It is difficult for a regular-ass person with a regular-ass job to have a regular-ass place anywhere in the United States of America. No matter where you live you struggle to get by, and it seems that Humboldt County is no different. You have to want to be here. If you are going to struggle, it might as well be where you want to be.
Humboldt County is historically unkind to the average worker. Locals and transplants alike struggle to stay afloat, and we see businesses close their doors more often than not. It is practically mandatory for everyone to have two, sometimes three jobs just to make rent. If you are not selling your time, you pick up a skill, or make something to sell. This is not a big city but we are forced to hustle in order to be here.
Welcome to the Humboldt Hustle.
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Josh Berger knows bread. Really knows it.
It’s nostalgic and wholesome and it allows him some creativity and the ability to make people happy in the comfort of his own home.
The 43-year-old Arcata resident makes a living off of baking out of his home kitchen.
No, not just out of his home oven. At first though, he did it that way. His operation has grown enough that he now has a tall bread fridge and a three-level oven. Small by industrial standards, but it gets the job done.
As you meander into the alley that leads to his front door, before you see the sign, you can smell the week’s bake.
“Some customers tell me what I do is like the stuff they do in Europe. There’s always a guy down the street selling something”, said Berger. “In America this is becoming more common, but up until a couple of years ago this was weird.”
With the rise in popularity of sourdough since the start of the pandemic, Josh Fox Bread does what the average home baker cannot — make various breads and baked treats in large but not too large quantities. We’re talking cookies, challah, loaves of bread that taste like English muffins and more.
Greeted by his sign on the small stoop at the front door, you walk in and take it all in.
Over 100 loaves of bread and treats are piled on the racks that line most of the wall on the left. Behind you are the bread fridge and the massive mixer, everything dusted with flour. In front of you are the ovens and the baker, spreadsheet in hand, ready with everyone’s names and orders. And on the right is a door to the two bedrooms that Berger uses as his living space. Half the apartment is a business and the other half is his home.
A Humboldt resident for the last 16 years, Berger started his craft long before his arrival. After a fateful road trip in the early 2000s starting on the East Coast and ending here, Berger made a point to return with a skill that could place him indefinitely.
“I came here and I thought… I really like it here. I gotta find a way to make a living that won’t drive me away,” said Berger about his younger self.
As a young man growing up in Westchester, New York, he had trouble figuring out what he wanted to do with his life, but leaned into what he enjoyed: baking. After going to the French Culinary Institute, now the Institute of Culinary Education, and working for a few bakeries, he eventually made his way back to Humboldt. When he made his return, he worked for Brio Breadworks for four years and then found himself at Loleta Bakery (which has since closed).
While he held baking gigs at the aforementioned places, he baked even more at home. He flexed his creativity and shared it with his friends and colleagues throughout town. After Loleta Bakery closed its doors for good, Berger knew he should lean into his home baking.
“At some point it got good enough that I had to borrow money,” Berger said, gratefully. “I should be done paying off the big oven this year.”
For the last five years, he has been known as Josh Fox Bread (“an inside joke from when I was in school”), and he works by himself for himself — though not in a traditional sense.
You will not find his baked goods at Eureka Natural Foods or even at the farmers’ markets. You need four things to get his bread and treats: an Instagram account, a mobile device with text messaging, a way to pay (via Paypal or Venmo, or cash), and a means to get to his house. You might find his work in a handful of restaurants, but nowhere else.
“I operate as a Cottage Food Operation (CFO),” Berger continued. “So that means I have to be food safety certified, the county sends someone out here to make sure I have a sanitation solution and all that. I only need to make nutrition labels for food that I sell to restaurants.”
Every Tuesday, Berger posts his bread lineup on his Instagram stories. Each time he uses a filter where his face has aviator goggles on and his entire head is imposed on the body of a flying seagull. He talks about the bread lineup, while there is text listing the breads for the week. Under his floating face, text reminds everyone that orders will be open on Thursday and pickup will be Friday between 4 and 6 p.m. It’s all very involved and part of the fun.
Thursday comes and he’ll post the bread lineup again. When you place your order, if you get no response from Berger, it means your order is in. If you do receive a message from him, it probably means he is short of something or you happened to be too late to order at all. If it’s your first time ordering, he will message you his address with some directions.
To keep with non-tradition, Berger wants to expand in two ways: to have help from someone who is as committed and passionate about bread, and to move Josh Fox Bread into a mixed-use property so he can keep living where he works.
“I don’t wanna manage people,” Berger said. “I want to maintain the integrity of what I’m building. I’m not gonna train someone that doesn’t wanna do this for a living, you know what I mean?”
As if it wasn’t already enough hustling full-time to make bread every week, Berger is now also roasting coffee beans under the name Sugar Skool Coffee and selling them by the same means. He mentioned a few health concerns slowed his goal to go commercial, but reassures readers that the concerns are temporary. With his popularity growing, Berger is getting by just fine but cannot wait to get some help in the near future.
“In the meantime, I love that my community allows me to be my own boss and that they come and support me”, Berger said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Got an interesting story about living the Humboldt Hustle? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. He’d love to hear it!