Life Breads: A year of joy, tears and bakery goodies

Todd Herzog, baker and owner of Life Breads Gluten-Free Bakery in Davenport, shows a loaf of “Happy Accident” bread available at the Hilltop Campus Village business.  CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

Meg Reed recently looked back on her first year as general manager of the Life Breads Gluten-Free Bakery in Davenport and realized “It was full of ups and downs.”

“I learned a lot this past year,” Ms. Reed said during a one-year celebration for the family business last month.

The business was a lifelong dream of Ms. Reed’s mother, Catherine “Cat” Herzog. That dream was taking shape in August of 2022 when Ms. Herzog unexpectedly passed away. Her death delayed the opening of the storefront, but family members rallied and opened Life Breads in April of last year.

In the past year, one of the top lessons Ms. Reed learned is that many people rely on the bakery. Many like the tasty baked goodies offered at the business. But many others rely on the gluten-free items offered at the 1509 N. Harrison St. bakery.

Life Breads’ gluten-free baked goodies have gained many fans in the region, especially those who need to stay away from gluten because of medical conditions such as celiac disease.

Life Breads Gluten-Free Bakery has been open for a year in the Hilltop Campus Village in central Davenport. PHOTO CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

“People call us up and thank us and they end up crying. …. There’s been more than once I’ve been crying on the phone with them,” said Ms. Reed.

Life Breads has actually been attracting customers who need gluten-free baked goods for years. The business was a mainstay at many farmers markets in the region. But last year, Life Breads began a new chapter in its business —opening a brick-and-mortar storefront in Davenport’s Hilltop Campus Village and ending its appearances at local outdoor markets.

“We’ve had a lot of fun this first year. We’ve had so many people come up to us and say ‘Thank you,’” said Todd Herzog, Life Breads’ baker and owner and Ms. Reed’s father.

Many of those “thank yous” came in person in late April when the bakery held a party to celebrate its storefront’s first year in business and as a way to thank its many customers.

Festivities included a gluten-free cake, an inflatable photo booth, a workshop to make bakery goods, and the introduction of new menu items. 

Life Breads now offers a breakfast menu on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings. Some of the menu items include: avocado toast, English muffins, bagels, omelets and frosted cinnamon rolls.

But during the first anniversary festivities, the bakery stars of the show continued to be some of Life Breads’ traditional favorites —blueberry muffins, cookies, pound cakes and the very popular “Happy Accident” white bread.

“We just love how welcoming the place is,” said Rebekah Pace, 20, an area woman who has been a customer at Life Breads since it opened and attended the celebration. “The goods here aren’t so expensive. And that’s really the key.”

Ms. Pace, who is a Scott Community College student, was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was about 11 years old. She added that she looks forward to the many bakery goodies at Life Breads.

Some of the other anniversary celebration guests were first-time customers, such as Wayne Wanek and his wife, Pam, of Andalusia, Illinois. Ms. Wanek, who was diagnosed with celiac disease, was trying out some of the cookies and muffins on the bakery menu. “We like it. This is really good,” she said.

“There is a definite need for places like this in the Quad Cities,” her husband added. “We used to go out to restaurants all the time. Now, we’re limited to about five places because of the menu.”

In addition to helping people who need gluten-free bakery goods, the crew at Life Breads said they have learned some important lessons in their first year open at the storefront. Some of those first-year lessons include:

Biggest mistake made: Ms. Reed said that she had been thinking she could judge the business’ level of success on “one week of sales.” The truth, she added, is that every week is different, and there will be good days and slow days in the bakery.

Advice for others starting a business: She said one of the top pieces of advice she can give is stay debt free. Don’t take out loans to start the business. Also, start the business out slowly and listen to customers’ wants and needs before expanding the business or menu.

Biggest lesson learned: “Family is number one,” said Ms. Reed. This lesson also goes for how best to treat customers. If customers see you treat them like your family, they will become a loyal customer of your business, she added.

Biggest surprise: Mr. Herzog said he has been surprised that Life Breads has not attracted more business customers. He had hoped to attract at least a few businesses — such as restaurants — that would carry Life Breads’ gluten-free goodies. So far, it has one business customer — it is providing cinnamon rolls to Cafe d’Marie in downtown Davenport.

Still, the business owner said he’s happy with the results of the first year with a storefront. It’s all about making great bakery goods and treating customers right, he added.

Just as Mr. Herzog finished his interview with the QCBJ, he had another customer — a man buying a loaf of the very popular “Happy Accident” white bread.

“I hope you enjoy it. It was just baked fresh today,” he told him.  

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