Before he founded his own bread-making business last year, 10-year-old Ian Wollschlager had had a few other entrepreneurial ideas.
One involved creating an indoor go-kart racing track, for which he created his own plans.
“He’s really good at art, so he drew the whole schematic,” said his mother, Lotus Wollschlager. But his father, David Wollschlager, thought maybe the idea was a little too big.
“We had to encourage him to step back and take baby steps,” he said. As a result, “he came up with the idea of bread. Everybody needs bread.”
It helped that Ian loved baking. He’s been helping out in the kitchen as long as he can remember—“since he could stand,” according to his father. Using a bread machine first and then graduating to baking in an oven, Ian came up with his own banana bread and then a pumpkin bread.
“The banana bread recipe we got from a Betty Crocker cookbook from 1987 and we tweaked it a little,” he said, and he did the same with a pumpkin bread recipe he found on the Internet. He started selling a few loaves now and then, mostly by word of mouth at his church, Faith Chapel, and among friends and other home-school families.
He and his little brother Kaden, 8, are home-schooled by their mother. When he came up with the bread-making idea, his parents decided to break the process into parts and incorporate them into their studies.
Ian named his company BBL Bread—“for Billings, Lockwood and Laurel because that’s where I originally wanted to sell my bread”—and came up with the slogan, “Come break bread with us.”
A big step came a couple of months ago, when Ian and his family, who live near Billings West High School, attended a private birthday party at Harper and Madison, a café and bakery at 3115 10th Ave. N. Ian struck up a conversation with the owner, Joanie Swords, and ended up taking a tour of her big kitchen.
“He was interested in seeing my oven and how much that cost, and my mixer and how much that cost, and my walk-in cooler and how much that cost,” Swords said. “And he was adding it all up in his head.”
Before the evening was over, Swords had ordered 12 loaves of banana bread to use for her Saturday morning French toast special. The place was packed that Saturday.
“I think half his church came that day because he had been doing some marketing,” Swords said.
Ian was there, too, keeping an eye on the plates of food coming out of the kitchen. If he saw French toast, he went to the appropriate table to introduce himself and tell the diners more about his bread. Swords subsequently ordered 12 loaves of the pumpkin bread for another French toast special.
It was on that visit that Ian pulled Swords aside and told her he had some ideas for how better to handle the long line that often forms when people are trying to place orders at the front counter during the breakfast rush. He also spent more time in the kitchen, watching how everything was done.
“My staff loves him because he was just right there asking questions,” Swords said.
“When Ian got his first check from Joanie, he said, ‘Dad, we need a new oven,’” David Wollschlager said. And once again, David had to counsel his son to be more patient.
This week, Ian brought in to Harper and Madison a new loaf of bread that he and Swords came up with in honor of the holidays—cranberry-orange bread. Swords placed an order for 12 loaves, which will be served as French toast a week from Saturday, Nov. 21.
Ian gave Swords a few suggestions on presentation, saying it might look best if served with an orange slice on the side and one cranberry atop a dollop of whipped cream.
“He’s an entrepreneur at heart,” his mother said.
Ian has also been getting some advice from another food entrepreneur, a friend of his parents—Keith Lauver, the founder of Cooksimple in Red Lodge. Lauver has taken Ian under his wing and is helping him with business decisions on things like pricing and packaging.
But Ian is interested in more than making money. In 2013, he spent two days working a lemonade stand in front of the old Log Cabin Bakery on Montana Avenue, whose owner was also a friend of his parents. Ian raised just under $100 and gave it all to his favorite charity, Habitat for Humanity.
He has been tithing with his BLL Bread earnings, splitting 10 percent of his revenues between his church and Habitat for Humanity.
Asked if he was setting any money aside for himself, Ian said, “not really,” but then shot a quick look at his father and said, “but I’m saving up for a dune buggy.”