Rize Up Bakery promises to be one of the biggest bakery openings this year, reimagining the colors and flavors of our quintessential sourdough.
If you’re into bread, you might have already noticed a new style of sourdough skidding into farmers’ markets and coffee shops around town. These wildly colorful loaves star unexpected mix-ins: sausages and okra, tinted golden yellow with masala and ultraviolet with ube. All are wrapped in a brown paper bag with a Black fist raised on the front. This daily bread is the work of Azikiwee Anderson of Rize Up Bakery, who flipped into the sourdough scene during the pandemic, when he started baking in his backyard. The big bread news is that this summer, the rare Black baker in San Francisco will publically open the doors of his massive new bakery in SoMa. There he continues reimagining what one of our most iconic local foods can look and taste like.
Last fall Rize Up took over the former Vive La Tarte location at 1160 Howard, which closed remarkably quietly, considering it was cavernous. It’s a huge industrial space spanning 5,000 square feet and illuminated by skylights. The team fired up the ovens in September 2022, and have been selling bread for pickup and delivery, as well as through local groceries, farmers’ markets, coffee shops and restaurants, including Sorella, The Morris and 25 Lusk. Soon, you’ll be able to float in, grab a loaf of bread, maybe even sip a latte and experience the vibe of the bakery. Anderson is still figuring out the menu, counter and seating.
Just don’t expect a traditional levain. Anderson’s signature style of sourdough is characteristically off the rails and there’s nothing fancy or French about it. “I’ve never worked in another bakery. I’m not really doing things the way other people do it,” he explains. Initially, he started folding in different colors and flavors that he felt were beautiful, but soon it became more meaningful. “Bread is often celebrated from Eurocentric ideals,” he says. But he saw throughout San Francisco many different cultures and communities of people whose tastes weren’t reflected in our local sourdough. He borrowed some starter from Dave Muller at Outerlands, who was a friend of a friend. He settled into a proprietary mix of five different grains, freshly ground by Central Milling. And he takes his time with a slow and cold ferment of thirty-six hours.
Anderson is known for the mix-ins and he puts his own spin on them. Okay, there is “the OG, but she’s not basic,” Anderson insists. “She’s a classic.” Digging into the flavors, the bestsellers are the jalapeño, bacon and Chedda; the garlic confit and thyme; and the holiday hit, the gumbo loaf stuffed with sausage, okra and the holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell pepper. The masala loaf has a dedicated following, for its bright golden turmeric, spicy peppers and fresh curry leaves. And the fans go wild for the Ube (photo next page), which gets its vivid color from a triple hit of sweet potato (flour, frozen and extract).
“Christmas means gumbo to me,” Anderson says, because he’s originally from Louisiana, to which he attributes his oversized appetite and boisterous laugh. When he was a child, a battered women’s shelter helped his mother get out of the hospital and across the country. She got off the bus in San Francisco with three kids, ages five, three and not yet one, and no one there to meet them. They were unhoused for several weeks, lived in a shelter for a year and finally got an apartment near the projects in Western Addition by lying on the application. The landlord didn’t like kids, so they tried to keep quiet — hilariously impossible given Anderson’s laugh. By the time he began middle school in the ’80s, dealers were openly selling crack on the streets. The family uprooted again to the college town of Chico, for another culture shock.
That’s where Anderson learned to skate, and this story really starts to roll. He excelled in gymnastics in school, and he and his brother and sister were “rink rats” on the weekends. When Rollerblades skyrocketed into popularity in the ’90s, he begged his mom for inline skates, and busted out of the rink, rolling over stairs, rails, all terrain. Anderson stands six feet, three inches tall. At that time, he wore dreads that hung below his butt. Skater punks asked him to teach them flips. He sent tapes to sponsors until he landed a deal with Rollerblade. He competed in and coached and judged for the X Games, before extreme sports were included in the Olympics. He even did a stint as a sports reporter, as the guy running up to Tony Hawk with a microphone, and saying, “You just won gold! How does it feel?!”
One thrilling tangent: Anderson was cast as an “ice thug” in Batman & Robin in 1997, yes, the one starring George Clooney in the bat suit with the chiseled butt. If you recall, the villain Mr. Freeze had a crew of skaters as minions. During filming, Anderson found himself holding a hockey stick in an alley, face to face with Clooney, who said, “Don’t hold back. We gotta sell this!” So when action was called, Anderson dropped his shoulder and hit him with full force. The director screamed, “Cut!” Clooney stayed cool. That’s the story of how the Bay Area baker body slammed George Clooney to the pavement.
Okay, but back to bread. After two decades as a pro athlete, Anderson was a stay-at-home dad for a few years while his kids were little. Eventually he became ready to jump careers. “I love food, and wanted to be part of the scene but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” he says, “but I wanted to know if I could cut it.” He enrolled in San Francisco Cooking School, externed at Locanda and cooked as a private chef leading up to the pandemic. Sourdough was just a hobby, until word got out in a school group text and demand took off. He baked for a year out of his own backyard then another year in the former Rainforest Cafe on Fisherman’s Wharf. This is wild — imagine baking artisan sourdough in an empty tourist trap, immediately across the street from Boudin Bakery, the flagship of all tourist sourdough spots.
“Representation really matters,” Anderson says. “I never even knew this was a possibility.” Growing up as that loud kid living near the projects, it never crossed his mind to dream of going to France and learning how to perfect baguettes. “If you’ve only ever seen great, white, male bakers, and you’re a poor, Black kid … you can’t imagine it. It’s a blind spot.” Even enrolling in culinary school years later, it never occurred to him to consider the pastry program. He figured cooking was the quickest route to getting paid. And yet, why wouldn’t a great athlete make a great baker? He likes getting up early and doing meditative prep work. You have to be strong to lift fifty-pound bags of flour. And you have to thrive on repetition, iterating the trick over and over again, until the loaves shuttle out of the oven consistently every time.
Today, Anderson hands bread back to the same shelters that fed his family. Rize Up has a “Pay It Forward” program, so you can buy a loaf for yourself, along with a loaf for someone else, which the bakery donates to shelters, food banks and other nonprofit organizations. “One loaf doesn’t seem like a huge thing but we’ve donated thousands by now.” Anderson sometimes takes his kids along when he drives into the Tenderloin and drops off freshly baked bread at Glide Memorial Church, a place he actually ate as a kid. “Feeding people is big for me,” Anderson says. “I know what it’s like to be hungry.”
Rize Up Bakery: rizeupsourdough.com
Photos: Bruce Cole