The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

baking as profession?

ericb's picture

baking as profession?

I have been told by family and friends on several occasions that I should open a "little bakery" and "bake bread" for a living. While grateful for the compliment, I'm always slightly amused by this. First, nothing I bake comes even close to the beautiful loaves I see regularly on this website. Second, I have a suspicion that the term "little bakery" actually translates into "Chapter 11 Bankruptcy," and that "bake bread" really means "manage a struggling business." Third, while it is almost impossible to bake bad bread (everyone loves homemade loaves), it is equally difficult to bake truly excellent bread that people will pay for. Finally, I would much prefer to just give bread away to family and friends. It's a nice confidence boost for me, because regardless of how badly I manged the scoring, they seem to love it anyway.

Despite my misgivings, I often wonder what it's like to bake bread professionally. I have naive visions of wood fired ovens, neat stacks of whole wheat boules, rows of perfectly scored batard, a line of retail customers and a delivery truck full of bread ready to hit local restaurants. Of course, there's also the business end of things... licenses and permits, bills, employees, and the sheer exhaustion that must come from running a business that involves throwing around hundreds of pounds of dough.

I know that many of you here are, in fact, professional in the baking industry. So... what's it like? How much of your day-to-day work actually involves baking? Do you have time to experiment? Do you get any "down time" to spend with friends and family? Do you see yourself more as a business owner, a manager, or a baker? What do you love most about your job? What are the things that make you consider getting into another line of business?

Well, it's time for me to get back to my job (sitting on my bum looking at a computer screen). I'm looking forward to hearing what yours is like!


Eric B

rainwater's picture

I'm just the opposite. I've baked simple whole grain rolls and 1# round whole grain loafs for resteraunt. ....but baking 1-4 loaves at home, and attempting "artisanal" loaves is a whole new ballgame. I'm a beginner. I do think that bread is easier in larger quantities. Big mixers full of dough seem to react faster......big quantities heat up. I worked for a Belgian who made what seemed like hundreds of baguettes everyday. He started his bread with "refrigerated" (cold) water to keep the internal temperature of the dough down. It was quite fascinating. Also, in a commercial setting, you have proofing bins, and cool ovens, and huge mixers. Having been in the food business, starting a bakery is the only endeavor I would ever try on my own. Resteraunts are just too stressful.....bakeries are much more laid back, require much fewer employees, people are always happy to find a new bakery, and I think you have a more personal and closer repoire with your clientel. ....and you see them more often.....there just isn't as much competition in the bakery field. If your baquettes are good enough, and your artisanal breads are'll make most your money from deliveries to resteraunts and such. Baking bread and desserts is a pain for most resteraunts....they would rather not mess with this.....showing up at their back door with really good bread, and a couple of desserts will inspire most resteraunts to turn off their bread mixer in a second. I woundn't be put off by the competition......I'm usually not that impressed with commercial bakeries. Just because they have that quaint little atmosphere doesn't mean they put that extra care into the bread. This extra "hands on" the bread will give you an edge on the competition.
I've said this before, the Belgian fellow I worked for worked his bakery from a filthy metal building with not much of a store front, but his baguettes and croissants were the best I've every had commercially. ....and he had the clientele to show for it. Your product will insure your success, your product and your sweat equity......don't think you can just sit back and manage a food establishment and have something special. This I do know about the food business......either love it and marry it, or don't bother.......and if you want to see your wife and family, they should be involved two cents.

mcs's picture

Hey Eric,
Thought you might find this interesting.  This is my Christmas Eve 'scratch pad' AKA my daily worklist.  The morning started at 2:00 AM and I was out the door at 9:45 AM for deliveries.  This is what I call 'low volume / high variety baking'.  The circled numbers down the center of the paper are the order that the dough was either processed (shaped) or mixed (starting with the Anis baguettes which were mixed the previous day).  After the Anis preshape came mixing the Rye (#2), Rustic White (#3), then mixing the Multigrain (#4)...

The numbers down the right side are additional things to make/bake besides the bread (54 croissants, 12 sticky buns, 48 palmier...)
The places on the bottom are people/businesses who I was delivering to with their names blurred out. 

As you can see, that's a pretty busy 8 hours or so (for 1 guy) and managing all of the mixing, shaping, proofing, egg washing, baking, and packaging takes a lot of thinking and moving very quickly.  Delivering is the 'rest time', then when I get back I prep for the next day (bigas, pastry dough, sticky bun filling, packaging...).
Of course making a large volume and a low variety of baked goods would be much easier, but that's not always how the business comes.  Unfortunately par-baking giants like LaBrea have squashed many of those accounts.  It's hard to compete with their prices and (I admit) pretty good products.  That didn't exist 20 years ago. 
Anyway, I'm not trying to discourage you, it's very rewarding work.  I like the variety, but if you know what I mean, it's not just hard work, it's haulin' ass hard work.


cleancarpetman's picture

eDogg--  I come at this from a little different perspective. I am not a baker.  I worked in the fast food restaurant business for 18 years, always for someone else and was "advised" many times that I should open my own restaurant.  I made pizza, mixing and rolling dough, burgers in a sit down, espresso and thawing proofing and baking product that came from a central commissary. So, I believe I had enough experience since I was always managing and was familiar with the books. I enjoyed the work and the people contact, just not the pay.
     I left the restaurant business to own my own carpet cleaning business. I still had the people just not as many.  I learned that I could be just a wand jockey or a business owner and employ others to do the work.  If you just want to do the work, do it for someone else and skip the headache of ownership.  If you want to own the business but don't want to kill yourself wearing all the hats you have to duplicate yourself in the production end read hire employees. Then you can experiment anytime you choose and bake for the pure joy of it. Before all that its paramount to figure out your market, then to decide what kind of bakery you are then market to your people and keep marketing to them.  I am convinced the success of your business depends more on your ability to get the right message to the right people and deliver on the promise of good product and outstanding customer service, then any other variables. Bakeries also depend on location unless you are solely wholesale. 
     Pick up a copy of E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber and you will know more than the average person launching their first business.  It could either convince you its too much work or be the blueprint that gives you the confidence to go forward.  If you decide to go into business it will be the first of countless books you read on business.  Anybody can bake, fewer are the men who can run a successful bakery.  They are two completely different skills.


nbicomputers's picture

my day started at 11:00pm and would end at 11:00am if i was lucky during the holidays i would work 20 hours go home grab a gite to eat shouer change of uniform (whites) and back to work.  for 3 days before the holiday. for thanks giving i would shower and get a 2 hour rest in the shop starting 3 days before and goung home about 4 or 5 pm on thanksgiving day on holidays triple the amounts below

the dough was in quarts of water.  flour was about 4 pounds per quart so you do the math

soft white dough for soft rolls and pan bread 12 to 16 quarts
whole wheat 4 quarts
rye and pumpernic 20 quarts
hard rolls and hearth bread 16 quarts
and 4 quarts of the daly special

I did have a helper and on busy days 2 helpers
after 8 am cakes
i was also frying doughnuts and baking sweet dough...crum and cinamon buns

when i worked in a a ital. bakery there was only one dough but it was 5 16 quart pails to 12 pails a night.  12 x16x4=dough wghte 768 pounds there were 2 of us but we were good, someone just learning could not handle that

no romance about it just back braking work and the hard part was getting a consistent protuct day after day

i almost forgot the paperwork production  planing , inventory managment, equipment falures in the middle of a work day with 200 pounds of bread in the mixer helpers calling in sick or comming in late or drunk or hungover the party the night before. the guy that swers he wants to learn the bussiness untill he finds out he has to work weekends and holidays.

one time i had a kid that wanted to learn during the jewish holidays and said he would be in at 2 am...well he came in a 6am and whent down to the locker room to change into bakery whites and did come bake up to the shop till almost 9am HE FELL ASLEEP!

just some of the joys of running a shop

ericb's picture

Thanks to everyone for their replies! This is pretty much how I imagined it: exhausting work. Maybe next time someone suggests I should open a bakery, I should ask them which shift they'd like to help out on... 11:00pm or 11:00 am!