The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bake to Order

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varda's picture
varda

Bake to Order

In addition to my recent foray into selling at the farmers market, I have also been doing a small bake to order business out of my house.   I post a few choices for one day a week, and people order a couple days in advance.   Then stop by and pick up.   This is very constrained as zoning regs say that only 6 people per day can come to the house to purchase.   It would take a neighbor complaint to make enforcement kick in, but obviously it could only grow so much.  

I started with a few friends, and then a few people who became friends, plus a few friends of friends.   A couple people order almost every week and have done so for months, and then several more people order regularly but less frequently.  

A woman I know who gets things done decided to hold a bread tasting for me - in other words she hosts and invites her friends, and I bake.    That's next week, so we'll see what comes of that.  

Picture above was taken just after the last bagel came out of the oven, but unfortunately after the first customer came and walked off with a few bagels and a baguette. 

Comments

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Do you get the logistics done, Varda, with baking in batches, and not single loaves for people who pick them up?

I have a few customers, too, who want something special, like "Low-Salt-A-Lot-of Honey Oat Bread".

I bake these special orders, but only in batches of four, so that they can freeze the the breads.

Karin

varda's picture
varda

Hey Karin, I started out offering 3 different breads to be picked up say on Thursdays. Then when I started baking for the market, three didn't seem like enough, so I did 4 breads as well as rolls. Then for my home business I decided to offer baguettes every week (just because I want to make them frequently) three other breads, and rolls. But I never know how many people will order each thing. So today for instance, only one person ordered the flax seed rye. So I made one for us as well. At the market baguettes are very popular - this Saturday a woman bought five of them and I'd only made 9. Not at home though. Usually I just get 1 or 2 loaves ordered. But I always make at least three, as I know we'll eat them. I have tried to get people to do special orders, but they just won't. Don't know why. Good idea to set a minimum for them though. Maybe setting a minimum will encourage people to do it for some odd psychological reason. Thanks Karin. -Varda

hanseata's picture
hanseata

The demand is very fluctuating for special orders here in Bar Harbor, too. The natural food store that sells my breads takes always the same amounts, but with private orders it's on and off. Often those customers are employees at the Jackson Laboratories, and only there for a limited time.

Karin

 

 

varda's picture
varda

I'm in process of trying to attract more customers to my home business.   My first fear is that no one will sign up; my second is that I won't be able to handle the demand.

MANNA's picture
MANNA

I think your second fear is more realistic.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Just well done.  If I lived near by I would come by and pick up half the load and have 6 people come to my house instead of yours, so you could do twice the business.  It would be the right thing to do plus I could sell them my smoked meats, jams, mustards etc to pout on your bread plus beer ....well maybe not the beer but I could give it away for on site drinking for paying for a good order - Nothing  like an incentive.  I'm guessing,  before long,  people would want to pick up your bread at my house :-)

You are a hard working lady making great bread and they shouldn't be putting these petty and asinine laws in your way just to protect other business owners.

Happy Baking

varda's picture
varda

we could sell franchises, and open in sixteen cities and bring bread and meat to the people and... where am I?  What happened?   Anyhow, I think they have that particular law to keep neighborhoods neighborhoods and not business areas which I fully support if it were my neighbor opening a business but not me of course.  This is a puzzle and a conundrum.   How to grow?   What to do next?   When to hire the teenager to carry my trays?   And so forth.   Thank you DA for your encouragement and enthusiasm.  -Varda

aptk's picture
aptk

Those all look so good!

 

varda's picture
varda

I was just looking at your sopapillas earlier today and wishing I could have some .  -Varda

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi Varda,

What a lovely spread of breads!  I especially like your challah loaves.  They look great.

I love hearing about how your bread baking business is growing.  I know it is keeping you pretty busy and I can tell you are having fun too.

Take Care,

Janet

varda's picture
varda

Hey Janet,   Thanks so much for your kind words.   I am definitely having fun.   I can just about manage this volume of baking and enjoy it a lot.   The market baking practically kills me, but then I enjoy selling it, and getting a chance to talk to people about bread and so forth.   I'll find out soon if I'm into the Cambridge market in March, and if I am, I'm going to have to figure out how to scale up, as that market is BIG.   -Varda

varda's picture
varda

removed

wassisname's picture
wassisname

Sounds like you have really found some demand to tap into! I think it's awesome how you are finding ways to make it work.  Inspiring as always!  And of course the breads look fantastic - wish I had a neighbor like you!

Marcus

varda's picture
varda

It's not that hard to do better.   My friends are all turning into bread snobs.   That makes me happy.   Thanks so much Marcus.  -Varda

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Now that's a tempting bunch.

A beautiful set of breads, Varda. Your success as a "pro baker" is highly encouraging. I'd like to bake more often and sell my breads as well, but my oven stinks. As of now, I'm saving money / raising funds to buy a better oven.

I've a question, if you don't mind answering: What were your hardships when transitioning from baking smaller quantities of dough to larger?... Just looking for tips before I make the jump.

Thank you in advance!

Zita

varda's picture
varda

Hi Zita, 

Thanks so much for commenting.   I have been thinking about your question - here's a hopefully not so long list

- I immediately needed a larger mixer as the one I had only made a loaf or two of bread at a time.   My current mixer can mix dough for around 6-8 loaves depending on the size. 

- Need to find a source for wholesale flour.   I did find one that sells King Arthur Sir Galahad (KAAP) at a good price as well as high gluten, extra fancy durum and whole wheat.    Have not found a wholesale price for rye yet, and spelt is just expensive, expensive, expensive.   I think I've found the least expensive source for it finally. 

- Had to upgrade all my small equipment - trays, bowls, etc. as I didn't have enough large stuff

- Currently I'm experiencing the well known oven bottleneck, which I'm trying to fix right now

- Flour in bulk is heavy, trays of bread are heavy.   That's a challenge for me, but perhaps not for you

- Had to learn how to schedule bakes, so that for instance I didn't need the counter for shaping two breads at a time

There are other challenges such as learning to bake for other people - quite a bit different from baking for yourself and family.   And lots of business costs both recurring and one time.   But you didn't ask about that.  

Good luck with your endeavors. 

-Varda

 

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you, Varda. 

I think I know what you mean about the challenges of baking for others. For the past few months I've been paying close attention to the bread bakeries in town and have spoken with several "bread consumers", both friends and strangers. Where I live, many foreign residents have a European background and aren't too familiar with tangy or sour breads---but they miss their dense, heavy ryes... Don't get me started on the bread preferences of native locals.

Again, thank you for your helpful and sobering post. Lots of obstacles to overcome but I'll continue to do my best.

Happy baking,

Zita

isand66's picture
isand66

Which mixer are you using now and how do you like it?

varda's picture
varda

http://www.pleasanthillgrain.com/electrolux_magic_mill_dlx_mixer.aspx#verona

They are on sale for 50 less than I paid at pleasant hill.   I'd get another one but then how would I pay for the oven?

isand66's picture
isand66

I've heard only good things about this mixer but I'm more than satisfied with my Bosch Universal mixer.  I think it probably has the same capacity has yours but it's not quite as pretty looking :).  After stripping the gears out of my wife's Kitchen Aid mixers twice I purchased the Bosch a couple of years ago.

Regards,

Ian

MANNA's picture
MANNA

I had been wondering how your market experience was going. You'll probably be looking for bigger ovens soon. Thats what I ran into. The weekly market schedule killed me after my first summer season. I stopped intill I can build a WFO. That came out as the most economical for me. Its cheaper to build and fire than a commercial oven. Plus, its a huge selling point for your bread. Q- "What makes your bread better than the guy down there?" A- "Age old technique, pre-ferments, and its baked in a WFO!" It also helps that you have learned alot from Jeff during your time at KAF. Best of luck.

varda's picture
varda

Hi.   I'm deep into the oven thing.   About to buy a Cadco XAF195 which is a countertop convection oven, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's small.  The only thing I'm waiting for is to finalize where in the h,,, we're going to sandwich it in.   There are no good answers.   But once I get it my capacity is going to go way up and I should  be able to handle a larger market than currently.   I'd love to have a WFO in theory but in practice I have no desire to add the work of building fires to my already physically demanding workload.   You may be younger than me in which case it's less of an issue.   Also I try to sell my bread on quality.   If I use organic ingredients I don't mention it.   If I happen to mill my own flour for a particular bake I don't mention it.   Is it delicious?   Is it made with healthy ingredients so people don't have to cash in too many of their heart attack points?   I hope so.  I've now been at the Carlisle market for a couple months and I notice that I get many repeat customers, and that they buy more loaves when they stop by.    Will the same thing happen in a larger market in an area where there are more sources for good bread?   I guess we shall see.   Thanks so much for commenting.  -Varda

MANNA's picture
MANNA

There is always the option to use some gas burners to fire a oven if you want to get away from firing it with wood. Also, look into American Baking Systems. I really like their product line and prices are great.

varda's picture
varda

on ovens.   I just checked the ABS site - mostly down so can't get much info.   From what I can gather on TFL too big and out of my price range, but something to keep in mind for later.  Looks like they sell other things that I might be in the market for before too long.   Also, when I got my license I checked on the WFO thing.    Has to be done as a full home addition - cannot be a free standing structure.   So too expensive for now even if I didn't have to worry about building a fire to bake.   Good luck with moving along with your baking business.  -Varda

MANNA's picture
MANNA

My breads were well received. I was baking to capacity every week and selling out. I struggled with generating high temps and proper steaming to produce the bread I wanted. I stopped the markets intill I get a WFO built. That wont be for years though. Im working on recipes and building my skill set. Thats why so many posts with cakes and pastry Vs bread. Im working out a diversified product offering and learning how to produce in quantity. My recent creation was pear pie. A blend of coriander and cardamom goes nice with the pear flavor. And a pumpkin pie with ginger pastry crust. I have alot of ideas to workout over the coming years. I also wanted to host open forums for the local bakers to share ideas and get information out there. With ABS their single deck oven is only 6,000.00. I know that is alot of money. To put it in perspective a similar oven from bongard or pavalier would cost over 30,000.00. And the company is US based and the owner is super. We talked about bakerys and production for 2 hours one day. Even after I told him I wasnt going to buy anything. He wanted me to have an idea of everything that was involved in running a retail location.

varda's picture
varda

Manna,  I've seen your posts and know that you make beautiful stuff.   And also sounds like you have a plan, which is a great thing.   I understand that the ABS is cheaper for what you get.   I am going to pay around 2400 for the Cadco, so you can see that I'm shopping in a different price range.   On craigslist I saw a miwe which is a great oven listed for 3500.   Couldn't get it as I don't have room for anything with a 50 inch depth and my home insurance might not even cover any damage done with an oven like that in the house.  Hurt me to pass it up, but what can you do.   I'm an old bird who is inching along from hobby baker to something a great deal less than pro.   I will never compete with the Arlos of the world, or with what you plan to be in a few years.  Take care.  -Varda

proth5's picture
proth5

So you decided on the Cadco. I was going to report that, of course, I found nothing for large scale home bakers over the weekend. Strictly really large stuff.  Although I did find a hand cranked cookie dropper that was infinitely cool - but on a completely different topic.

Lots of challenges in this baking biz.  Next thing you know, you'll be getting wired for three phase power and getting a sheeter...:>)

Wishes for continuing good fortune!

Pat

varda's picture
varda

Hi Pat,   I could have bought a MIWE  on Craigslist for just a bit more than I will spend on the Cadco.   But then where would we live?  Thanks for reporting back.   Hope you had a great time.   Thanks for your good wishes.  -Varda

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Your commitment is impressive, Varda.  After reading your post and now Arlo's this morning, I think I'm happy to baking for just the family a couple times a week.  Don't know how you're doing it, but am impressed as hell that you are.  Hope the rewards continue to outstrip the costs. At least in your case, so far, you have contact with each and every customer, as opposed to Arlo's disconnection with them.

Thanks for keeping up posted.  What a journey.

Tom

varda's picture
varda

Hi Tom.  I really do enjoy talking with the people who buy my bread.   My friends are not at all shy about making suggestions and giving me constructive criticism.   Since this is my culinary school, I appreciate it, even though I just want them to love what I'm making.  The people at the market being strangers have also been known to come back a week or two later, and let me know what they liked and what they didn't.   One guy comes by and buys one baguette each week.   One day my baguette quality was poor, and he came back the next week and told me all about it, and bought another baguette.   He came back the week after to tell me he was happy I got the problem under control.  (I had completely revamped my approach as a result of what happened.)   People come by and tell me that their mother used to make bread, or they make bread themselves and ask me a lot of technical questions.   Since I am in fact bread obsessed, these conversations make my day, even though I'm exhausted from a full day of baking and getting up early to finish up the baking before the market.   Thanks so much for your comments.  -Varda

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Both in the quality of the breads and in the extent to which you are pursuing your dream.  Best wishes for continued growth.

Paul

varda's picture
varda

I guess we'll have to see how this goes.   I don't have time for a full time job let alone double time as Arlo has so eloquently described.   And yet...  Thanks Paul.  -Varda 

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Varda,

You're turning into a bread runner. You'll be loading  the car up late at night in the garage, backing out with the lights off so that no one in the neighborhood notices you on your midnight bread delivery run...,

Tongue in cheek of course - and your breads look beautiful.

Best,

Wild-Yeast 

P.S. New name for your bakery "Bread Runner Bakery'..., ?

varda's picture
varda

Midnight delivery runs - now that's a concept:-!  (note the tongue in cheek.)   It makes me tired just to think of it.  Thanks so much WY.  -Varda

holds99's picture
holds99

That's a lovely spread of baked goods.  Although I don't always comment I've been keeping up with your posts over the past few years, including wood fired ovens, trips to buy grain/flour and, of course, your baking which is always tops.  I hope you are hugely successful with your home baking project and the sale of your baked goods.

I still recall seeing an old photo of Lionel Poilâne standing in front of his bakery in Paris next to his little Citroen truck, that was parked in front, loaded up with bread to be delivered.  Although he's gone his legacy lives on.  Big trees grow from small seeds.

Best regards,

Howard

varda's picture
varda

High praise indeed.   I'm glad my little endeavor has captured your imagination.   I get interested in things.   That's all I can say about it.  -Varda

holds99's picture
holds99

Varda,

Someone once said "Advice is worth about what you pay for it".  With that in mind, here goes.  You may already have something along these lines, but one thing that occurred to me and that I think would help with what you are trying to do, is a flyer/menu that you can distribute which includes a small (3"X5") individual color photo of each of your offerings with a short description of the item, for home ordering.  It doesn't have to be professionally printed or expensive.  You can do a nice job on 8 1/2" X 11" paper using Microsoft Word and a color printer.  That way you would have something to give to people to take with them and/or distribute re: your line of baked goods and description, phone no. etc.  Staples and other office supply stores carry bordered specialty paper which looks nice and is eye catching.

Just a thought,

Howard

varda's picture
varda

Hi Howard,   I actually have a website where I post my weekly menu with pictures and pithy write-ups.   Then I email everyone on my list to tell them when the new breads are up.   I had postcards made up at Staples with bread picture and website url and I pass those out at the farmer's market.   I've also collected emails at the farmer's market.   I'm sure there is a way to use social media to promote my business.   So far, I just have a facebook page where I post what market's I'm going to be at and link to my website.   I have not tried a flyer yet.  The benefit of that would be I could pass them out locally.   I've had very bad luck so far with neighbors.   They don't happen to be interested enough.   It's better to select people who really care about food, rather than those who happen to live near me.   The trick is finding them.   Thanks for thinking about this.   Ideas always welcome.  -Varda

holds99's picture
holds99

Varda, thanks for your note.  Sounds like you've covered most of the bases.  I'll keep thinking about it and if I come up with any ideas I'll pass them along to you.  Interestingly, I had given some thought to baking some bread to sell at our local farmer's market.  But decided I didn't have enough oven capacity to do sufficient volume to make it worth while.  I thought about contacting a temple or church that has a large enough kitchen with oven capacity for my needs, and see if they were willing to rent the kitchen.  But I got diverted and haven't gotten around to it yet. 

Anyway, good luck with your new oven and future baking endeavors.  Can't wait to hear (read) about the oven.

Howard

isand66's picture
isand66

You can also try Twitter and alert your current customers when you are offering something new and when you will be at the market, etc. 

Another thing you can try is a referral system.  For every new customer someone recommends and buys something you can offer that person a discount or free bread etc.  This is a proven method in other businesses and could have some merits in yours.  I do not know what you have on your website (if you would share it with us I would love to check it out), but I would try and put either on the website and/or Facebook some nutritional value of each bread, expound about the health benefits of artisan bread and your fresh ingredients.  Offer customers a chance to vote on their favorite bread(s) and rate your current offerings so you get some additional feedback.

Just my two cents.  I've been in marketing and product development my entire career so I can't help myself.

Regards,
Ian

varda's picture
varda

see my pm.

isand66's picture
isand66

I'm so  happy to hear and see your bread baking venture is doing so well.  I had no doubt you would be successful and your selection above looks outstanding.

Look forward to hearing about your new oven.

Regards,
Ian

varda's picture
varda

Just trying to put one foot in front of the other.   Hope I don't end up going around in circles.   Thanks so much for your comments, and I imagine that my struggles to get used to the new oven will take up more than a few posts to come.   -Varda

Mebake's picture
Mebake

You are still baking bread for people, and making them happy too. Against all challenges, you have proven to be a worthy baker. Those breads of yours look delicious!

Awaiting for that new oven!

-Khalid

varda's picture
varda

It makes me happy too, especially if they like it.   Thanks Khalid.  -Varda