHAI.
“I bounced around for years, often encountering frustration, feeling like the work I was doing for social change would never get funded at the level it would need to cause actual change,” said Levine, who lives in the Woodberry area.
Around 10 years ago while living in Humboldt County, Calif., with his now-husband, David Oliver, Levine discovered his passion for baking. One day, he stopped by his favorite bakery to pick up challah for Shabbat dinner, only to find the business closed for Christmas. So Levine went home and figured out how to bake his first batch of challah.
“We started hosting Shabbat dinner every week, and it was important to me to host the full Shabbos experience,” said Levine, who grew up attending Chizuk Amuno Congregation. “Baking challah became an opportunity to engage in Jewish ritual in a meaningful way that didn’t necessarily have to involve God.”
Last year, Levine, who had moved back to Baltimore, was feeling increasingly dissatisfied with his professional life.
“With nonprofit work, I felt like I never really knew if what I was doing was ultimately beneficial,” he said. “In my current capacity, while the goals are less lofty, I feel like I am participating in the world in a way that is tangible and nourishing. Part of me went home to someone’s dinner table today.”
For a while, Levine viewed baking as a hobby until friends started telling him that Baltimore desperately needed an artisanal sourdough bread company. Meanwhile, Levine’s husband started requesting that he stop stuffing their freezer with loaves of bread.
In June of 2017, Levine sent out his first menu of breads to around 20 friends for purchasing. By last spring, he was up to weekly orders of 50 loaves and spending all of his Saturday nights baking six loaves at a time in his home oven.
Recently, Levine moved his business to B-More Kitchen, an incubator commercial kitchen in Govans. There, he shares space with Syrian refugees making hummus, along with other small food businesses like Bottoms Up Bagels and Wholesome Nibbles snacks and desserts.
Levine, who is working part-time on a master of business administration degree at the University of Maryland, College Park, says he prefers not taking on the overhead associated with a dedicated shopfront.
“My business is made in my image,” he said. “I am not an extrovert, but brief spurts of interaction are just my speed. I wouldn’t want to spend all day in a shop with constant exposure, but I enjoy interacting with my customers around the bread.”
Bread is magical, Levine says, because there are so many ways it makes people happy.
“Turns out quality bread is something that appeals to a wide variety of people,” he said. “Whether you are a foodie who is passionate about wild fermentation, just trying to make sandwiches for your kids or a recent emigrant from Russia, crusty, chewy sourdough bread is at the top of your shopping list.”
Joshua Rosenstein is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.