Did Simply Bread Bite Off More Than It Could Chew?

Why did Simply Bread simply close its doors a little over a week ago, when business seemed so robust? Why are 87 people now suddenly out of a job? The official word is that the bakery's Michigan-based bank is to blame.

However, I've been talking to lots of local restaurant owners who wonder if the bakery got too big for its baguettes, er, britches.

A lot of these same folks were caught off-guard when the bakery suddenly closed the day before Valentine's Day, leaving them breadless during peak season for the industry. All were scrambling to find a new supplier.

Simply Bread started in 2006 as a niche artisanal bakery (so popular with Valley chefs that many name-dropped it on their menus with as much pride as heirloom veggies from local farms), and then blew up into a large operation that supplied 1,400 local grocery stores (including Whole Foods and AJ's) and restaurants. A little more than a year ago, it grew from a 4,000-square-foot bakery in Central Phoenix to a 20,000-square-foot bakery in Chandler. There were even plans for Simply Bread to break into the Las Vegas and California markets.

Simply Bread expanded too quickly, people tell me, but founder Harold Back was determined to make it work. Quality declined as the company grew, sources add, or else it wasn't consistent. One former fan of the bakery, who featured Simply Bread's products early on, dropped them from the menu after a barrage of frustrations.

If any of those people are to be believed, it's a tragedy that Simply Bread's quality control went to hell in a handbasket, when quality was the whole reason people loved it to begin with. It wasn't just any old mass-market bakery -- it was the little guy, an indie spot with an award-winning master baker at the helm (Jeff Yankellow). It was bread with character.

Now who'll fill the void?

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