(The Protein Bakery introduced cakes and a line of shakes last year. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic)
BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Fifteen thousand of anything is a lot, but how about 15,000 pieces of baked goods a week? Not bad for a business that was started 19 years ago as the brainchild of Stephen Charles Lincoln, the fitness instructor behind the Protein Bakery.
The Protein Bakery was forged from an idea of balance. Lincoln, originally from California, came to New York in 1996 to be an actor on Broadway and to teach group fitness, he told us at his store earlier this month.
“I had lost 82 pounds to become a fitness instructor, but still had a sweet tooth,” he recalled. “So I was always looking for things that were more balanced or would satisfy my sweet tooth, and not be so indulgent that it was, you know, sabotaging the progress that I had made.”
By 1998, Lincoln was toying around with cookies, blondies and brownies, and then bringing samples to his classes for his students to try. They loved them.
“They were always joking, ‘You’re making us, you know, eat cookies and then take your class,’ ” he recalled.
While testing out the recipes, Lincoln and a former partner were able to bake in the apartment — but it is illegal to sell baked goods you make at home. He found a commercial kitchen, and the business was established in 1999.
When the bakery first launched, it did not have a brick and mortar store, but it did have clients, starting with the cafe at the Chelsea Piers Sports Center, then Henri Bendel on Fifth Ave., and the cafe at Equinox on 19th St., he said.
“Elle magazine wrote about us within three months of coming to market, and then Colette in Paris found us and had us shipping to France,” he recalled. “It just kind of spiraled out from there.”
In around 2000, the Protein Bakery moved to the third floor at 20 W. 20th St. (btw. Fifth & Sixth Aves.). Over time, it outgrew that space.
“We were spilling into the hallway, we were in the way of other tenants, and that’s when we took over the ninth floor space,” he said. But since the bakery was on an upper floor, it was hidden from the public.
(The Protein Bakery will celebrate 20 years in 2019. Founder and fitness instructor Stephen Charles Lincoln said, “Back in the day, if business wasn’t great, I would run out and teach four classes so we could pay our bills.” | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic)
Since moving to New York, Lincoln has mostly lived in Chelsea, and now resides on Eighth Ave.
“I like my little neighborhood,” he said. “I’m very Chelsea positive. I was a, you know, Chelsea boy in late ’90s, early 2000s, and been a Chelsea daddy now, I think, for the past decade. I love the culture of it. I don’t think it’s over.”
He would walk by where his current store is now located (144 W. 19th St., btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.), and knew the previous tenant. When the street-level space opened up, Lincoln took it and the store has been there for about a year and a half.
“So opening a store was never a priority, but it was always kind of back in of my head dream because it gives a culture to the brand and that’s really what the Protein Bakery is about — it’s bigger than a cookie or a brownie or a cake or a shake, it’s more about a way of living,” he said.
Having the bakery at street level has increased traffic, he said, bringing in new customers as well as those who are already familiar with the products (sold all over the city, including at Just Salad and Murray’s Bagels).
“People know us from our press, and to walk by and go ‘Oh my god, I didn’t know you had a store,’ ” he said.
Lincoln started out with a blondie, a brownie and a peanut butter cookie, with an oatmeal cookie following soon after. The line has since expanded to include cakes, shakes, and gift sets.
The baked treats are singular for many reasons, including using whey protein as one of its ingredients.
“We did choose whey protein concentrate ’cause it is the most easily absorbed by your body,” he said. “Body builders prefer it. It fills you up faster.”
(The bakery’s gift sets are an alternative to other lines, which are made with white sugar or flour. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic)
The baked goods are all natural and kosher, with no wheat and no gluten — although they are not certified gluten-free due to the fact they are made in a facility that bakes other items, Lincoln explained.
“Everything we do is baked by hand every week,” he said. “So we’re fresh bake, which completely knocks out any packaged protein bar that lasts on a shelf for a year or six months.”
The emphasis on freshness and being nutritionally enhanced has worked: Protein Bakery has been featured in numerous publications and on TV shows, and has earned the endorsement of the one and only Oprah.
“Being endorsed by Oprah is, you know, it’s a game changer,” said Lincoln, noting that while he has never meet her in person, he has seen every episode of her show.
Lincoln attributed his business’ longevity to a due diligence in keeping the product consistent.
“The one thing about the bakery that I’ve always stood by: I run a very honest business with a very honest product,” he said. “I wanted it to be a fun culture that celebrates balanced eating, nutrition and education in a cookie.”
(Made with whey protein concentrate, the bakery’s brownies and blondies are nutritionally enhanced and baked fresh. | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic)
Lincoln said he loves having the store — meeting people face to face and talking about the product — and that he was “purely crushed” when a three-alarm fire broke out on the top floor of the bakery’s building last Christmas.
He was going to see a movie in Midtown when a friend texted him something was going on at the building, he said, and so he went to the store to check on it.
“I looked closer and it was raining,” he said. “It was like pouring rain in the shop.”
Water that firefighters had used to put out the fire on the building’s upper level had drained down and through the store, he explained.
While the inventory in the back was saved, the front of the store was drenched. Lincoln, his employee, and others cleaned up the store. By Dec. 27, it was back open, he said.
“In a day and age where everyone is bitching about how there are no more small businesses, there is no creativity, everything in New York City is a bank or a chain or a Gap,” he said, “we are really going against the grain.”
Lincoln added, “Come support businesses like this. It’s a $4 brownie, it’s not a $50,000 handbag. And this is something to celebrate, countering all the complaining.”
The Protein Bakery is located at 144 W. 19th St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.). Hours: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sat., 12 p.m.-5 p.m. If their weekly hours don’t work with yours, you can simply book an appointment. Just email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-206-7796 to schedule a visit (24 hours notice Mon. through Fri. is appreciated). The toll-free number is 888-459-6652. Visit them at online at proteinbakery.com or on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
(Everyorder is packed by hand, Lincoln said, adding, "If something's not good, it doesn't go into the box." | Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic)
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144 W 19th Street • New York, NY 10011
© 2018 The Protein Bakery.