“This is my fourth oven,” says Derek Bracho, the owner and bread baker behind Focaccia Boi, one of Orange County’s hottest underground spots. Standing in the kitchen of his Anaheim home, where he’s run the Instagram pop-up for the past four years, it’s easy to see why Bracho is averaging one new oven every year. Bread has completely taken over his personal, culinary workspace. There isn’t room for a team; there’s barely enough room for Bracho as he preps for a Wednesday night pizza pickup. “It’s just me,” he says, moving quickly.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. For years, Bracho, who is self-taught, dreamed of opening a cafe of sorts, with wine, cider, coffee, and a bakery. “It would serve as a welcoming space in the community,” he says — the kind of place where anyone could come in, hang out, and find something on the menu to enjoy. The fully permitted Focaccia Boi home bread bakery was supposed to serve as a stepping stone, but the pandemic forced Bracho to jump in with both feet.
Bracho started with online bread deliveries in 2019, making around eight sourdough loaves a day. In his spare time, he began to experiment with focaccia and found that he loved the shape and texture. Then came the pandemic, and his online bread business burst wide open. Suddenly, people were glued to their screens and obsessed with bread. Bracho’s focaccia was springy, photogenic, and appealing, and it came in multiple variations. There’s Grocery Store — Bracho’s take on the jalapeño cheddar bread that every major supermarkets offer — rosemary garlic, and za’atar, his personal favorite. Within months, he was making deliveries down to Dana Point and up to southwest LA, chatting with customers at drop-offs. Those conversations proved to be a watershed moment for Bracho and the Focaccia Boi brand.
“I had regulars that would buy the bread and then turn that bread into pizza, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” he says. After months of selling focaccia as a standalone product, Bracho jumped into offering pizzas as well. He created a tight pizza menu with both traditional and off-the-wall flavors. There’s the Peplooza, served with pepperoni, pickled jalapeños, banana peppers, and a mozzarella cheese blend, as well as occasional specials like the Miss Piggy, a creamy, blue cheese creation with bacon, dried figs, and caramelized onions. The square, thick pizzas feel familiar to those who grew up on school slices or pan-style pies but ratcheted up to 11 with better ingredients, a longer ferment, and the right balance of airy, crispy insides. His favorite? Bracho says he once did a riff on a Thai curry pizza, a popular delicacy in Long Beach, where he grew up. However, this was one of the few specials that wasn’t as popular.
But most of the time his limited-inventory, preorder drops sell out fast, in well under an hour, creating a frenzy of fans signing up for a single taste. The online ordering system that Bracho set up exclusively through Instagram is divided into about 20- to 30-minute time slots for pickup outside his house in Anaheim, allowing him to turn out dozens of pizzas on schedule to customers. Prep, bake, box, hand to customer, repeat.
Since late 2020, his pan-style focaccia pizzas have become Orange County legend, coveted by customers from as far away as Escondido and Las Vegas. “People have told me that they plan their vacations around when I’d be dropping a pizza,” he says.
For first-time pickup customers like Orange County local Ian Beavers, there’s excitement in the pizza chase. “I’ve only had this pizza cold, reheated the next day, or brought to me by friends,” he says, standing in Bracho’s U-shaped driveway this past summer. “It’s good reheated or cold, but I‘m really looking forward to this.”
This pizza, as Bracho puts it, has been both a blessing and a curse. Bracho’s skyrocketing success came at a price. For half of 2022, he had been making roughly 120 pizzas per week from his standard home kitchen, and that’s on top of the sourdough bread orders he was still fulfilling. “I think a lot of the people who knew the situation I was in, and how much I was producing, they knew that what I was doing was stupid,” he says. “There were a lot of people who were like, ‘How and why are you doing this?’”
In August 2022, Bracho decided to take a break to focus on his mental health. “There was no separation from work,” he says. “It’s a lot of pressure for one person to run a business, especially a business that’s so transparent on social media. I needed to step away from the world for a while.”
Bracho’s wife, Shalene Lundgren, says that negative comments around the scarcity of Focaccia Boi’s limited orders didn’t help. “‘How dare you. Why don’t you have it? I can’t believe you don’t have it,’” she recalls customers saying. “Reading that message 10,000 times a day, it hurts.” Others, including a fan from Texas, provided ballast during those hard months, chiming in with enough positivity to keep Bracho from letting Focaccia Boi go entirely.
Bracho brought back Focaccia Boi in January 2023 with a leaner approach to both pizza sales and wholesale breadmaking. Instead of four-day-a-week pizza sales, he’s down to just one or two drops weekly. The rest of the time he focuses on trying out new baked goods or fulfilling orders for a handful of cafes and restaurants that serve his bread.
“I do other things besides pizza,” says Bracho, laughing. “I’m tired of making pizza. I like making dough. I like making bread. I needed something to get my creative outlet into a different direction so that it challenged my brain.”
Over at Thank You Coffee in Anaheim, customers can now score Focaccia Boi’s rosemary focaccia as part of a turkey avocado sandwich. Down in Newport Beach, Bracho’s bread can be found at Daydream Surf Shop as part of a dynamite breakfast sandwich with lemon-garlic aioli, cheesy scrambled eggs, and arugula. For Daydream chef Katelyn Bako, who has known Bracho for a while, the collaboration feels right for both of them. “We’ve always wanted to work together,” she says. “It was the perfect opportunity.”
After all this time, Bracho also thinks of his limited sold-out drops as collaborations between himself and his followers. “I’ve curated [the experience and menus] in a way so that it’s a reflection of me,” he says.
Focaccia Boi operates exclusively through Instagram @focacciaboi, so turn on those notifications if you’re trying to score a pizza. Bracho’s bread can also be found on menus at Anaheim’s Thank You Coffee and seasonally at Colony Wine Merchant, or at Daydream Surf Shop in Newport Beach.