Breaking Bread with Rize Up Sourdough Founder Azikiwee “Z” Anderson
How Z’s pandemic baking hobby turned into a booming sourdough business that goes far beyond bread.
January 26, 2022
Grace Simmons
Azikiwee Anderson, Photo Credit: SF Examiner

I’m sharing excerpts from my conversation with Azikiwee “Z” Anderson, founder of Rize Up Sourdough in San Francisco. Z has an infectious, positive attitude and an inspiring outlook on life. He is genuine, kind, driven, and passionate about the work that he does and I left our conversation feeling moved and stimulated.

To paint a mental picture of how this went down, Z, being the dedicated baker and small business owner that he is, took our Zoom call from his phone propped up on a workbench in his commercial kitchen as he shaped loaves. He was jamming to music before I called, shaping his K-Pop loaves (Gochujang, toasted sesame seeds, roasted garlic, and fresh scallions) — which looked mouth-wateringly delicious, even though they hadn’t been baked yet.

I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.

Grace: Tell me about the name Rize Up and how you chose that name.

Z: It was kind of a culmination of several things. I was working really, really hard — cause when you first try to bake, anyone who’s tried to bake, you see these beautiful loaves on Instagram and YouTube, or in the store or something, and you have some sort of aspiration of being able to even remotely, you know, get to that level. That's when it has good oven spring, or rise — that's R-I-S-E. Me and my kids, my sons can almost recite every Hamilton song, like word for word. And my wife had taken us [to see Hamilton] first, and then we went again just because I was so impressed. So I was listening to the soundtrack, and the song goes, ‘You gotta rise up, When you're living on your knees, You gotta rise up!’ And I'm sitting there and I open up the oven, it was the very first time I ever got all the rise I wanted. I happened to be listening to that song. My wife walked in and I was like, ‘Rise Up,’ that'd be a great name. She's like, ‘Oh, that'd be an amazing name.’ And everyone can't say my name, Azikiwee, so I always tell people they can call me Z. So then I was like, well, what if it was like, Z's Rise Up? And I was like, I could just replace the S with the, with the Z. 

Grace: Rize Up started during the pandemic, walk me through how you went from working in kitchens, to starting your own business during such an unusual time.

Z: You know, there’s a saying ‘I didn't choose the life, the life chose me’. That's basically what happened. I started baking with some friends, some school parent friends, and they were like, ‘Hey, you know, we don't have a whole lot of community right now cause we're all on lockdown, why don't we make bread?’ Kind of like a book club, cause we're all foodies and you know, bread was all the rage. And so they said, ‘Why don't we make some bread and we'll send pictures to this text thread.’ Everyone knew that I was an aspiring chef, or private chef, and so they're all sending their pictures and I hadn't sent pictures because I'm kind of a perfectionist. So I was trying and I'm like, I don't wanna take pictures of mediocre, busted bread. I don't want to send pictures of this. And they kept giving me kind of, you know, the business, like, ‘Come on, where are your pictures?’ So I sent a picture and they're like, ‘Oh that's really good,’ you know in the way when people's voice jumps an octave when they say it. I'm like, man, I ain't good. I know it ain't good. And so I don't like sucking at things.

So I kept working at it and then all of a sudden it went from like one loaf and then I'm like, well shoot, if I'm gonna do all that work for one loaf, if I might as well just make two. And then it went from two, well if I'm gonna make two, it's not that much harder to make four and then I could give some to my friends. Then there were a couple weeks of just like, ‘Hey, you want some bread?’ ‘You want some bread?’ And then it just changed. I was taking pictures and all of a sudden people started being like, ‘Hey, can I, can I get some of that bread? I'll pay you for it.’ I was like, uh, sure I'll make you a couple loaves. And then my wife started being like, ‘Wow, this is like the best bread I've ever had.’ And I was like, you're just making things up, that's really nice, honey. And then, I have some other chef-y friends and one of them said, ‘Hey, I saw some of your bread, why don't you bring some over? I'd love to have some.’ And I was like, okay. And then they were like, ‘This is the best bread I've ever had.’ And I was like, what the? Really? And they're like, ‘It's like really good.’ And so then I went home and I'm like, ‘Babe, he said it's the best bread he's ever had.’ And she's like, ‘I told you it's the best you wouldn’t take my word.’ I know, but you're my wife, you know? 


So then I was like, okay, maybe I should figure out how to do this. So I posted saying, ‘I can't believe people are paying me to send them bread.’ The next day I had 60 loaves sold and I was like, I don't even know how to make 60 loaves. Like I gotta figure that out. So I started making and trying to figure out how to scale. I started making batches of eight at a time and trying to figure it out, and it was hard. Then when I finished all that, the next thing you know, I was just making 20, 30 loaves every other day.

Grace: In your home kitchen?

Z: In my home kitchen. Yeah. 

Grace: That's crazy. 

Z: Oh no, no, it gets crazier. The most I ever made in my house was 150 loaves in one day at my house. 

Grace: How did you have the oven space for that? 

Z: That's just what happened. I baked so much in my home oven that it started to tear itself apart, because I would be baking for eight hours at like 500º and it broke. It broke, the glass and the inside, the hinges started to warp, the door wouldn't open. Like, it was crazy. I literally started tearing it apart. There was a whole day where it just wouldn't turn on. It just was like, no, no more. I'm tired! And so I bought ovens that sat on my back porch and I put them out there. Then I went from being able to do four at a time to being able to do 12 at a time. So then once I bought one oven and could do 12 at a time, I realized I could buy another oven. So I bought two ovens, I basically took all the money that I had made and bought ovens. I went from being able to do four at a time to 24 every hour. There were a bunch of days where I would bake for three hours and make 60 loaves and then they would cool and I would pack 'em and then I would take them either to the store or people would come pick up later in the afternoon after they got off their Zoom calls. And I did that for a whole year. Then a really, really wonderful food writer wrote something and got me into the San Francisco Chronicle. It just blew up, like the next day I had like 500 orders.

Z on his back-porch bakery. Photo credit: SF Chronicle

Grace: For multiple loaves of bread?

Z: Yeah. Then I had to turn off my website because I was just afraid, I never had this many orders, I was texting everyone and being like, ‘Look I can only do 60 a day, this is gonna take me weeks to catch up.’ They were like, ‘It's okay we just want to try your bread.’ And I was like, oh okay. So I just kept doing that and dug myself out of that hole and turned it back on. And then just upped my game and from being able to do 60 a day to like 100 a day, and then I got all the way up to doing like 130 to 150, like every day. And then I moved into this commercial kitchen that I had to work to rebuild. Today we made like 250 loaves. We’re steadily making, I would say five, six days a week, between 180 to 260 loaves a day. But yeah, it's a full fledged business, I have three employees now. I used to work like 20 hour days for a period of time, and now 12 hour days are more normal, but you know, 12 hour days with people that are helping me allows me to get a lot more done. It's really just wonderful. I'm excited. 

Grace: ​​You quite literally built this from the ground up, learned how to fly the plane as you were flying it. I so admire that. That's really awesome.

Z: You know when you're having a good time doing it, it doesn't feel as crazy. If you told me you wanted me to go and sit at a desk for 20 hours a day and type, I would tell you, no way I’m not doing that. But doing this is really cool. Plus I get to be creative, I get to make new cool loaves. Like I'm already working on, um, top secret just between us… [top secret recipe development material omitted] … I think by being a chef first, I really do care about the bread and I want to make beautiful bread, but if you can see this [Z holds up one of the loaves he is shaping] what I'm making right now, it’s literally a lightweight clusterf***. Right?

Shaped, un-baked K'Pop dough

Grace: Oooh. Which loaf is that?

Z: This is the K-Pop loaf and this one has Gochujang, scallions, black sesame seeds, garlic — it's spicy and savory and a little sweet. It's just so hard to keep it together. Which is why most people would never make it. But that's like what I do, I've gotten really, really good at getting things that don't want to go into bread into bread. 

Grace: Yeah. I've never seen bread flavors, combinations, add-ins like you have before. Usually at every bakery, you know, they have their sourdough, they have a whole wheat, a seeded one, and then they'll have like a fruit and nut loaf — and that's it. And you have all these unique flavor combinations that I've just never seen in bread before. 

Z: I want people to know that I spend a large percentage of every single day in my life trying to make the most beautiful, thought-out bread that when you taste it, you go, ‘Oh my God, I've never had anything like this.’ And that's what I feel like bread could be, or should be. And I'm totally cool with if you want the cheapest bread, like you're not my customer and that's cool. That's totally cool. And I understand it, I mean, we were on welfare when I was a kid. So I get the fact that my bread is expensive, but I also donate that exact same bread to homeless shelters. I don't cut the corners, I don't use the cheaper stuff. I make beautiful bread and I donate it because I feel like that's what people should eat. So there's more to it than just a business. 

Grace: You touched on this a little bit, I wanna ask you more about your ‘Pay It Forward’ program and how you weave your passion for social justice into the business — as well as any other social justice minded goals, intentions, or aspirations that you have.

Z: Yeah. I really do think that a large part of the problems that we have is we just don't care about each other. Right. On a lot of different levels, I can't say me personally, I care too much. I care a lot. I can't change everyone's heart, but I can try to inspire other people who want to make a difference to try to make a difference through me. I know a lot of people, it's scary to walk down into the Tenderloin and hand out food. Right. It's a lot, you know, you have to be prepared for it. I was kind of built for it. Right. I feel like, because I care because I wanna make a difference, I can make it easy for other people who want to care and try to make a difference. Right. And it all really does matter. I use my hands and my skill to make beautiful stuff, to feed people. It's biblical, like, you know, like they break bread, right? What is more caring than to share in food and take care of one another. If you're hungry, if you've ever been hungry, you know how horrible it is. And I feel like I can make a difference, so therefore I just ask people if they want to make a difference with me, I'll be their stand-in. I'll help. I'll make it easy because not everybody is cut out to do what needs to get done. But if you can support the right people and you care enough and you get to vote with your pocketbook and you get to try to make a difference and know that you're trying to make a difference. And if that's all you can do is put in $5, $10 to help somebody feed one person, it actually does make a difference. 

I gave a man a loaf on Christmas Eve two years ago and he burst into tears and said that God had sent me because he had been starving. He just felt, it was like, he had so much love and it literally made me burst into tears, too. Right? And I'm like this one dude, I mean, I was trying to make a difference anyway, but it just showed me how much it means to people. Right? And nothing sucks worse than to think that nobody cares about you. I can't change the whole world. I can't make people not be racist. I can't make people believe all the things I believe in, but I can do something. If it's only something small, I do honestly believe that I'm making the world better one beautiful loaf of bread at a time and I'm okay with that. And if I'm okay with it, then hopefully other people will be good with it too. 

[For the Pay It Forward Program] I ask people if you want to buy a loaf of bread for yourself, I position it as you can buy a cheaper loaf for yourself and buy a cheaper loaf for someone else, and I will donate all of those [loaves]. If you just bought a loaf, you could go give it to someone. But when I go donate 60 loaves from 60 different people that all want to make a difference, then all of a sudden we're feeding 150 people with those loaves. One straw breaks the camel's back because there's a million straws underneath it. Right. You do need a certain amount of critical mass to try to make a bigger change. 

Z, spraying his loaves before they go in the oven.

Grace: I was watching your ABC7 feature, and you said something that really made me feel something. You said, ‘I've never seen a black baker in my entire life. There's certain things you don't equate with blackness.’ Now that you have had such success with your business and you're growing and becoming more well known as a black baker, how does it make you feel setting an example for young black kids? Or what would you say to a young person who's an aspiring baker who doesn't really feel like they fit that box?

Z: Well, I mean yeah, that's the thing I think is I feel like representation really does matter. If you truly want to be something you can stand up and take it on the chin and just keep fighting to be it, right? But there is something to be said of, I've never seen anyone enjoy or be a part of, or even could see myself doing it because I've never seen anyone, anything like me that's a part of it. A lot of times I'm the only black person in the room, I walk through life knowing that when I show up at a party, I might be the only one. Right? And I'm okay with that. But it doesn't particularly feel like at all the times I feel a part of, or seen. I feel like I fall into a stereotype, or people want to know me, but they don't really wanna know all of me. And so you code switch and you switch yourself around and you try to figure out who you are in this other world that's not really maybe as accepting as you would hope it would be. And I feel like just knowing that there's someone out there who's found happiness doing something that you didn't even really know or equated with blackness, just opens up one more thing that maybe you could find happiness in. 

Grace: Out of all of the loaves that you make, which is your favorite and how do you eat it?

Z: Oh, man. That’s like asking me which one of my children is my favorite.

Grace: Okay, you can give me three.

Z: Okay. So, um, the best grilled cheese sandwich that I've ever had is on the Jalapeño Bacon Cheddar loaf. It's smoky — I'm gonna get all foodie on you here — it's smoky because of the jalapeños and the bacon, the char on the jalapeños is nice. It's got a little bit of heat. It's decadent because it's cheese and bacon and all of these things. And then you take that loaf and you crisp it up and then you put dope cheese inside of it, and it's like, it's like a whole food-gasm.

Grilled cheese on Jalapeño Bacon Cheddar

Grace: Have you seen the movie, Chef? With Jon Favreau?

Z: Yeah a long time ago, not lately.

Grace: You know that scene where he makes his son a grilled cheese?

Z: Oh yes!

Grace: And that like crispy crust and then he does that flip on the griddle. I was visualizing that as you were describing your grilled cheese.

Z: Yes, so good. All that and a bag of cheese. So someone just told me that they made one with the K-Pop loaf. That was a kimchi grilled cheese sandwich on the K-Pop loaf. And I was like, oh, I gotta try that one. Another person told me that they made, with the jalapeño bacon cheddar loaf, they made a grilled PB&J with peach habanero jam. Ooh!

Grace: That sounds like the most interesting sweet, savory, combo.

Z: So see now you got some things to do. Then one of my other favorite things of all time to make is I take the Ube loaf, is I take a thick slice and put a good amount of butter in a cast iron skillet. Then I make pan toast, like you are making a grilled cheese, only on one side. Super crispy. Then drizzle condensed milk over it and sprinkle coconut flakes on it.

Ube Sourdough loaf, fresh out the oven

Z: Let’s see, number three would be the Everything Pan Loaf. It's got onions and garlic and Sesame seeds and just all of the stuff I love. I love everything bagels [...] except the bottom half doesn't have any everything [seasoning] on it, the top half has everything on it. And as soon as you take a bite, half of the everything [seasoning] falls off. So I thought, you know, why don't I just quadruple the amount of everything and just put it in the crumb so it actually tastes like everything bagel every time you take a bite. [...] I just made a pan loaf that is just like, you know, two and a half pounds of just like awesome everything. 

Everything "Big City" Pan Loaf

Special thanks to Z for letting me pick his baker brain and taking the time to chat with me. You can find all of his most popular sourdough loaves — like the K-Pop and Ube — on Locale. And you can go to to check out his entire menu. Show Z some love on Instagram, too, for drool-worthy pics of his loaves and newest creations, as well as his charming and personal stories.

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