So You Want to Open a Bakery???
***The following is a dramatic account of a weekend in the life of small bakery owner who appears to have her shit together (but never really does), with a phenomenal staff and the occasional outliers.
Maybe you baked a cake for your kid’s birthday party and all the guests told you it was really great and ‘you should open a bakery.’ Maybe the idea of creating your own sourdough culture and laminating butter into croissant dough sounds romantic. Maybe you’re such a coffee snob that you think the world can not live without having your special blend made for them each day. Maybe you see people lining up for doughnuts on Sunday mornings and think opening a bakery could be a real cash cow.
I opened a bakery because baking bread is the only thing in life I’ve ever been good at. It’s the only thing I could do to support my family. I worked for other bakeries for nearly 20 years before I took the plunge. I knew what I was getting into and at the same time, I had no idea what I was getting into. I kept my full time recipe development job for the first three years during which I also worked full time running my own bakery because I knew my business would barely make enough to keep a roof over my head.
If you want to open a bakery, be prepared. There are no days off, ever. Ever, ever, ever….no days off. You might be thinking, ‘no problem, I could bake cakes all day everyday’, right? Wrong, it’s not the cake baking that you’ll be doing when you open a bakery. You’ll be putting out fires. Lots of fires.
An employee will walk out halfway through their retail shift on a Saturday, with a line of customers out the door, because they think they ‘may have an eye infection,’ but they won’t tell you, they tell the other employees who also won’t tell you until an hour later when the shit is really hitting the fan and you can’t do anything about it.
Your wholesale customer will arrive to pick up their order. What order? The same order they get every Saturday. You can’t find it? What about those three trays of buns that aren’t typically sold in the bakery? Right….the ones the staff has been selling all morning, the ones that were supposed to be packed up for the wholesale customer…those buns….
Did you remember to post a picture of the weekend specials on instagram? You know you have to do all your own marketing, right? Sure there are services you can pay to do it for you but they don’t care about your business the way you do and they can’t be there real time and they’ll probably spell something wrong. Remember all the emails you have to answer? Don’t forget to answer the instagram and facebook messages too. More donation requests! And lots of people who want to take over your social media management for you. Some of them have misspelled words in their messages…red fucking flag! Also, be prepared to have everything you post recreated by someone else…pinterest moms, teenagers, other bakeries. No one has any original ideas these days.
The nozzle on the sink will spring a leak and you’ll be on the phone begging the plumber to come and swap it for the new one that’s been sitting in the box next to the sink all week. Then, the staff will call to tell you there’s no hot water at the bakery. No hot water? Is the new nozzle working? It’s working great? So great that it sprays twice the volume of water as the old one? Guess where the hot water went?
You’ll have an order for a red velvet cake but the only one who knows how to make it has the weekend off. No problem, you like baking cake. You’ll spend your afternoon baking exactly one cake while simultaneously baking a batch of 8 dozen breakfast cookies, shaping 36 loaves of sourdough, putting in an order for specialty flours and helping to rework the schedule to cover the employee with the wonky eye. Just when you think you’re in the clear, you’ll get a message that one of the early morning bakery sprained his ankle…he’s not exactly calling out but he wants you to know he won’t be able to do any work when he comes to work so….
The granola jars are selling well and you need more of them. Thankfully, you just secured a source for jars and they were just delivered. Well, the shipping company said they were delivered last week but they weren’t and after an hour on the phone trying to locate them, they shipped a second round of jars. Those jars were actually delivered. You are thrilled that your staff made ingredient labels for the jars but your joy dissipates when you realize the ingredient label is missing the number one ingredient…oats. No problem, you still have the jars. When you open the box, you discover you only have half the jars because the other half arrived shattered. You’ll wait until the following week to spend another hour on the phone with customer service.
You will be setting up coffee grounds to make cold brew on a Saturday night just after closing, when you think you can catch a break for a few hours after the retail staff leaves, before the bakers arrive. The staff didn’t set up cold brew coffee because the brewing bag is missing…the one you noticed on the shelf earlier when you were putting your bowls away. You know it will take 12 hours to brew and if you don’t go in to do it yourself, it won’t get done. Back for round 89….
You have Sunday covered. You do not need to work on Sunday. Finally a whole day to spend with the family. This is why you opened your own business, so you can have more time to spend with your family than when you were working your corporate gig. You can’t help it, you need coffee…the coffee that you selected because your town can not live without it and neither can you so you go to your bakery to get a cup. Where’s the staff? Why is there only one person behind the counter on Sunday morning??? Oh, there are two but one decided to slice 25 pounds of cheddar cheese in an effort to avoid helping customers.
How about the new sticky buns on the menu? Where are the sticky buns??? The staff is doing a great job executing them this week. Last week wasn’t so great, like the day they didn’t put cinnamon in the cinnamon buns, but everyone is back on track. But wait, there’s no sticky buns on Sunday morning? You’ve been preparing for this all week. Why don’t we have sticky buns? There’s no sticky bun goo to put in the bottom of the pan? We ran out on Saturday? Did we write it on the list of things we need to prepare for Sunday? Don’t answer, you already know. There are 4 ingredients. You can have your 10 year old make it so the bakery can have sticky buns for sale on Sunday. You better have a 10 year old type-A daughter on hand for bakery emergencies if you plan to open a bakery. She will prove to be quite an asset.
Wait, you came in for coffee an hour ago, where’s the coffee? The cold brew keg is tapped. You’re out of iced coffee. You wonder how long your bakery has been out of iced coffee and why no one told you…the one who drinks iced coffee 365 days a year. At least you set up the cold brew last night so if there’s not a keg, you can make one up. Whew, there’s a back up keg but you have to replace the empty one because no one else seems to know how or wants to admit they know how.
How about the banana bread? The one that’s new to the menu. Easy enough to hand off to one of the bakers so you don’t have to make it yourself. The first batch was perfect. The second? Not so much. The third? In the garbage. What could go wrong with banana bread? Ohhhh….the baker combined the flours and just used white. Yes, it says whole wheat and white. No, they are not the same thing. Yes, the recipe should be executed as printed. Yes, it matters. You refill your iced coffee and start mashing bananas. So much for having Sunday covered.
There’s always Monday.. Monday is a holiday. It shouldn’t be too busy. You don’t need extra staff. Monday is a holiday, everyone’s kids are out of school. EVERYONE’S KIDS ARE OUT OF SCHOOL. EVERYONE will need to get out of the house. You realize you are grossly understaffed and underprepared for this day. No, this isn’t your first year. No, you don’t remember last year. No, you didn’t write it down. You were too busy making cakes and cold brew and sourdough and banana bread and whatever was on the menu last year to write it down and even if you did it would be lost in the piles of files of piles on your desk, in your drawers or your google drive. It’s okay, you can ignore the chaos for one day. The staff can handle it. The customers can wait a little longer today.
You can not ignore the call about the clogged toilet. Nope, not even if you’re almost finished folding the giant pile of laundry that you’ve been avoiding for 3, three, THREE, weeks. It’s not just a clogged toilet, it’s a clogged toilet that people tried to fix, people that have never unclogged a toilet before. Try as they might, they couldn’t fix the issue. You unclog the toilet in 2 minutes and spend the next hour mopping up toilet water and cleaning the floor. Did you remember to feed your kids lunch? What about breakfast? Where are your kids???
Still want to open a bakery??? A good friend who has a very successful pancake joint once asked me if I knew how much money it took to make $100,000 worth of pancakes. How much? $99,000! It’s about the same in the bakery business. You have to love every second of it because you’re never going to get rich. In fact, if you are able to pay yourself as often as you pay your staff, you’ll be better than the rest. Be prepared to skip a few pay periods so you can meet your payroll and then you’ll probably have to skip a few more. Oh and there’s that $15 per hour minimum wage coming down the road so you might actually want to look for another job seeing as though that’s more than you’re currently paying yourself.
I wish I could say I made all of this up but I didn’t. I wish I could say it all happened over the course of several months, or even weeks, but it didn’t. All of this fun was just three days…all of which were supposed to be days off or at least, mostly off because there are NO DAYS OFF!