Rize Up Founder on Black Representation in Sourdough Baking
Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
June 15, 2023
Before pushing bread boundaries by innovating Rize Up Bakery’s sourdough flavors like Ube, Gochujang, and Garlic Confit, Azikiwee “Z” Anderson channeled his culinary skills into preparing seven-course meals as a private chef. When the pandemic started in March 2020, Z shifted gears, staying home to make sure his kids stayed on top of their Zoom classes. He also built community through a “foodie text thread” with other parents, in which he was eventually encouraged (and somewhat peer pressured) to try his hand at making sourdough.
In the time of civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Z’s reluctant experimentation with sourdough became an important salve for his state of mind. Shaping and baking bread helped him navigate days where he either felt “like crying or throwing something through a wall.” Before he knew it, baking one loaf a week turned into 150 a day as he filled orders from the Bay Area to Brooklyn. Rize Up Bakery joined the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market earlier this year. We talked with Z about what the business means to him, how it’s growing, and why representations of Black artisan bakers are so important today and for future generations.
Foodwise: How did you decide on the name Rize Up Bakery?
Azikiwee “Z” Anderson: It was all the social unrest and all the things going on in 2020. I was sad and disappointed in myself because I was so upset that I didn’t really feel like I could go and march with everyone. I felt like I would be a hindrance to the cause, and I wouldn’t be a good representation. Then I was making stuff at home and still feeling like I wanted to speak out and wanted people to stand up.
In the middle of baking, the song from Hamilton—”You gotta rise up / When you livin on your knees, you rise up”—came on. It had a double entendre because I was trying to make my bread rise. I spell it with a “z” because my nickname is Z. It was a bunch of things that kind of all came together that I thought spoke to the community that was standing up for what’s right and trying to make a difference.
What is special or unique about your product or approach?
I don’t get inspired by trying to make things that I think are going to sell a lot and make me money. The way I do business is really about trying to be inspirational and making things for what I feel are the right reasons, which is a certain amount of representation. And then if people are gravitating towards it, then great, but making the money is the last thing I’m thinking about when I’m making loaves. I’m just trying to make something I think is beautiful.
Our ube loaf is a perfect example. Ube [purple yam] is really hard to make and getting ube in bread is really hard to do. People often don’t do beautiful things that should be done because they’re hard, or because they’re not going to make an extra two cents. I feel like if I let my creativity get stifled by only making what people want to purchase, then I’m not living my truth and doing my thing.
What have you found most challenging about starting and running Rize Up Bakery?
I’ve never worked at a bakery before, so a lot of the stuff that I’m doing, I’m making up as I go. Sometimes I have a little chip on my shoulder because I feel like I should know more than I do. I forget sometimes I’ve only been doing this for a short period of time. I spend a lot of time figuring out how to do things. I’m learning a lot, but sometimes I wish I just had more knowledge.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
What I enjoy most is the community. I enjoy people. The little things of people enjoying the product that we make and put all the time, energy, and love into, really does a lot for me. I feel that we can make the world better one beautiful loaf of bread at a time. And when people are so excited about getting their hands on a loaf or they’ve been looking forward to it or they’re bringing it to dinner to share it with their friends, it means a lot to me.
I really appreciate people believing in me and believing in our cause enough to support us and allow us to grow. So, telling people’s friends or sending them bread or bringing it to a dinner and letting people know that we exist—all those things are like our lifeblood right now.
You’ve shared on your Instagram that you’ve visited elementary schools. What role does education have in your business and what led you to that?
Have you ever seen the movie Last Black Man in San Francisco? Sometimes I feel like that. I know what it feels like to be in a city where most times I’m the only Black person in the room. Now it’s not so much like that because I employ people of color in general. But there’s definitely not a lot of good representation of people that look like me doing things that I think are so cool. So, I do a lot of outreach to kids.
When I first started baking, I had never ever seen a person of color that was an artisan baker. I didn’t even know that it could make me so happy. I really wanted to share that and be the representation that I think is so important. When I go into schools, I feel like by being there, they’ll have actually seen a Black baker. They’ll know that someone that looks like them is enjoying their life doing something that matters.
With Father’s Day coming up, how has being a parent played a role in what you do now?
I didn’t have a father past the age of five, really. I don’t really know how other fathers do it, but I have this thing inside where I want to set a good example and try to teach my kids that anything is possible. I don’t think a lot of people try to teach you how to be great, they just teach you how to get by or how to fit in. I’ve been trying to show my kids that if you focus on something and you believe in it and you work hard, that you can be great at something.