Every Monday at 4 a.m., Nick Malburg rises like the bread he makes to begin an age-old baking method in the kitchen of his Stanton Heights ranch home.
He pulls heaping piles of dough prepared the day before from his refrigerator, cut and shaped into rounded molds, ready to be scored and baked to a crispy crust.
“It is a very wild and natural process from just cultivating yeast from the air,” Malburg, 28, says. “It is really earthen and old, but at the same time, I can make it into my own obsessive science of fermentation and structure.”
But for Malburg, it’s about more than just baking bread. It’s about breaking bread with his neighbors. For the past year, he’s been delivering fresh sourdough to monthly subscribers across the city of Pittsburgh.
Currently, he has 16 subscribers who look forward to their brown bag every month, stamped with his newly designed logo, “Wild Science Bread Co.” (Editor’s note: Potential buyers can ask about getting on Malburg’s subscription waiting list by messaging him on Instagram at @wildsciencebread, but right now his inbox is overflowing with requests. Sourdough must be popular in Pittsburgh.)
“If you buy one of Nick’s loaves of bread, you can tell he takes enormous pride in what he does,” says Mary Cragun of Ohio Township.
Cragun works with Malburg, who is a full-time music teacher at the Glen Montessori School.
“It’s wholesome food. I know exactly what’s in this bread,” she says. “I feel much better giving this to my kid than any store-bought bread,” and the flavor is “the perfect marriage of crispy crust and wonderful lovely insides.”
Malburg began baking on July 17, 2017. It was the first day of his “bread fantasy,” as he likes to call it.
“I remember the exact day,” he says, “because I started this book.”
He pulls out a worn, spiral notebook filled with scribbles and scratches. Its pages have stains and some are curled from getting wet.
“It has every single loaf I’ve ever baked,” Malburg said. “Every recipe, every adjustment and every experiment … I now have 188 loaves worth of info in here.”
Most of those loaves have been delivered to hungry homes around town, connecting Malburg with people and places he never thought possible.
He started selling his loaves after baking batches upon batches that he and his family couldn’t finish themselves. So he posted on Instagram, offering to sell his bread to anyone in the area, thinking perhaps his friends would respond. Strangers soon discovered his page, and his following grew.
“When I started baking like this, I saw it as a really independent endeavor, a solitary pursuit,” he said. “I didn’t really anticipate the communal factor and that has had a really big impact on me.”
His first subscriber was Sonya Silvaggio, 39, from McCandless. He teaches her two daughters private music lessons.
“I didn’t really know her very well, but now I feel like we are very connected,” Malburg says. “I feel much more a part of their lives than I think I ever would have had it not been for my bread.”
Silvaggio agrees, saying that his bread is a special experience for her and her family, including her three-year-old and six-year-old.
“We always thank Mr. Nick before we break into his bread,” Silvaggio says. “My kids are super picky eaters but they love his sourdough.”
This is just one example of Malburg’s motivation to keep serving his community.
“I think that we all have things that are valuable to share. I’m proud to do this directly to other people,” Malburg says. “I’m always going to keep my prices low because it’s not a ‘me vs. them’ kind of thing. It’s rooted much more in sharing. I charge what it is going to cost to make the bread. That’s it.”
At $6 a loaf, making four loaves a week, Malburg only earns $24 from his weekly deliveries.
“That’s not even taking into account the cost of flour and gas to use my oven,” he says.
But he doesn’t mind. And when the aroma of fresh bread baking fills their home in the early hours every Monday morning, his wife Sarah doesn’t mind either — and not just because they can have fresh bread anytime they want.
After being together for nearly 10 years, seeing Malburg pick up different hobbies and passions along the way, she says, this is the only thing that has lasted this long.
“That’s how you can tell he is really passionate about it.”