“My stepdad brought me to my first musical theatre audition for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in sixth grade” remembered Max Kumangai (he/him/his). “He forced me into the room and the bug hit me in the audition.” From there, Max ended up dabbling in musical theatre and more shows, went to a musical theatre camp every summer in high school in Montana, and ended up going to college initially wanting to be a choir teacher. He played the role of Richie in A Chorus Line. The character is a kindergarten teacher, and Max quickly realized that he did not want to be a choir teacher, but wanted to be a professional actor. You may recognize Max from the Original Broadway Casts of Waitress and Jagged Little Pill. “I always knew theatre was what I needed to do. But this pandemic has led me to believe that I’m capable of doing so many other things.”
“I actually tried making a sourdough starter at the beginning of the quarantine and I failed… It died. It was so crusty. So I didn’t do it for a couple of months.” Soon the social justice protests of Summer 2020 began, and Max recalled it feeling dangerous to be outside. He told himself that “I’m going to work on something that will feed me emotionally and give me some hope. Hope in a physical form. So I tried the starter again and got obsessed with making bread. Eventually, my boyfriend gave me the push I needed to follow what I love and turn this hobby into a business.”
And so Humpday Dough was born. Humpday Dough is Max’s home bakery where he delivers fresh, organic sourdough bread to your doorstep. He also makes other products such as Humpday Pancakes and Humpday Crackers, ensuring there is no waste of any food products. Currently, Max delivers Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (for subscribers) all over Manhattan. Because of the pandemic, Max realized he wasn’t connecting with people anymore. “I am not the best texter and I’m not always the one to call you, but I do love person-to-person contact.” And so, the business has been a great way for Max to get some socially distanced face time with friends and customers as he delivers them their bread.
“The sourdough bread culture is very transparent and prides themselves on how simple the ingredients are. Flour, salt, and water.” And so, in line with that culture, transparency of ingredients is very important to Humpday Dough. “People have two main issues when buying bread: they’re afraid of carbs or they’re worried about the preservatives added to the product by commercial companies. The natural fermentation process in sourdough and the lack of commercial yeast breaks down all the stuff that’s bad for you, elevates the good things, and actually makes bread healthy for you! Sourdough has been around for centuries for a reason.”
What is Max’s process like? It’s about a 48-hour turnaround and he is baking six loaves per delivery day. His refrigerator is full of dough by the end of the night on Tuesday. With sourdough baking, you have something called a starter and you “feed it” once or twice a day. Typically, you have to discard more than half of it, but the discard is all good ingredients for other foods. “I don’t waste anything, which has been my goal of quarantine. You can make crumb cakes or crackers or waffles or banana bread with it. It’s just flour and water.” The hard part is that there are so many variables and moments with prepping and mixing and shaping the dough that the entire batch could get messed up. Temperature is the most important “ingredient”. If it’s too warm, the bread will rise too quickly and then you’re baking in the middle of the night. “I’m always learning with every loaf and every batch of bread.”
Other challenges Max faced were in getting the business set up. “The push to make Humpday Dough official was a huge hurdle to jump over. Making a website, getting my kitchen certified, and marketing the business all came with steep learning curves. But I couldn’t have done any of it by myself.” Max collaborated with his good friend, Alex Mandell, who is also an actor, to design the Humpday Dough logo. Beyond that, figuring out the right amount of social media content and posting has also been a challenge, but he feels fortunate to have another friend, Gina Rattan, a former classmate at the University of Michigan and Broadway director who wanted to collaborate and take over some of the social media responsibilities. “It really has taken a village to help me get to the point I’m at right now. I am grateful.”
What’s next for Humpday Dough? Max is working on expanding his sourdough repertoire and finding ways to bring Humpday Dough to zip codes outside of Manhattan. He is also investigating ways to give back to the community and donate bread to local food pantries. He recently announced Focaccia February to coincide with the launch of his new Humpday Focaccia. Though, Max hasn’t forgotten his Waitress days. “I kind of want to do pie. But that’s a whole other ballpark. Maybe in a couple months from now when fruit is in season.”
What’s been on Max’s mind the past several months? “Racial identity has been on my mind. I am half Black and half Palauan, and I have been on a lifelong journey in figuring out my personal racial identity. But the combination of being in Jagged Little Pill, which deals so much with identity, and my participation in the Black Lives Matter movement, has ignited a need to delve even deeper.” And of course, the business has been top-of-mind as well. “I really just wanted to find something during this pandemic that made me happy where I didn’t have to depend on other people’s approval. I’ve been trying to get back to that feeling when you’re a little kid and you explore things just because you’re curious. I’m not really missing theater right now and the pandemic has been a nice opportunity to let those skills rest. It kinda feels like bulk fermentation with baking. You mix the dough and let it rest for ten hours. You don’t do anything, and in that process the dough builds character and flavor. Let the dough do its work and don’t touch it. I’m trying to allow myself to be okay with how I feel in the moment and not pressure myself keep up with other people.
What else has Max been up to? “My boyfriend and I have been singing together a few nights a week. It’s been my favorite thing. We have a glass or two of wine and belt our butts off (sorry landlords). That has really kept the musical theatre glimmer in our eyes. It’s kept us going.”