Everyone wants a memorable college experience, and that’s become increasingly true as the coronavirus pandemic has slowly taken away the previous lives that we now refer to as “normal.”
One group of charming Penn State fifth-year students is going above and beyond to do just that. Their final year in Happy Valley has so far been highlighted by baking bread, donuts, pizzas, and other pastries for a loyal, growing Instagram audience.
Will, Matt, Jared, and Keith live together in a house downtown that they call the “Yeast Factory,” which they have now turned into the HQ for their bread-baking business.
Although they all enjoyed baking bread prior to living together, they decided to start making and delivering goods for their friends once quarantine hit.
“We wanted to be connecting with our friends still, but we couldn’t just have a bunch of people over,” said Jared, a mechanical engineering major. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we bake bread for other people — it’s so cheap to bake bread — and just take it to our friends and get to connect with them?’”
What started as a way to still see others while socially distancing quickly turned into something more. A few of the roommates really started to get into baking over quarantine, and the “Yeast Factory” name and Instagram account soon followed naturally.
Turning a small hobby into a fun, flourishing business really was the result of the snowball effect.
“We first came up with this name “Yeast Factory” just because our friends thought it was ridiculous,” said Matt, an accounting and cybersecurity major. “And it escalated to, ‘Well, let’s make a logo for it,’ so we got one of our friends who’s good with Photoshop involved, and he made a logo for us. And then we got another friend to make us business cards, and one of our girlfriends made a donut video.”
One thing led to another, and soon they had a hilarious yet very professional-looking brand on their hands. Getting their friends with various skills and talents involved has been a fun part of the whole journey for them, and they want to see how big and how ridiculous the brand can get.
The collective effort of the factory boys and their friends has created impressive results, too. The logo, videos, and product photoshoots all look pretty professional.
The hard work to create their page has paid off. Originally their friends were just asking them to make bread, but they eventually started getting DMs and requests from people they didn’t know at all. They even joked that they have an international following after a Canadian Instagram user commented on one of their posts.
This humor is actually a big part of their page, which they try their best to not take very seriously. Their personalities shine through on the page in an almost satiric way, which has helped contribute to its organic growth through word-of-mouth.
They jokingly reply to most comments as if its they’re customer service requests, liberally use puns in captions, and take over-the-top photos of the crew on boats, in the wilderness, and especially in front of their prized company car, a 1992 Chrysler.
“We didn’t really start with a business-oriented mindset,” Jared explained. “Our goal always was, and still is, to have fun together. That’s a lot of what you see on our Instagram page, just us goofing around as friends and having fun with it.”
“It’s been fun to kinda like create a brand,” Matt added. “It’s kinda just an extension of our personalities.”
Although the page was started with the intention of selling goods, they’ve actually been very successful. They block out a couple of days per week to set up shop and start baking, photographing, and making deliveries. They said just one Instagram story resulted in them selling all the donuts they made in one day, which was around 130.
They’ll also occasionally post select items on their Instagram story that anyone can buy on a first-come-first-serve basis. They say this is especially fun because it helps build the hype around the brand, connects them with random people, and creates novelty for their items.
A recent development in their endeavors has been the creation of a rival cooking page called “cooksofthenook.” This new page, which was created by people they know, has sparked a bit of friendly competition. The pages now comment smack talk on each other’s pictures, trying to claim the title of best student-chef group in State College.
“So here’s the thing: it’s kinda cool because now people have taken the thing and the ide that we have done, and they’re trying to do the same thing,” they explained smugly. “They should have fun with it, but we’re the original.”
“Our motto here at the Yeast Factory is that we’re better, and we’re not gonna apologize for it,” Matt said, followed by a roar of laughter.
The Yeast Factory takes orders through its Instagram DMs, and it tries to get to as many as possible without infringing on class time. The guys ended our interview by slicing into the huge loaf of bread they had sitting out on the table, which truly looked delicious.