Tuesday, October 5, 2010

SourdoughBaker Cafe gets Cooperative

I was never going to run another bakery. They are just too hard for one person, particularly Artisan bakeries, which typically produce the classic bakery stuff, only from scratch. A true artisan style bakery relies on the skill and imagination of the bakers and pastrycooks, rather than technology and special equipment. These bakeries shun things like premixes, outside components like tart cases and pastry rolls - working instead with a smaller repertoire of simple, hand made breads and pastries, done from scratch and done well.

For me, these types of bakeries are the only ones with any soul. I've never been interested in making two dollar pies and finger buns. In fact, I've never really been into bakeries in general - just sourdough bread, and perhaps a well made cake or Danish pastry - some patisserie perhaps. But you could easily cut out ninety percent of an average bakery's product range, and while you will also cut off ninety percent of the audience, the ten percent which remain tend to know their stuff - and are more than happy to pay for a small range of quality stuff.

But to do this, you need skilled trades people. Such people tend to work in big hotels, where they can be paid according to their skill - not in small artisan bakeries, where it is very difficult to get economies of scale right, and thus be able to pay them what they are worth. You'll certainly never see them working in a local Baker's Delight - unless they are trying to get off the booze or settle a gambling debt, anyway.

And here lies the problem - an artisan bakery owner needs at least one or two of these people on staff, and also has to train them in their unique product range. As so often happens in the trade, once they hit their straps, someone else will come along and offer them more money to work for them, or they themselves will find some capital, and go off and start their own place - often in the same locality!

It's a real conundrum in the bakery business, and is also a problem in fine dining. To a certain extent this problem also exists in some decent cafes too - the problem of keeping and maintaining a culture of quality within the business.

And while many bakeries, cafes and restaurants start off with high caliber products and people, they often gradually slip down into more mundane territory, driven there by the constant flow of good people out the door.

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