RICKREALL — Kevin Conzo, of Rickreall, wakes up every day at 3:30 a.m. in answer to people’s prayers.
Not all prayers are answered; only about 250 of them. However, when those 250 people drift off to sleep after a prayer for their daily bread, they can sleep peacefully knowing Conzo is the guy charged with making good on it.
Their prayers get a little extra oomph, of course, because they’re tendered on Conzo’s Facebook page.
Once a bleary-eyed Conzo makes his way to the commercial-grade ovens in his Rickreall home, he sets to work making all the varied breads, pastries and pasta that his even more varied customers ordered the day before.
By 2 p.m., the bread must be ready for delivery. Conzo and his wife Krista generally make deliveries between 2 and 4 p.m. They make runs to Salem every day and to Dallas, Monmouth and Independence six days a week. Runs to Sheridan and McMinnville go every Thursday.
“I wake up early so I can get my breads out,” Conzo said. “To offer free delivery, there are set routes. It’s like a paper route, except we’re delivering breads. That’s why it’s called Kevin’s Daily Bread.”
Getting one’s daily bread takes some doing. First, customers must join Kevin’s Daily Bread, his Facebook group.
“You have to be a member of my group to place orders,” Conzo said. “I have several hoops people have to jump through to get my bread. Because of the hoops, when they finally get in the group, they’re like, ‘Finally! We got Kevin’s bread — and I love it!’ It also keeps all the snooty people out.”
Group members apparently believe it’s worth all the effort.
“The meal and the bread arrived warm,” enthused group member Lisa Wilch online June 27. “Don’t you just love fresh baked bread where the butter melts on it? The meal was delicious — full of garlic and lemon flavor with an ample amount of jumbo-sized shrimp and capers. I seriously could only eat about a quarter of it, but not because I didn’t want more.”
April Starr Kirkendoll wrote June 20 that Conzo’s bread evokes warm memories. “This bread is amazing,” Kirkendoll said. “I cut a slice as soon as it arrives — just good old butter and bread. I have been a baker for several companies. I miss it. Kevin’s bread brings back all those fond memories.”
Conzo baked his first loaf of bread as a child growing up in Waltham, Massachusetts.
“I’ve always loved cooking and baking and developed a passion for food,” he said. “The professional passion came in high school. I took four years of culinary arts.”
Yet instead of becoming a professional baker, he chose instead to join the Waltham Police Department. Fifteen years later, one might say he left the gun and took the cannoli.
He retired early from the police department and opened a doughnut shop in Lynden, Washington, in 2016. The shop lasted two years. He also tried his hand at an Italian restaurant that didn’t last long either.
“I have great food,” he said. “I just don’t know how to manage a business. I paid for an education is what I did.”
Conzo met Krista through a Facebook group and moved to Rickreall 18 months ago.
“I think my wife just imported me from the East Coast,” he said.
In moving to Rickreall, Conzo also struck on a successful business model — making bread at home and personally delivering it to people’s homes. It was a business model practically made for people’s concerns about the coronavirus. In fact, he started the business in March just two weeks before pandemic gripped the planet.
“It took off from there because everyone was on lockdown and scared of COVID,” he said. “People appreciated us because we’re very COVID-aware because of my wife’s elderly parents. A lot of our clients in the beginning were elderly as well.”
The Conzos are able to operate their business out of their Rickreall home because of Oregon’s cottage food law. State legislators passed Senate Bill 320 during their 2015 session so home-based food operators need only food handler training. They don’t require licenses and are not subject to inspection from the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Business for the Conzos was good in the beginning — too good, it turns out. The number of orders became overwhelming. Conzo was driving around Dallas delivering bread from a golf cart and attracted a lot of attention.
“Within 48 hours, I doubled my group members,” he said. “My wife and I were like, ‘We need to do a little upgrade here.’”
They hit the pause button on their business in late July and just reopened a week or so ago with a new array of commercial ovens and an upgraded kneading table. “I do all of my own kneading,” Conzo said.
The Facebook group now has more than 800 members, although Conzo said only 250 members are active customers. That’s still more than enough to keep him busy, he said -- and going to bed around 6 p.m. so he can get up early enough the next morning.
He might have to expand his business even more. “I want to open a bakery either in Dallas or Rickreall where I can create my Italian specialties and what-not,” he said.
Conzo said he is particularly known for his Italian artisan breads, shaped like a French loaf. They use a natural yeast sourdough starter. “It just gives it a natural tang,” he said.
He definitely enjoys talking about the specifics of his offerings.
“I could talk for hours about bread,” he said.
Betty Cloud, another group member, said people should definitely take the cannoli.
“Those chocolate-lined cannoli are fabulous,” she said online. “If you haven’t tried them, do so soon. I will eat them all if you don’t get any first.”
Conzo bakes more than bread, pastries and pasta. He has also been known to serve up a mystery. His book, “The Thin Blue Crimes,” based on murders in Baker City, was published last year on Amazon. However, Conzo said he doesn’t think he will ever be known for creating books rather than breads.
“I think I sold 12 copies,” he said.
He’s not being falsely modest, Conzo insisted. He just knows himself and knows his talents and strengths.
“I’m the most humble man you’ll ever meet, but my bread is incredible,” he said.