The birth of ANOTHER bakery - among other things.
Crossing the country and having this past year as a ‘sabbatical’ from baking commercially has led me to a number of realisations. The whole time, I’ve baked for myself and my students; I’ve had good bread to eat. Since I returned, though, something has been missing.
Addicted to bakeries?
Lets face it. I’m addicted to baking, and I’m especially addicted to my bread.
This extends into building actual bakeries so that I can make lots of the bread I really like to bake.
Like all addictions, it is multi leveled.
Firstly, I need to eat this bread. It’s like my medicine as well as food. As long as I have this bread to eat, the world, in my eyes, is okay. Even if I have very little money, I have nutrition - all I require is a piece of bread, maybe some cheese and tomato, and I am nourished. Other breads just don’t do it for me in the way mine does. Not to say there aren’t other great breads - it’s just that I’ve arrived at a very specific bread and I would like to keep having it for breakfast. And lunch, if possible. Occasionally dinner is okay as well.
Then, the addiction to the process of baking it kicks in. Baking provides a weekly rhythm, something to structure your day around. The process is its own reward - a good bake, and you are on top of the world. Of course, a bad one is somewhat less than ideal, and a number of bad ones in a row can be soul destroying. Luckily, there are more good bakes than bad ones.
Finally, the addiction to the financial reward can’t be ignored. When I bake each week, even just 30 loaves or so, there is cashflow. When you are a micro business, regular cashflow is everything. Before I moved from Ellalong, I was baking a few hundred loaves at a time, and this provided the bulk of my regular income. Now the weekly bake makes up a small but important part; teaching, consulting and training make up the rest.
Oh for a ‘Steady State’…and I don’t mean politics!
Some ideas pass naturally, while others persist - or more correctly they mutate in my mind.
I’ve been in the food business now for over 30 years - and for the past 29 I’ve been involved with bakeries and cafes. I’ve been wondering about energy use that whole time. I’ve experienced, lamented and deeply pondered food waste. Another issue to fill my grey matter has been wear and tear on bakery equipment.
After a while these three categories of problem morphed into a single simple solution. I want to establish what I call a ‘steady state bakery’. The idea is a bakery which produces the same basic amount every day. It doesn’t grade up production on one day to wind it down on others. It won’t be ‘market driven’ - like most bakeries are, as they surf the highs and lows of bakery production life.
I’ve written about this subject in earlier blog posts right here. Scroll backward and you’ll pick up multiple references.
All machines, and I’m including a bakery as a machine, are designed for optimal conditions of use. Then they are tweaked to extend the conditions to make them operate in real world conditions. When a machine is dynamic, it wears out more quickly.
A stable machine wears less, and consumes less energy. When a machine operates at the same pace all the time, stresses and strains are minimised on the componentry. They last longer and consume less energy.
Humans are different. They don’t mind work, but they need rest. And they need rhythm. Humans do well with a combination of routine and rest. Any human centered machine has to factor in humans.
My past two production setups have been specifically designed to supply weekend markets. This means that they bake large volumes on just one or two days a week. The rest of the time, they are either dormant, or being used for teaching, consulting or pre production work. So each week the machine gets wound up, stretched beyond capacity, and then wound down again.
A baker commits to the market each week, whether it is on or not. They work days in advance as they go about their routine, and by market day they are simply loading their freshly baked bread into their vans to meet their customers and to get paid for their work. If it rains and the market is cancelled; their payday just disappears. Then, the word wastage takes on a whole new meaning!
Every bakery has a lot of production variables; the seasons, new customers, wholesale business orders, local trading conditions, bakery competition, weekend markets and much more. Thus, all these variables inevitably lead to bread waste, and volatility.
A bakery, then, is usually a highly dynamic machine. Dynamic machines are prone to failure.
The ‘steady state’ bakery is different; it’s meant to produce the same amount of bread each bake - each day, week or month. It’s a machine with a daily rhythm based around repetition. It’s designed for a particular volume - nothing more. It doesn’t get ‘pushed’.
By doing this, there are many benefits. The machine doesn’t have to work hard - it just works the same amount each time to get the job done. Thus, the machine lasts longer and uses less energy. The more often it works, the less energy it requires in proportion to the output. The machine can be scaled up or down according to requirements, but in a planned way.
With a daily and weekly rhythm in a Steady State Bakery (SSB), there is a curious bi product; learning happens through repetition. The bake is a series of processes which are done at specific times, each with its own set of KPI. The only person who needs an overview is the baker. Through working with the processes, helpers gradually understand the overview; through learning all of the processes involved in a hands on way, humans involved piece together the whole picture, little by little. So a SSB is also a great environment for learning processes.
Another advantage of an SSB is being able to properly plan for the bakery’s resource use. Things like fuel, ingredient supply and freight all are best delivered in steady amounts, not only from the bakery’s perspective, but also from a logistics point of view.
Still another benefit is to be able to concentrate on reducing the environmental damage which a bakery can create. A SSB makes it easier to have a cause and effect solution put in place as there are no extremities to take into account.
Subscription baking - bread as a service
Every baker loves to set production levels to suit ourselves and our equipment. These levels should also enable us to make a crust. (:))
We have to find homes for all that bread we are baking - we definitely don’t want waste. As mentioned earlier, supplying markets leads to waste, one way or another.
To achieve steady production and sale of bread, with as close as possible to zero waste, I decided to set up a subscription system. Customers ‘subscribe’ to my baking and delivery service. By purchasing multiple loaves in advance, subscribers save money. They are bulk buying, with the convenience of having just a loaf or two delivered when they want it.
The bakery gets the benefit of steady customers and cash flow every week. And ‘planned by demand’ baking, so that only the amount ordered is supplied. The bakery works by the batch, the size of which is determined by the number of subscribers at any given time. There is always a degree of guesswork in determining the batch size each week, but the risk of wastage is reduced dramatically when compared to baking for a market which could be cancelled at the last minute.
My first attempt at subscription baking was about 8 years ago when the bakery was in Newcastle West. The model worked really well, but I moved into opening that bakery for retail business, and just outgrew the subscription model.
This time, the plan is to stick with subscriber based retail and incorporate it into the fabric of the School of Sourdough. A Steady State Bakery which is also a school, driven by subscribers.
In a bit of a departure from the original plan, I’ve included the possibility of resellers or ‘value adders’ being able to access the service. This means if you have a cafe or a shop or a food co-op, you can also subscribe. At the time of writing, we have two retail outlets on board, allowing the general public to buy bread on a whim. There is space in the system for more businesses to subscribe to the service, so those of you who want next level bread locally can get it without actually subscribing - all you need to do is to convince your local cafe or health food store to subscribe for you!
I’ll go into the new range of services in a separate blog post very soon. If you’re interested in becoming one of our Newcastle and Hunter Valley region subscribers, here’s the link!