The second day started at 3 am, we had spend our first of many nights sleeping in the bakery. As I opened the doors outside, I noticed the ground covered in white untouched snow. It seemed almost a blessing that we should be greeted with such a spectacular sight as I was about to fire up Ol’ Ben again.
15 hours earlier was hectic to say the least. It was our first day baking, our son, Walker, was there, guests were stopping by, all while learning something completely new. We tried out three or four loaves and Sarai was less than happy with the result. It was a test run, and the fact that edible bread emerged from our oven was a win, but it would not be the final product. People tried our bread and gave us feedback. We even sold some to a surprise guest. We knew now, in which direction to go. That evening Walker went to his grandparents and we went back to the bakery, ready to try again.
We had two reasons for our early rise, the St. Jan’s Rye bread needs exactly 12 hours in a 150c oven and we’d put it in the previous afternoon, so it needed to come out at 3am, and the oven needs four hours after lighting the fire to get up to temperature. Sarai started the doughs while I cleared out the oven full of wood which had been drying from the previous day. An outdoor fire was started to create ambiance, and the morning had begun.
The difficulty a woodfired oven presents is timing. The temperature is not constant like with an electrical one. Once the oven gets to temperature it starts cooling, and there is a small window that is ideal to load the bread in the oven. Likewise, the dough has a small window when it is perfectly proofed and ready to go into the oven. Timing is key.
We’ve gone on like this for three weeks now. Either one or both of us sleeping at the bakery while Walker is with his grandparents. Some days we are happy with the results, and some days we feel like everything is way too complicated and we’re not even sure if we will be able to make a living doing this. The feedback we get is mixed, and to be honest, we haven’t been consistent. Sometimes a loaf is too dry, sometimes not fully cooked. We’ve gone through the gamut of errors, which have resulted in various failures. And hopefully we’ve learned from each lesson. This is the best sort of school there is, real life. We are fortunate enough to have a lot of understanding people eating our bread. Slowly, slowly things are coming together. And just when things seem to be impossible, we get an email telling us how much someone appreciates our bread and can’t wait until we deliver twice a week.
We really have been overwhelmed by the whole shebang of starting our own business. Baking bread is one thing, the administrative, logistic, marketing and sales side of running a bakery is a totally different thing which is proving to be somewhat more challenging. Throw a two year-old manager (Walker) into the mix and that leaves about exactly no time at all to do more then kicking your feet as hard as you can to keep your head above the water. We realised over the past few weeks that we really have no clue what we are doing. The dust is only now settling and we are starting to see the light… Meaning that we are starting to see how much we don’t know, how much we still have to learn.
Managing orders is another source of total chaos. We have orders coming in through 3 different email addresses, phone calls, Whatsapp’s and through a Google questionnaire which we’ve made into an order form. Not ideal… So we are now starting to centralise them through an online order form. We are also trying to figure out how to set up a bread subscription scheme. There aren’t a lot of them out there to model ourselves on, but it could be a way of keeping cash flow going while making sure that we don’t bake too much.
Growing up, I remember going to restaurants always full of people, suddenly closing down. My parents would remark that they must have been “mismanaged”, it’s only now that I fully begin to realize what this means. Theoretically it’s simple, earn more than you spend, keep costs down. But how? Fortunately we are starting slowly, although not as slowly as we had imagined...
Our goals for the month of February:
Creating a better system for income and expenditures
Baking consistent bread
Centralising our incoming orders
Coordinating baking times and delivery schedules
- Writing weekly blogposts
So here we go again, we learn, we walk, we fire, we bake, we err, we live, we learn some more.