An excerpt from BREAD MAGAZINE, edition 18 (winter 2015) www.bread-magazine.com
A year ago I had the intention of starting a bakery simply to work alone and bake my own bread. So I moved to Minneapolis, a city seemingly rife with bread opportunity. Compared to Portland and the Bay Area, where my baking career had thus far taken me, Mill City was, it seemed, in short supply of bakeries. Researching those in town, there seemed a dearth for what the west coast offered with terms such as local, whole grain, organic. It seemed like a good fit, and I thought it would be a suitable region to learn a thing or two about growing grains.
Within days of arriving, I settled into a large artisan bakery, upon which I began a conversation about transitioning to local flour and more whole grains. It was with this attempt that I was really educating myself to the availability of local, organic high quality wheat. Or rather, the lack thereof. Realizing I was no longer in California with a young but thriving grain movement, I took a mental pause in approaching my dream. First I would need to familiarize myself with my new locale, connecting with farmers and millers in the region, learning both the limitations and possibilities.
Half a year later I became co-head baker and quickly thereafter did my mental hiatus end. It turned out that the price of conventional flour is hard to beat, especially when you pay thousands of dollars in rent a month. Twelve hour days became increasingly common in work weeks that would extend into the ninth day, and I found it difficult to restore my body through yoga, stretching, or running. The bread tossed out at the end of the day, and the energy expended to make that bread, was by far the most frustrating aspect. My porch soon housed bags of old bread for a friend to feed his five pigs. And my desire to bake was slowly dwindling.
And thus my intention for starting a bakery became evident during my brief tenure as co-head baker: zero food waste, local + organic flour and adjuncts, limit sales to sustain my body and mind, and to create a relationship with my customer base.
It was apparent that the only way to achieve these goals were through a subscription based bakery, something I found feasible through renting a baking space and delivering by bike. And so now when someone asks where my bakery is located, I tell them nowhere and everywhere.
Two months in, I have approximately 60 subscribers, paying off my $1,800 start-up costs within the first five weeks. I have yet to reach a subscriber base to afford myself a living wage (approx.. 120/wk), but without a storefront growth comes slowly. Currently half of my customers have come from the cheapest form of advertising – word of mouth, the kind and generous words of my subscription base.
I am offering something different, not niche, but simply different. It is an extension of the CSA-model, with the feasibility of delivering by bike. There is no middleman; no grocery store clerk, restaurant table, or barista. This offers an opportunity to create a strong connection with those who eat my bread, to create shared knowledge: recipes, the baking process, how to keep bread, how to grow wheat and who the farmers are that grow them, and so on. I am, in a sense, using bread as a platform to create a tangible relationship between location, farmer, miller, baker, and consumer. This allows for the imperfections and variance to speak for itself, to be understood.
I am not asking for a forgiving audience, but for one that understands consistency is not a requisite.
An exciting opportunity is coming this spring when a new mill opens in NE Minneapolis, offering unblended varietals of Minnesota grown wheat. We will be able to showcase these wheat varietals, or the land they were grown on, through the variations in the baking qualities and flavor. Rather than creating a forgiving audience, I am attempting to create an understanding that wheat, just like any other plant, is not all the same.