By Nancy Dahlberg
Emil Hristov brought a taste of his native Macedonia to Miami. Now he is building a national tech-enabled sourdough brand.
The Starbucks of Sourdough? There is no such thing now, but Miami entrepreneur Emil Hristov hopes to build his startup company, Domaselo, into a national household name.
Hristov (pictured above), a Wharton MBA grad who founded a couple of real estate-tech startups in South Florida in recent years, missed the tastes of his native Macedonia, so he started baking loaves of organic sourdough bread, using the authentic process his family had used for generations. “Growing up, there was always something baking,” said Hristov, who arrived in the U.S. for college and moved to Miami in 2015.
Encouraged by Key Biscayne neighbors and friends who enjoyed the fruits of his labor, his passion had become a micro-business. But in early 2019, he decided to turn Domaselo (the name combines words for home and village) into a fulltime scalable venture. Rather than open a cafe, he used his tech experience to focus on creating a direct-to-consumer online marketplace capable of delivering sourdough bread and accompaniments locally and nationwide.
This baking-as-a-service startup launched in February after Hristov leased and equipped a small kitchen in Little Havana with machinery, hired five employees, acquired electric-powered delivery vehicles, and created the website and e-commerce capabilities. At first the plan was to kick things off with a delivery service of warm, fresh baked bread throughout South Florida, aromas included. COVID arrived and changed up that plan a bit, so now the bread is fully wrapped and deliveries are contactless.
The pandemic certainly accelerated demand for e-commerce and home deliveries, and Domaselo was already primed for that. But the lockdowns also elevated homelife, such as breaking bread with the family. It’s why home baking became a thing – sourdough was the No. 1 most-Googled recipe this year. Demand for Domaselo’s sourdough heated up, too.
But here’s where Hristov will let you in on a little secret. Authentic sourdough should be full of flavor but not taste in the least bit “sour”. The crust should be crunchy, too. It’s all about the way it is made, he said.
Take note, San Francisco: “The name itself in any other language doesn't translate to anything sour,” Hristov says. “But that is both the challenge and the opportunity. We have to educate the consumers.”
At Domaselo, he adds, “we don't use baker’s yeast, which is for accelerating the fermentation. We follow the strict sourdough method and we also buy the best organic flour we can find in the country.”
The customer experience is Domaselo’s biggest differentiator, Hristov says. In addition to delivering and shipping fresh baked breads, Domaselo is also building a marketplace, a curated source of food items that go well with bread and made by other boutique companies. All the organic coffee, jams and alfajores are locally made, by Great Circle Coffee, Gables Delight and Paula’s Bake Shop respectively, and Domaselo will be adding other offerings. “As we're growing, they're growing and getting their name out… We can end up being their biggest customers very quickly,” Hristov said.
During the pandemic, the company began shipping to other parts of Florida and nationwide, offering 2-day service to much of the United States. But wait, wouldn’t the bread lose its freshness?
Here’s another secret: Sourdough bread is at its best on day three. For the bigger loaves especially, the flavors take time to settle, Hristov said. If stored properly (in a paper bag to let the loaf breathe is recommended), the larger loaves will taste great for up to a week -- the bread will get drier but also more flavorful. Or, once received, loaves of bread can be frozen and saved for later.
During the pandemic, sales have been growing at least 20% every month – and some months up to 50%. “We ship to every state in the country, and we bake about 300 loaves per day. We also sell a lot of jams and coffee and alfajores. We have over 3,500 customers, of which 2,000 are in the Miami area,” said Hristov. Now, Domaselo has seven full-time employees.
Domaselo’s organic country bread – the classic – is the biggest seller, with walnut and cranberry bread and its olive loaf also bringing in the dough. Seasonal flavors like apple pecan are also popular, Hristov said.
“We always bake to order, we only bake what’s been ordered, we never bake anything extra.” Loaves sell for between $3.75 and $9, and gift packs and subscription plans are available too.
Hristov is raising an angel round after the holidays (at least one Wharton classmate has already signed on as an investor) with that will bring some important hires. Hristov said he is only passively involved in his real estate-tech companies, and other people are running them. [Update: Since this story was published, Domaselo launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for equipment. You can find it here.]
By mid-2021, Domaselo plans to open a facility in the northeast, most likely in Philadelphia, to better service the mega-region from DC to Boston, Hristov said.
“We are excited about basically offering more and more products by other bakers and eventually providing a 24/7 farmers market, but you don't have to wait until Sunday and hope for a sunny day.”
First, though, the goal is to become a household name in South Florida. Miami, the sourdough city, hmm….
Photos provided by Domaselo. Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org