Easy Tiger started out in a small space on Sixth Street. You know the one — the rocky, vine-covered historic building, with the patio overlooking Waller Creek.
Fast forward a decade, and the bakery + beer garden has three locations and sells its bread in H-E-B. It’s been a long journey, said the bakery’s head doughpuncher David Norman, but a worthwhile one.
Easy Tiger is celebrating 10 years of feeding the Austin community this year, so we spoke with Norman at his North Austin bakery to learn how the business has changed.
This piece is part of our ATXtoday Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.
How are you feeling about celebrating 10 years?
It’s pretty monumental. It’s pretty amazing. It started out, you know, it’s just an idea for a bakery, and then an idea for a beer garden was kind of also in the works.
When those two ideas all of a sudden came together, there were so many synergies, so many things that were similar. The beer and bread are the same process.
And even the name, Easy Tiger, comes with the tagline ‘Slow down, Stay a while.’ That’s an important part of it, that was from the beer garden concept. But it also describes the way we bake — it takes time to make what we make.
Are there any major developments in Easy Tiger’s history that you think have helped propel it to where it is right now?
The impact of the pandemic was huge. We actually are so grateful …. We had to pivot in many, many ways. But we came through it even stronger. You know, we opened new locations during the pandemic.
[At first], 80% of our business was wholesale to other restaurants, and that business [fizzled] out.
We had been selling to Whole Foods Market since nearly the beginning, we’ve been partners with them for a long time. But H-E-B needed local bakeries to be able to deliver directly to their stores, because their own bakeries needed to be doing other things. You know, the stress on those stores was tremendous. So, they were looking at us as a partner.
We were in about 37 stores in the beginning … it really helped us. But it also was a partnership that was really helping H-E-B.
Over the course of the pandemic, when things started to relax a little bit and they were able to start baking in their stores again, the mandate of the program was dropped, so they didn’t have to buy our bread. But we’re now in almost 40 stores. We’ve actually expanded that partnership because it’s been successful, because it works for both parties.
What was your background before joining Easy Tiger?
I’ve been baking probably about 35, 36 years now. I spent some time in Europe in high school, I was in Sweden, and then studied German at the University of Florida and went to Munich for a year.
I got back and I really missed good bread. So, just as a hobby I started baking in my apartment. Then after college, I found a job in a small local bakery. I turned a hobby into a job, and I just really liked it.
It was satisfying a lot of things for me, making things. I kind of wanted to be a painter and artist, but nobody was paying me to paint pictures. They were paying me to make tart shells and breads, but it satisfied a lot of that same maker instinct in me.
Are there any moments in the last 10 years that were particularly fun?
We used to be part of South by Southwest, we were a venue sometimes … A lot of fun people came through there.
I remember one year — we mostly had smaller bands that weren’t super well-known because we were a small venue — they said, ‘there’s one band that’s coming on Sunday night that’s kind of up-and-coming right now. They have an album coming out soon.’
And the minute they started playing, you could tell it was different, there were more people there. It turned out it was Alabama Shakes, before their first album came out.
When you eat at Easy Tiger, what are your favorite things to order?
I’m definitely a lager person. Pilsners and lagers are my beer style. Pearl snap is one of my go-tos. And then St. Elmo’s, we’ve done collaborations with them. They actually made a beer called Norman — once we baked rye bread, and then they put that in the mash, and it’s great beer.
I love the sausages, our bratwurst … But also, we’re doing some great new spring and summer things that are lighter, like a really nice asparagus and salad with really bright crunchy snow peas.
When you’re not eating at Easy Tiger, where do you like to eat in Austin?
I don’t eat out a whole lot, I want to eat out more than I do. It’s so fun to go to Matt’s El Rancho, because of the whole atmosphere. Every time I get to eat at Franklin’s, I love that. I’ve heard really good things about Birdie’s, but I haven’t been there yet.
What are you proudest of, in the last decade of work with Easy Tiger?
Well, certainly Community Bread, [which] we started during the pandemic.
When things were first happening, we had to call people and tell them we didn’t have a job for them, because we shut down. And then we said, ‘but our mission is to keep bread on Austin’s tables, and keep Austin fed in any way we can, by opening as much as we can, finding new partners for our bread, giving back to the community, helping those in need.’
Editor’s note: Easy Tiger’s Community Bread initiative involves the bakery delivering fresh loaves of bread to local food banks. By Labor Day last year, the effort had delivered 100,000 loaves.
I’m just really proud of the way that we responded to that. And really, we’re here for Austin and Austin was here for us.