The Fresh Loaf

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A Crazy Plan....That May Work?

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CJRoman's picture
CJRoman

A Crazy Plan....That May Work?

I'm under contract with my current job until July, which keeps me four hours away from the city I have always wanted to start some kind of baking business in.

To start, I'd like to try to get into one of our farmer's markets and see what works and what doesn't. Unfortunately, this is really hard to do from 4 hours away!

Today it was suggested to me to try the almost-impossible: Bake in a commercial kitchen in my current city on a Thursday or Friday...then haul it 4 hours down the road ...stay the night...and get crankin' in the morning at the market...then, head back.

Sounds...crazy. And...exhausting. BUT, if I don't try SOMETHING...I completely miss the market season if I can't relocate down there until August!

So my questions are:

1. What are the glaring problems with this? (Besides it being expensive and tiring)

2. I'm going to have to really trim the product line. Soft pretzels and cinnamon rolls are my favorites...but the amount of time between baking and eating will be extensive. Have you had any success with a very stable product at a market? Something that won't turn to gush overnight (re: doughnut)? This will really be critical...it has to get from here to there and sustain any hot or rainy Southern summer weather.

3. Anything else you've learned out on the markets?

breadbabe's picture
breadbabe

Patience. That's the answer to #1.

It sounds like a crazy kind of tired to do all this work, drive a distance and come home. I just recently gave up Farmer's Markets, but only bc I had success in other (less demanding) areas. I know that after a market I barely had enough energy to get my stuff back in the door and drop onto a sofa. If you start at a market without the best product you can produce, customers have long memories and won't come back to you next year. Business note: With gas and hours involved, you will actually be paying people to buy your stuff. Yuck.

I would wait until you move. do everything you can until then - labeling, local and state regulations, packaging, perfecting the product (answering question #2), doing some homework on any competition, acquiring the 'stuff' of a market: tables, (no chairs, you won't be sitting if you want to make the most $$), canopy, display items, etc. You can find real bargains if you're not in a hurry to buy.

The best thing I did for myself at the market was sampling (this might be covered under state regs - check for your own locality).  Other vendors came by and remarked that they couldn't afford to be giving away all that food. It follows that they didn't sell much either, because the customers were all at my table. My mantra: "you cannot eat too much at my table". I never stopped anyone from a 2nd and 3rd sampling. When people eat the food they are confident, and buy with confidence. Passers-by see the eating and buying and want to know what all the fuss is about. Children tell their parents and parents are just thrilled that their kids enjoyed a whole grain item. Boom, another sale. I also discounted my food to the other vendors. My label and product were all over the market within an hour.

Patience is my best word here!

CJRoman's picture
CJRoman

Breadbabe, thank you SO much for the time and effort you put into that response!

Since I'm under contract until *July* I will miss the entire market season (practically) if I can't get down there until August. That's why I was willing to make that commitment of time and expense....

Also, I have a paycheck behind me *now*...I may not have one behind me after July....

You make a really great point though...first impressions will be key to building. That a big concern of mine.

The bakery I work at part-time now...the owner sells at a farmer's market and many of those goods are baked a day or two or three in advance. She wraps them individually in plastic wrap...and she usually sells out. Is it baking the day before or the long car ride, then overnight that is going to kill quality?

mcs's picture
mcs

In my professional opinion, a baker who bakes their bread days in advance only to pull it out on farmers' market day is not only being lazy, but is also being dishonest to his/her customers in selling them products that are less than fresh.  If a customer calls me up and asks me if they can have particular bread on a day that I'm not baking it, I specifically tell them, "I'm not baking that bread on the day you want it.  Is it acceptable to you if I bake it the day before and freeze it for you?" 

In five years and many thousands of breads later I have never sold a previously frozen loaf of bread (or day old for that matter) masquerading as fresh.

It's a matter of timing and standards.  Once your mind is set that your bread will be baked within a day of when you sell it, you adjust your schedule accordingly.

-Mark

CJRoman's picture
CJRoman

Hi Mark!

Truthfully, I don't think my intended effort makes me a lazy and dishonest individual. I am doing my best to get the freshest product possible from where *I* live...to the market where I intend to build my business. That's a 4 hour drive away.

As I stated, if I bake on Friday and sell on Saturday I am still within a 24 hour period. Its the drive and the overnight that I'm concerned about....not to mention the weather!

Thank you for your feedback though...I appreciate and understand the concerns expressed.

mcs's picture
mcs

I wasn't saying YOU were being lazy, I was referring to the method you were referring to at the place you work part time. 

Kudos to you for trying to figure out the best way to deliver the best product considering the parameters you've set for yourself. 

I've got to go to sleep but I'll check in on this thread tomorrow.

-Mark

CJRoman's picture
CJRoman

Ah! I see! In some respects I understand the "next day" plan at the bakery because honestly, when our sourdoughs come out of the oven they are usually really "doughy" tasting....but after a long rest...just right. It is actually a bit better the next day! But I was told it was the cakes and quick breads that have the longer lag...which surprised me because given the fat content and moisture, I figured they'd get grimy quickly. I suppose the plastic wrap is good protection?

I'm not sure. But I hear you about the bread! I think there's an element of trust there that if you are selling "artisan" or "small batch" that it is going to be fresh and high quality. At least...we hope!

mcs's picture
mcs

Yes, of course sourdoughs, as opposed to a baguette, can benefit from a long rest after the bake.  Those then could be the first pulled out of the oven during your 24 hour cycle.  If the customer wants to let your 18 hour bread age for another 6 hours or even 24 hours, then that's up to them.  A wine connoisseur might let his/her wine breathe for an hour before having it with dinner (maybe they even prefer it the next day- that's up to the person who uncorks the wine). 

However I don't believe any bread is benefiting from the freeze/thaw cycle, so that's what I'm trying to avoid.  Let's say they buy 3 loaves from you because they won't see you until next week, one loaf to eat today and two to freeze for later in the week.  By selling them fresh bread, the bread they freeze will only have to endure one freeze/thaw cycle.  In addition, you could explain to them about how the sourdough might be tastier tomorrow than it is today.

The idea that you want to get across to your customers is that your product is outstanding and better than they can get anywhere else - not that it is marginally better.  If someone with Fresh Loaf standards buys some of your bread, tries it at home and thinks 'This has been previously frozen' or 'This is OK, but I can do better', you may never see them again.  Plus, if they talk to their friends about your bread, then you'll lose even more customers.  You can't afford that. 

As soon as a baker accepts the fact that selling (or buying) previously frozen bread is acceptable, then it becomes a slippery slope.  What happens to the bread that doesn't sell at the market?  Is it frozen and then brought back the next week?  How many times can a baker do this before enough is enough?

-Mark

edit:  Oh, a quick note addressing your OP about 'staying the night' at your destination.  If I were only going to stay one night at the city where the market is located, I would stay there after the market, not before.  I would leave my city with hot bread, drive down to the market city, do the market, then find a place to eat and go to sleep.  Depending on how tired you are, you might get by with a 3-4 hour nap at a state park, a drive home, then a very long sleep at home on market night.  When you have to pull an all-nighter, it's the second 24 hours that is most tiring, not the first 24 hours.

breadbabe's picture
breadbabe

Is it baking the day before or the long car ride, then overnight that is going to kill quality?

Hot and Humid - the death of fresh baked items. There's a reason we concentrate on veggies and fruits in the summer!  I was thinking more of summer temps over that period. I would bake on Friday and load the car in the garage that night, drive away in the morning. But even that plan would deteriorate the product if it was a warm/humid night.

But that could be, in theory, a non-issue for you depending on the product. I would still focus on next summer with a bang, rather than an exhausting start in 2014. When you move back, do your due diligence - visit every farmer's market and see who has the same kind of product and pay attention to the local need for that. Are there 3 others already saturating the market?

On a bright note, you might find that a market will lose a vendor due to --- all kinds of things -- and you could be there to scoop up the empty space. THAT would be another value in visiting markets as soon as you arrive - you'll get to know these details.

CJRoman's picture
CJRoman

All great points. Thank you breadbabe!