The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

baking/buying in mix for a new cafe

bigronda's picture

baking/buying in mix for a new cafe

Hello, I am trying to create a menu for a cafe I hope to open in the new year.  Id like to bake the cakes/muffins/lunchtime filled foccaccia myself. Ill be using a local bakery for pastries, but how much should i try to do/bake myself
and how much should i buy in, what is the balance to strike in terms of costs/uniqueness?

for example should i bake my own baguettes or get them from the bakery with the pastries? what other things might I buy in and how profitable is it, or not, to be selling the produce of others, be they a bakery or artisanl biscuit/tart/chocolate/etc maker? what is the idea behind the mix?

One menu i have come across interests me a lot.  Here's what part of it looks like on average for them, with what they buy in specified by the bakery name and the rest produced their own kitchen:

Ciabatta Roll with pancetta, rocket and salsa
Croissant with Italian roast ham, goats cheese, spinach and plum tomatoes
Croissant with gruyere cheese and plum tomatoes
The **** bakery bloomer toast (choice of preserves)
Cinnamon and raisin toast
Banana Bread

Pastries by the **** bakery
French butter croissants
Pain au chocolat
Almond croissants

Baked Items

Blueberry muffins 1.80
Courgette and cheese savoury muffins 1.80
Raspberry financiers 1.90
chocolate brownies 2.20


filled baguettes
Plum tomatoes with puttanesca, bufala mozzarella and spinach
Red onion jam with fondue and rocket

Polenta with grilled vegetables, avocado and goats cheese

Looking at this menu, which is not their full offering by the way, my questions are:

how do people feel about pre-made cellophaned baguettes? I have mixed feelings about them when i enter a cafe. For me decor is high on my list when rating a cafe,
and i personnally mildly dislike the way the ingredients are in front of me in metal buckets (even if of high quality) and the general feel of having
the kitchen in a hang-out space, like it detracts from its "coolness" a little. I dont know if anyone else feels this way, probably (without being
insulting to them in any way) the masses are oblivious. Indeed the
benefit of having a cafe space food-station free becomes a big leakage if the pre-made rolls do not smack visually of freshness. On many occasions the above cafe
does very  high quality and interesting fillings which combined with freshness swings it for me as a patron. However, the public may have a single criterion - fresheness,
and having it prepared in front of you will appeal to a very many, unsightly metal buckets bedamned ?? what do people think?? does anyone buy/make pre-made?

Whats super confusing for me from the above menu is that the cafe seems to bake similar items to the things they are getting in from the local bakery, I mean, they get in their croissants and yet make their own filled croissants? i mean unless its a snafu in writing the menu how does that work? They make their own cinnamon and raisin toast but buy in bloomer toast? Can anyone
shed any light on this, Im stumped. Of course I can email the owner but he will smell competition (even though im in a different country) and may be wary of giving away info on how they do things.

So if you just like hanging out and eating in cafes or have run a cafe, if you have any ideas on the product mix or the eternal and highly partisan "do I pre-make, or make-to-order" then I would love
to hear from you one and all. Thanks and here's to better cafe grub!

picosinge's picture

I am not a professional, but have been baking my own bread and pastries at home for over 30 years, and have hung out at cafes in several countries.  And I love to eat!  ;-)

A great baguette is hard to find these days, even in Paris.  There are three bakeries within two blocks from my apartment in the 7 arrondissement and only one of them have consistantly good baguette.  So unless you master the art of making great baguette, it is better to leave it to those who do it all the time.  As a customer, I am more concern with getting delicious food at a cafe - whether it is made by you on-site or the baker down the street is secondary.  Also, since it is a business, you may find that when figured in your time, it is often less costly to get the baguette from someone who does it en masse.  (I don't mean factory production, but a bakery who makes 200 baguettes vs. you making 20 baguettes a day).  Oh, and baguettes should NEVER be cellophaned!  If you must wrap them up, use paper or breathable bags (sometimes these bags can be expensive).

How do you come up with that menu?  What kind of market research have you done?  A successful CEO once told me, "When you start a business, you need to look at how big a slice of the pie you could carve out, except in some instances, you invent your own pie".  What kind of demographics you have around your cafe, and how many cafes are there in the area?  Is there a large enough cafe-going population (the size of the "pie") to support another cafe?  If not, could you create your own "pie"?  In other words have things that distinguishes you from all the other cafes, so different that you are drawing from customer outside the existing cafe-going population. 

What are your specialities?  I know bakers who are absolutely wonderful with bread, but do not have a light hand for pastries, and vice versa.  It would make sense to bake from scratch what you are best known for, and get the rest pre-made.  What you could do is break down the cost of EVERYTHING, down to the last cent, and run some numbers - fixes costs (rent, electricity, water, etc.), variable costs (flour, butter, sugar, etc.), and projected profit, based on a sample menu.  Most often the numbers will tell you what to do.

Lastly, it may be wise to device at least four (if not more) differet sets of menu to account for seasonal availability of ingredients and tastes (i.e., customers may want lighter fares in the warmer months and heartier ones when it is cold and dreary outside).

That's all I can think of for now.  Best of luck in your venture!


Thaichef's picture

Good Afternoon Picosinge:

  I read with interest your advice to bigronda.  It is  a fantastic and a wealth of  wonderful ideas.  I teach people how to cook Thai food( which now a day is doing very poorly. Frankly, I think that people came to eat more so than come to learn how to cook. I am not interested in having a restaurant since I do not have enough experiences in doing it nor the money to start up. Besides there are several in our area (but no Thai restaurant. )  I am very impressed  that you are doing your baking at home for 30 years! That must be one fantastic business.

My home town is small and perhaps that may be the problem but we have a lot of very well to do people who live in the area. We have no bakery only at Krogers which is really a poor substitute.  

What I am getting at is to get more of your advices on how you are doing your business to be so succesful at it. How are you getting your customers?

Thank you.


picosinge's picture

Hello Mantana!  I am sorry if I was not being clear - the 30 years of baking at home is just that - baking and sharing bread and cookies and cakes with neighbors and friends.  I tend to bake bread when I am stressed out but unable to cope with the results on my own (too much carbs).  And my friends keep saying that while they care of me, they love it when I am stressed out!  ;-)

I was planning to buy and operate a food truck last year.  I would run it during the weekends and another partner would during the week.  Unfortunately he dropped out.  It would take too long to break even if I only operate it on weekends, at the same time,  I could not give up my day job, so the entire plan had to be shelved.  During the planning process, however, I did get some great advice from business people, some of those were passed along in the reply to Bigronda.

Several people I know started their small food business at farmers' markets and fairs, and rent commercial kitchen space at community colleges (or schools with culinary arts program) and churhes.  Do you have those available in your area?

Got to run now, but would love to chat more.  I am by no means an expert; but always more than happy to brainstorm.


Thaichef's picture

Hello Picosinge:

Thank you for your quick reply. I did not get a chance to open my e-mail until today.  There is a culinary arts college in Roanoke and I contacted them last week trying to get in their "baking and bread making" program.  No luck. The program is set up for only the degree culinary arts students. ( I sent my inquest to head of the Culinary department).   When I saw that you have been baking for 30 years I was very impressed since I just starting the bread making about two years ago( and learn everything from this web site!).  I don't have time nor energy to go to school for two years for culinary arts inorder to learn bread making.( That is what this college required. I can not only take the Baking only.)

On my cooking school, I have a degree from Culinary arts college in Thailand so I know how to cook Thai.  Unfortunately, the school only taught the cooking aspects and not the business of how to do the promotion, the set up of cooking school, how to get customers and such.

I would like to talk more to you( if you have more time), please contact me  (By the way, I have a booking on my cooking class next week for ten people but I really want to learn more on Aritsan bread making and desserts though.)

Thank you.




picosinge's picture

Hello Mantana!  Are there any good artisan bakery around your area?  How about an apprenticechip?  Not only you learn the baking aspect, but if you pay attention, you would also learn a lot from how others run their business.  Depends on the baker - some may see it as potential competition, some are more than happy to share their passion and knowledge.  A friend is considering doing an unpaid apprenticeship at a French bakery on weekends.  Just like me, he cannot afford to give up the day job but willing to exchange free labor to learn more about baking.

Another thought is, not necessarily conducive to improve baking skills, but may bring in extra income, have you considering catering?  I am not familiar with the health regulations in Virginia as whether you can prepare your food at home or you must do so in a commercial kitchen.  Although I *think* (not 100% sure) one way to get around it is to prepare the foods at your client's kitchen.  You cooking class students and their friends could very well become potential clients.

The following links may also be on interest to you - apparently Virginia allows people to sell certain baked good right from their own kitchen at home, privided certain criteria are met:


P.S.  To avoid confusion and put things in context:  I live and work in the US but have family in France and therefore spend quite a bit of time eating and cooking in Paris.  ;-)


Thaichef's picture

Hello Picosinge:

Thanks for your kindness. I know about the cottage foods law for VA. Lindy D on this same website told me a long time back.  To apprentice in the local baker( Roanoke) will take me one hour to get there and since baker start their work at "wee hour" in the morning, I may have to drive to Roanoke at 2.00 a.m.!!! If that is not bad enough, I lived in a very rural area and have to go up and down the mountain to get there at that hour of the morning. Too hard and too dangerous( with deer and I don't see well). 

Having said that I do not have to "make money" in order to make a living now since I am retired, not rich but have enough to live on this budget( just to make it clear to you also).  It just that I spent more and more time on this web site and read everything about baking( that I can get my hands on.  I did catering before, hard work and now prefer just to teach cooking ( but enjoy baking breads more).  Wish that I live close to some of the master on this site: dmsnyder, Shao Ping, Joeva, Mebake etc.  I would volunteer to cook Thai for them and scrub their floor if I could apprentice with them.  Sigh!  I will dream on.

Thanks again for your quick reply.









ehanner's picture

Hello bigrhonda,

After reading your post and the advice that followed, I have to say, I agree with the advice to do your homework first. The thing that bothers me is that it sounds like you are looking for a cafe to copy. Since you are in Ireland, you must look around and see if you could purchase acceptable breads and pastries at wholesale pricing. You want to open a cafe, not a bakery. The fact that you sell baked goods doesn't mean you MUST bake your own. There are many labor intensive aspects of running a small cafe on tight labor. There are not enough hours in the day to be both a baker and short order cook and table busser and the coffee meister. The menu you present is a very high end fare. You didn't mention what your baking skills are but croissants and pain au chocolate alone require a good oven for the task and a sheeter. Baguettes are also on the "skill required" list. If it were me, I would plan to open with breads and pastry you can purchase. Get the best products you can to make your sandwiches and see what sells.  You might be able to bake your own muffins and cakes/cupcakes and other small things you can do in a 24 each pan as conditions dictate. If you are successful and want to take on the staff to bake early each day, take a look at Chad Robertson's new book "Tartine Bread". There is a chapter that discusses the lengths one restaurant owner went to to bake his daily bread for the cafe. I think you will relate to the story. Robertson has some interesting reading and thoughts you should find interesting from a  bakers perspective and creating a quality product.

I'm retired now but I was in business for myself for most of 35 years. I've never owned a restaurant but I've helped start a few for others including one that is about to have the grand opening. It's a hard business from a direct participation standpoint. The numbers need to make sense first. You can't make it up in volume. You need to find a few products that everyone in your town says "Wow, that's the best one of those I ever had". It might be the garlic you add to the butter, the soda bread with a sliced chicken topping or that unbelievable chocolate silk pie. You need a hook. You need your health. Trying to do everything all at once will assure you can't do anything superbly and you will be destroying your body trying.

I applaud you for considering starting a new business. It can be tremendously satisfying and with a little luck and planning, profitable. It will cost more than you think to open, it will require more of your energy than you can imagine to run. But, when you here the compliments on the wonderful food you serve, it will warm your heart. I wish you the very best.



bigronda's picture

Hello ehanner,

Sincere thanks for your thoughtful reply, i most appreciate it, its hard figuring all this out due to the number of hats
needing to be worn, which you allude to in your reply, I definitely paused there, I can see myself trying to do too much,
after all, i only expect to be able to afford one extra member of staff. We wont even dwell on the time I have put into being the
coffee meister and now im trying to do the same on the baking front, and both from a standing start in the recent past. My
baking skills are such as one might have after reading numberous books (ciril hitz/peter reinhart), dvds and maybe a few
hundred hours in the kitchen, into which i put a lot of work getting everything set up/calibrated properly, replicating
a professional baking environment as best I could. Im getting good results up to medium skill level bread and my sourdough is
getting quite good. I am very thourough in terms of research/scientific approach and am prepared to go to what some would regard
as possibly a ludicrous level of detail. With a little more time, there is little i wont be able to bake short of pastry,
a process of course which cannot be as easily replicated for the home baker (the sheeters etc) and obviously its much more skilled work,
I never intended but to buy pastry in. What I had hoped/am hoping at this minute in time is to bake the cakes and filled foccacia (which im
determined to serve and is easy to make), salads, myself and buy the rest wholesale. In other words, do all the kitchen work.

Your comment about copying is well taken also. Its true. I do intend to copy (in part and very loosely) the menu from the above, remaining
nameless, cafe. I have thought about it and can see no reason why not. I think it is a wonderfully balanced menu being both easily
prepared (all premade) focaccia, baguettes and salads are their lunchtime, as well as interesting. Its not that i intend to copy
them filling for filling however :-)

I will have to research whether those high end ingredients are profitable to produce in a small city of 100000 people,
where stagflation rules the day. But there is a real space here for a middle brow menu like this, definitely, its a very tired cafe scene. Perhaps
your point is that, in seeking to copy I am betraying a lack of experience and that a menu should organically develop
from personal culinary experience? In some ways its hard to say that I would be 'copying' anyone, as whether one is filling foccacia, sandwiches, bagettes or whatever,
the basic formula, filled bread/salads + cakes, is so standard, even if they can vary wildly in fresheness/quality.
It's not a restaurant after all where the food is so much more proprietory and where one would certainly not dare to tread without a vast experience.

Your point about star or 'hook' products is also well taken. I am working on these. As for trying to do everything well and doing
nothing superbly that is what worries me. What keeps me going is that in this whole town, with the exception of one or two places most cafes are extremely weak,
and there is room for someone at this moment to take business by doing 'everything well', it would not even take truly superb, though superb/artisanal,
is certainly what I am aiming for, at least in the medium term, these things taking time. However Im also anxious to get going while
the opportunity is there.

Thanks again for contributing of your time to help me, I would be very interested if you have any more thoughts, and thanks much also to picosinge.

ehanner's picture

I'm glad to see your reply bigronda. I was rather straight forward in my post and I see you have taken it as intended.

I think you have defined the situation you need to work with in terms of creating a special niche. The entrance of a new cafe can be an exciting thing for a community that size. Small enough that there must be a good amount of foodies who will appreciate your quality details and the word will spread fast. I wasn't sure what your baking skills are but I understand now you know what you face if you choose to bake some of your own items. I still think your best course would be to make sure you can produce your own specialty Star items that will be the talk of the town, always fresh baked on location every day. But you should find a good artisan bakery to do the hard work of the bulk items at least for now. With just the two of you, your personality is as least as important as the source of the sandwich bread and I know how I am after repeated days of 14 hours under the gun. Unless you have in mind a bakery that has a few sit down tables for lunch customers, surely it would be better to bring the breads in. You would be a good customer and should be able to mutually benefit from this arrangement.

Again, good luck and please let me know you are progressing.


bigronda's picture

Eric thanks again, its pleasing and surprising in this day to still find people willing to help justs for the hell of it. Your answers are the kind of info i was hoping to get. Im sorry for copying and pasting my last answer from notepad, what a mess, i have to compose my replies off list is the reason but should still have readjusted after pasting.

Ill save your answer now and think about it some more.  The idea of having enough foodies is what grabs me as i write this. I know they are there and undercatered for, i just dont know if there are enough of them. If there is a pm facility on this site, i hope you wont mind if i use it in the future :-)

thanks and have a nice weekend.

ehanner's picture

Sorry, please help me with the sentence,

If there is a pm facility on this site, i hope you wont mind if i use it in the future :-)

What do you mean with the PM? Sorry.


OHHH PM = Personal Message I bet. Sure there is. At the top of the main page on the left side look for Messages. Or you can clink my user name (ehanner) and scroll down to send this user a message. I'll send you one .


EvaB's picture

I can't help you with the shop at all, I only eat! LOL

But I can't help observe that you don't capitalize your I, when speaking about yourself. This is an indicator of low esteem, and while I notice that a lot of posters tend to not capatalize anything including the I, I simply put that down to lazyness and the school system who have gotten into the ""creative writing = no language rules" in the past 30 years. That and the fact that most people don't learn to touch type so can't find the shift key so tend to either hit caps lock or type all in lower case. But I noticed that you do use the capitals on the sentences etc, simply not capatalizing yourself when using I. This bothers me, because if you don't think you are important enough to make an upper case shift, then why do you think that running a buisness is for you? That takes a lot of self esteem and moxie, so if you think you can do that, for heaven's sake use the shift key and capatalize yourself!

richkaimd's picture

if my training in mental health has taught me anything (i am nearing 30 years in practice) it is that people should not offer no opinions about anyone- unless they have not been asked to do so.  also, it is important to remember that a single event may have lots of different explanations, not just the one that you think of because it works in your experience.  very few of us know enough people to generalize.  so please, even though your opinion may be correct, let's keep this website light, friendly, positive and out of the personal. 

picosinge's picture

for a while when I saw a followup with the words "mental health".  I thought someone is going suggest therapy as I think of baking all the time, to the point of obsession!  ;-)

Floydm's picture

 very few of us know enough people to generalize.  so please, even though your opinion may be correct, let's keep this website light, friendly, positive and out of the personal.