Solution at hand for baker’s fight with Mesa The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Solution at hand for baker’s fight with Mesa

Solution at hand for baker’s fight with Mesa

By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

Proof Bread Co., an artisan bakery specializing in sourdough bread, croissants and English muffins, has struggled through some sour moments with Mesa during a zoning dispute over operating a commercial business in a residential zone.

But it looks as if Proof owner Jon Przybyl has worked out a solution likely to sweeten his fans, especially bread connoisseurs, by renting space for his homegrown bakery in downtown Mesa.

In many ways, Proof, Przybyl and his wife, Amanda, represent the very embodiment of what Mesa wants to create in its reinvigorated downtown.

The Przybyls are entrepreneurs and family-owned business owners making a special home-cooked product that can’t be found in the typical shopping center.

But getting him to embrace the next stage of Proof’s development by moving into a commercial building has required what Vice Mayor Mark Freeman considers “a nudge’’ and what Przybyl interpreted it more like a shove.

After months of neighborhood complaints – first about a large commercial truck parked in a driveway, later about cars parked on the road and finally about employees who did not live at the house – Mesa issued Przybyl a notice of violation in July.

That zoning enforcement action left Proof facing a Jan. 15 deadline to move it’s expanding operations from Przybyl’s home, near Val Vista Drive and Brown Road, to his new Main Street location or face a $490 fine that could be levied repeatedly until he complied.

But Lt. Ryan Russell, code compliance director, said no one intends to fine Przybyl or to put his burgeoning company out of business.

“We are going to monitor it. As long as we continue to see progress, we want to continue to be flexible,’’ Russell said. “We want them to be successful. We gave them four months to find a commercial location. I think that’s reasonable.’’

Przybyl, who has turned himself into a star YouTube personality with a series of videos about making bread and the challenges of running a small business, was expecting 18 months to make the move.

“We’re excited about the future, albeit extremely nervous about being pushed so hard,’’ Przybyl said on a recent video.

“It’s not something that happens
overnight,” he said. “Four months is a ridiculously short timeline. We have felt every emotion from total despair to
total excitement.’’

He said the new location at 125 W. Main St. is perfect in many ways, including its layout and a roll-up door in the back
for shipments.

Although his new operation undoubtedly will have a retail component and maybe a coffee shop to go with it, his business depends heavily on sales and deliveries at a series of farmers markets in Mesa, Gilbert and Phoenix.

Sourdough fans can order his specialty breads, including some with unique designs, online on his web site and swing by a farmers market to pick up their orders.

“It’s fun to make bread,’’ Przybyl said on another video a few months back before his zoning conflict with Mesa flared anew.

“It’s incredible when people like it and validate it and ask for more, but the rest of it is difficult.’’

Przybyl appeals to his many supporters, not only around the Phoenix Metro area, but around the world, for contributions in helping him make the move on his GoFundMe page.

Proof has developed a following of more than 1,300 fans around the world who enjoy the videos. They have donated more than $62,000 toward Proof’s moving expenses, he said.

“I’ve tried to keep it flexible in my mind. We never thought we would be staying long-term’’ at the home-based bakery, Przybyl said.

“I have a five-year plan. I have to fast forward two years,’’ he said. “They were giving a lot of assurances that we would have time to transition.’’

Although Przybyl said he has considered moving his businesses downtown for quite a while, he thought in the past that a move now would be premature and too risky.

Now, he realizes he has no other choice.

Przybyl said he thought he solved each of his neighbors’ complaints, only to find he was faced with a new one.

He solved the delivery truck issue by storing it elsewhere except when it was needed to drop off supplies or make deliveries.

He paved part of his front yard and planted bushes, creating an employee parking lot.

In the end, he could not solve the problem of having non-resident employees working at the bakery.

“I thought my problem was going away and it flared back up again,’’ Przybyl said. “We were looking over our shoulder, wondering when people were going to give us trouble.’’

The issue came to head in July when Russell and Mesa Vice Mayor Mark Freeman, who represents the north Mesa council district, paid Przybyl a visit.

Freeman said he has been trying to strike a balance between protecting the rights of Przybyl and other homeowners while assuring that everyone is treated fairly.

“A lot of businesses get 15 days to cease and desist,’’ Freeman said, after a violation notice is served. “The city has bent over backwards to help them.’’

Freeman lauded Przybyl for arranging a lease downtown and said he has no doubts that Proof will be a strong addition to the vibe developing in downtown Mesa.

“Sometimes, we all need a nudge to get to the next step,’’ Freeman said. “He’s doing the right things and we are embracing him.’’ 

Mesa Councilwoman Jen Duff said she welcomed Przybyl to downtown Mesa.

“It is the type of business we love to have downtown: unique, locally-owned, a mom and pop businesses,’’ Duff said. “We welcome them and we are excited they are here.’’

Duff promised that Mesa will do everything within its authority to help Przybyl succeed and to complete his move downtown.

“We’re not here to be the hammer of the law,’’ she said. “We will give them extensions if they need it. We don’t want to put them out.’’

Despite all of the controversy, one thing everyone seems to agree about is that Przybyl makes really good bread.

He and his wife were inspired by the wonderful bread they discovered on a trip to Poland, visiting relatives, to become bakers.

When they returned home, they discovered that Proof’s original owner, Jared Allen, was selling and moving out of state.

Przybyl bought the business and received a crash course from Allen on how to make bread but he also has learned a great deal along the way.

“Once they get relocated, I would be one of their best customers,’’ Russell said, comparing Proof’s situation to a previous zoning case that spawned Backyard Taco, a successful central Mesa restaurant. “They make fabulous bread.’’ ′

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