Bakery Photos Courtesy of Ben Weisbeck
Family Photo Courtesy of In Time Photography
As a child, Jessica (Neigum) Dargis grew up with the smell of freshly purchased Bread Poets bakery bread in her home. As an adult, Jessica moved away from home to the Twin Cities where she met her husband, Peter Dargis. The two married and returned to Bismarck, and Jessica was quick to introduce Peter to the fresh deliciousness of Bread Poets.
Peter and Jessica Dargis now have a family of their own who they’re sharing the joy of Bread Poets with. However, they’ve moved a step past the average Bread Poets-loving family and purchased the Bread Poets business. I sat down with Peter and Jessica Dargis to discuss taking over Bread Poets’ reins, what they’ve improved upon, their shot at work-life balance, and more!
The Beginning of Bread Poets
The origins of Bread Poets began when Jon Lee, founder of Bread Poets, made a conscious decision to try and get back to Bismarck, ND after work had taken him away. “I simply wanted to do something fulfilling in a place that I truly love! I chose to locate this business in Bismarck-Mandan because it’s my hometown. I can’t think of anything more exciting than sharing the best bread in the world with the community I grew up in!” Juanita, a native of Flasher, ND, joined her husband and the bakery staff full-time in January 2000, followed by their three children: Jayce, Jessa, and Jamison, who all spent time working at the bakery.
Together the Lee family ran Bread Poets for 24 years until they sold the business and passed on the legacy of Bread Poets to the Dargis family.
In July of 2022, Peter and Jessica Dargis purchased Bread Poets Baking Company from Jon Lee and the Lee family to continue the legacy and tradition of great breadmaking. After getting married in 2017, Peter and Jessica moved from Minneapolis, MN back to Bismarck. Jessica herself was born and raised in Bismarck, went to Century High School, then attended Bismarck State College (BSC) before completing her college degree at the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks. Jessica grew up eating Bread Poets and introduced Peter to Bread Poets’ bread and it became the only bread eaten in the Dargis household. Peter and Jessica have two daughters, Belle and Hope, who both love being taste testers for the delicious treats that are made at the bakery! Jessica has a background and works in accounting, while Peter worked in various IT roles for medical software companies, including a stint at St. Alexius Hospital in Bismarck before making the career change to owning and operating Bread Poets.
• Bread Poets Website
Meet the Dargis family!
Prior to the couple’s purchase of Bread Poets, Peter Dargis had been working remotely in the field of medical software installation with his mobile workload increasing since the spread of COVID-19. With everything being done from his own home, and interactions primarily being through video calls, Peter felt disconnected from the community that he was eager to reconnect with.
“I’ve always preferred in-person work and moving around using my hands. The idea of owning a local business has always been something I’ve wanted to do. It was a fantasy and seemed like a dream for a while, but last year, I got to a point where I had to do something and couldn’t just wait around for the perfect moment. I needed to be more proactive, so I reached out to a business broker and talked to him about something local in the food service industry. He connected us with Jon Lee, the original owner of Bread Poets,” Peter said.
Did You Know?
Bread Poets employs eight people at the time of writing.
One year into ownership, and being much more settled into the business, the Dargis’ bread ambitions are in full swing. Peter faces a new normal every day, with different challenges coming each shift. Peter is up around 4:30 every morning to begin the product’s creation, while Jessica gets their daughters ready for their day and then heads into her office where she is a Chief Financial Officer at a local nonprofit.
“As an owner-operator, I’m here on a daily basis, working alongside my employees. When we bought the business, I had to start going through the processes and learning more than just the ownership side of it. I learned every production duty so that I can jump in and do any of the jobs or whatever is needed at a moment’s notice,” Peter said.
“I also do the invoicing, deliver to grocery stores, and create dough and delivery plans for the following day. That’s where we figure out how much of each kind of bread we’re going to make and deliver. I also try to get on the registers and be upfront a little bit each day. Getting to help out and interact with the customers is one of the most fun parts for me. We have a lot of regulars that come in often, so it’s great to get to know some of them and what their favorites are.”
While the business takes a certain amount of priority in the family’s schedule, according to Jessica, they still always make sure to put their daughters first.
“My late-night work counteracts his early mornings to make sure that we’re balancing the business. He goes to bed early, while I stay up late to wrap up other aspects of the business,” Jessica said.
Did You Know?
Their variety of bread and other products often depends on the day, as only so many products can be made in one day! Stay updated with the latest at breadpoets.com/bread-calendar/
Hot, Fresh Bread!
“Bread Poets only sells the freshest bread. All breads are sold at the bakery within 30 hours of being pulled from the oven so you are guaranteed a fresh loaf every time! We do not sell ‘day-old’ breads. All breads left after 30 hours are donated to local homeless shelters.”
As mentioned, Bread Poets was taken over from Jon Lee, rather than being developed from the ground up by Peter and Jessica. While it can be intimidating to take over a beloved business with high standards and expectations, the Dargis’ felt they were in the safe hands of those they were surrounded by.
“Building the Bread Poets team from the ground up would have been a nightmare, to be honest. We have a handful of experienced employees who have been here for five years or more and have been extremely helpful in making this transition of ownership a success. It’s been great for us to have them to ask questions to and lean on in a sense. We couldn’t have done it without them, and it would have been much more difficult if we had to start from scratch,” Peter said.
While Peter and Jessica have received immense support from those in Bread Poets’ orbit to ensure the business’s success, that’s not to say that they haven’t faced obstacles in the transfer of ownership to an already-successful business. Now finally able to settle into their ownership roles with a sense of confidence, the owners are able to reflect on their journey and look forward to new and exciting opportunities within Bread Poets.
“Getting through the transfer of ownership was a huge accomplishment for us. This is a local, familyowned, small business, and it can be a difficult thing to keep that high-level standard the same, but I think that we’ve done that successfully. I think the response from the community has been strong so far, as we still have our repeat customers and regulars supporting Bread Poets. Change can be scary, but we’ve been able to successfully keep it going and have our own ideas along the way, such as our Caramel Bites that we released,” Peter said.
“Our Caramel Bites were a recipe that I grew up on, ever since I was young, and we knew that it’d be great to include at Bread Poets. My mother is a big part of why we moved back to Bismarck, so we wanted to include one of her recipes that people would love. We kept the majority of the products the same as when [Jon] started the business, but it’s a great feeling to come up with new products and find success in those as well. It feels great to tell people that the business is continuing to grow after 24 years,” Jessica said.
Now having Bread Poets in a secure position and continuing to search for greater financial successes, the Dargis’ are keeping their business goals focused and oriented for 2023, including an exciting remodeling project.
Did You Know?
Bread Poets kneads every loaf by hand, rather than having machines carry out the process. With that in mind, there’s a (sanitized) human hand caring for every loaf sold by Bread Poets!
“We’re working on a little remodel project for the interior of the business that we’re super excited to show. We want to keep building a relationship with the community and develop our community outreach even further. We do a lot of community things individually but want to do more as a staple business in Bismarck,” Jessica said.
“I have numerous other products and types of ideas and it’s just finding the time to implement them. My first year was just learning what it means to run a business and do it successfully. Regarding that community involvement, we donate a lot of bread to different organizations and people and will continue to do so,” Peter said.
Behind the scenes of Bread Poets’ operations, Peter and Jessica are both busy in their respective roles. Peter is running the “day-to-day” operations, being up early and managing all aspects of their operations daily, while Jessica is handling more of the backend operations that often include crunching numbers late at night. Outside of Jessica’s handling of the backend operations, she also goes the extra mile in community involvement.
Did You Know?
To keep the “family feel,” Bread Poets is closed on weekends to spend time with family away from work!
“I’m on a couple of different boards and organizations in Bismarck, as well as greater North Dakota, representing local, small business owners. I’m on the Dakota Children’s Advocacy Center board. I was elected by the governor to be on the North Dakota Early Childhood council, which represents the whole state,” Jessica said.
“Our oldest daughter has disabilities, so we do a lot of things to give back to community organizations that help individuals with disabilities. We’re always wanting to help people in any way that we can, and using Bread Poets as a platform gives us an opportunity to continue to do that.”
“We’re baking bread, connecting with the community, and making products for people, so it felt like it was the perfect fit right away. When you truly believe in the business and its products, it really motivates you to do the best you can. It’s been almost a year since this whole crazy adventure started.”-Peter Dargis
While the Dargis’ are still on their path to success and discovering further opportunities for the business, they’ve certainly picked up a few pieces of beneficial advice over the last year. While some of the advice applies directly to entrepreneurial hopefuls aiming to take over a business rather than start from scratch, much of this advice can be consumed universally.
We all win if people are going to shop locally, but we set ourselves apart from standard, store-bought bread as being freshly baked, homemade-style bread without preservatives. You can just tell the difference in quality when you’re eating something fresh.”-Peter Dargis
“I don’t think people consider taking over an existing business as much as starting their own, but there are a lot of baby boomers looking to retire, and our generation needs to start taking ownership and being community leaders. You just have to jump into it. It’s scary to take that risk, but you have to want it,” Peter said.
“When you’re leaving financial stability and a reliable career, it can be pretty nervewracking, but it definitely helps if you have the motivation behind it. One of the main reasons that we moved back to Bismarck was that [Jessica’s] father passed away. That made us think about the legacy that we’re going to leave with our girls. Owning a business gives you more of an opportunity at a personal level to leave a family legacy, as well as have an impact on a community close to you.”
Many people either don’t know that our bread is sold at grocery stores, or they don’t know about our physical storefront with sandwiches and more. A lot of people don’t know about the unique twist that we put on sandwiches that people love. We have the bakery here and these amazing, unique sandwiches that people really love and that we wish more people knew about.”-Peter Dargis
Sandwiches for Sale!
Did you know that Bread Poets offers popular sandwiches including The Shakespeare, The Poe, The Dickinson, and The Frost!
“Find your community and people who will support you. The Bismarck-Mandan community has almost become our tribe in a sense, as they’ve been super supportive of us along the way. Even when we first bought it, everybody wanted to know if we were going to be open on weekends now. We weren’t going to change that, as we wanted to keep that family feel. Since we’ve taken over, our customers have always shown up for us. Making sure that you have that support system in your community is really what helps you going forward,” Jessica said.
“I think diving into social media and getting your name out in the community will help any business owner. I think that the Bismarck-Mandan area, and North Dakota as a whole, prefer to support local businesses and shop locally. I think that the pandemic pushed people to shop from big box stores, but it always makes me feel so happy to hear that people are shopping more locally.”
“Getting to help out and interact with the customers is one of the most fun parts for me. We have a lot of regulars that come in often, so it’s great to get to know some of them and what their favorites are.”-Peter Dargis
Did You Know?
Bread Poets offers catering services for large gatherings! Although many are unaware they offer catering services upon request, Bread Poets recently catered a 200-person event!
While the Dargis family and Bread Poets have small projects underway and remain focused on the quality of Bread Poets’ products, Peter and Jessica are focused on creating a lasting legacy not only for their family but also for the Bis-Man community. Supporting Bread Poets not only means supporting a small business but also supporting the local economy. Stay up to date with the latest from Bread Poets via their website and social media, visit their storefront, or shop for Bread Poets at your local grocery store!
Support Bread Poets
Monday – Friday: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday: Closed
106 E Thayer Ave Bismarck, ND 58501