Pete Merzbacher insists he was so busy making his popular baked goods that he did not even realize he was part of a winning team.
Germantown resident and businessman Pete Merzbacher insists he was so busy making his popular baked goods that he did not even realize he was part of a winning team.
Days before “Good Morning America” featured Chestnut Hill’s main street on the Fourth of July, the show announced Merzbachers as the winner of GMA’s “United States of Breakfast” national competition.
“I didn't even know about the GMA award until my plastic bag vendor called me to tell me,” said Merzbacher, 33, whose breads, muffins and other baked goods can be found in Weavers Way, Giant and ShopRite markets as well as countless smaller independent grocery stores around the Philadelphia area.
The New York-based early morning ABC-TV show visited several big cities over many days, with two restaurants, selected by the show, competing to be the “Best Breakfast” winner in each city, judged by a panel of celebrities. Finally, on June 30, live from Times Square, Middle Child restaurants in Center City and Fishtown won first place over other big city winners from Boston, Cleveland and Houston.
Owner Matthew Cahn and daytime chef Edwin De La Rosa defeated the competition with their breakfast sandwich consisting of pastrami, scrambled-to-order eggs, Cooper sharp American cheese, chipotle mustard – and Merzbacher's bread. Cahn and De La Rosa were given a golden coffee pot and a check for $10,000.
“We keep all the tricks up our sleeves,” said Cahn, adding that he has a “special way of making fluffy eggs.”
“Middle Child reached out to me a few years ago, asking for my breads,” Merzbacher said last week. “I was very concerned that their business wouldn't even make it. Boy, did I misread that! Their food is great, staff turnover low. They were doing great business even before the GMA award.”
A Boston area native, Merzbacher attended a branch of the University of Massachusetts in Western Massachusetts, majoring in globalization and entrepreneurship. He traveled around the U.S. and wound up in Philadelphia, sleeping on a couch in a new friend's apartment. He returned home but after several months came back.
“I liked it more than the other cities I had been to. I worked at seafood shacks in Cape Cod, and in Philly I was a line cook at Talula's Garden (in Center City) for one year. My sister was a food writer for magazines and a great cook and is married to a winemaker in Vienna. I don't know how we wound up in food, but it has become my passion.”
Merzbacher began baking for friends as a hobby in the fall of 2012, but the reaction of those who tried his products was so laudatory that baking soon became “an obsession.” In 2013, he started a company, Philly Bread, in an Olney rowhouse. “My first delivery vehicle was a bike,” said Merzbacher, who may now be spotted driving around the company’s huge hand-painted bread truck. He moved to Germantown in 2019 and opened a 4,800-square-foot brick warehouse at 4530 Germantown Ave., which now has 25 employees.
He changed the business name to Merzbacher's in September 2020. “My first customer was Weavers Way 10 years ago,” he said, “and new customers keep coming from word-of-mouth. I have spent nothing on sales and marketing, but that may change. Making good bread is hard. Sales are easy.”
Baked products Merzbacher has created include a sweet potato bun, an “Everything” muffin, a French toast loaf with cinnamon and raisins, focaccia with olive oil and fresh rosemary, and a “golden roll” based on a French baguette. At Thanksgiving, Merzbacher’s came up with a seeded sweet potato challah with cranberries.
“I love Northwest Philly and am happy to be here,” Merzbacher said. “I feel welcomed here and supported by the community. I chose to live close to the Wissahickon. I need access to the park more than I need access to pubs and bars. I'm an outdoors guy.” (Except when he is indoors baking bread products.)
More information at merzbachers.com. Stacia Friedman contributed to this article. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com