The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Hardships of Opening a Bakery (Part 1 of 2)

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

The Hardships of Opening a Bakery (Part 1 of 2)

About 5 months ago, on July 20th, 2017, my partner Jana and I (Mr. Zita) opened our bakery called “Bang Bang” in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The name Bang Bang is derived from the Khmer / Cambodian word “Nombang”, meaning “bread”. We specialize in sourdough breads and cakes, with heavy influences from North America, UK, Germany and France. Why so international? Simply because I’m Cambodian-Canadian and my partner is German-British. ;)

 

  • Shopfront of Bang Bang bakery

 

  • Me, baker Zita, amidst our bread display

  • Jana's Spinach & Feta Quiche, Cherry Bakewell Tart, & Apple Crumble / Crisp

As a predominantly self-taught baker, with zero practical work experience in a bakery, I expected big challenges---oh boy, was I right! During the first week of opening Bang Bang, I slept an average of 1 to 3 hours per day! Long, weary work days (14+ hours) became the norm; progress also impeded by lack of money, equipment and skilled bakers.

 

  • Coffee-Almond Brioche Braid (topped with toasted almonds and pearl sugar) & Caffe Latte

 

  • Cambodia-made, German-traditional smoked Black Forest ham on freshly baked French-style country sourdough (Pain de Campagne), with fresh arugala / rocket, & housemade spiced mustard-mayo sauce

 

  • Locally produced fresh mozzarella (100g), fresh & marinated sun-dried tomatoes, with housemade sweet basil pesto on freshly baked Italian-style ciabatta

Before opening Bang Bang, it wasn’t our intention to serve coffee, tea, or sandwiches. Our bakery, we thought, would primarily offer breads and cakes. We realized we made a grave mistake after several friends and long-time supporters asked us what beverages they could pair with our (cream cheese) bagels and sweets...

The week before opening our bakery, we hastily bought a new espresso machine, new counters for the espresso machine, and scrambled to find an adequately skilled barista---luckily, we did!

 

Despite criticisms, after operating Bang Bang for 2 months we decided to close the bakery for a month (October) during the rainy season / low tourist season.

Jana and I were fatigued and exhausted, at the brink of our mental and physical limits, the bakery still understaffed and unable to efficiently accommodate dine-in customers. We needed time to recover, to rethink and reorganize the bakery.

Off we went to Europe for inspiration and rejuvenation.

 

 

  • Birmingham, England. Left, The Bull Ring; right, St. Martin's Church

 

  • Birmingham, England. Coffee, coffee, coffee

 

  • Birmingham, England. Peel & Stone Bakery

Our first stop in Europe was Birmingham, England (my partner’s home city). Of course, as many as we could, we visited bakeries, cafes and coffee shops. Unquenched by our findings (Birmingham surprisingly had few independent bakeries), we later visited nearby cities Bristol and Bath, and discovered Bristol had a thriving, artisanal bakery scene.

 

  • Bristol, England. Train Station

 

  • Bristol, England. Hart’s Bakery

 

  • Bristol, England. Hart’s Bakery

 

  • Bristol, England. Hart’s Bakery

 

  • Bristol, England. The Bristol Loaf

 

  • Bristol, England. The Bristol Loaf

 

  • Bristol, England. Pinkman’s Bakery

 

  • Bristol, England. Pinkman’s Bakery

 

  • Bristol, England. East Bristol Bakery

 

  • Bristol, England. East Bristol Bakery

 

  • Bath, England. The Bertinet Bakery

 

  • Bath, England. The Bertinet Bakery

 

  • Our hotel room in Birmingham after returning from Bristol & Bath

Never having been in England, or Europe for that matter, I received a number of complaints before leaving Siem Reap. “Why are you going to England?” they said. “Food in the UK is bland and terrible,” and a bombardment of similar comments. To my relief, I found out it was the contrary!

After doing “research” at a plethora of pubs and restaurants (including dining at a Michelin Star restaurant), I concluded that English / British cuisine has something unique and tasty to offer that most countries will find difficult to replicate. Additionally, it was a major learning experience for me. I now understand the British palate better (quite different from North American and Australian), enabling me to cater more effectively to my British customers.

 

  • My happy team and I (middle)

Stay tuned for part 2 where I summarize our trip to Rome, Paris, Barcelona and London, and the solutions we implemented to keep our bakery going!

Happy baking, all! And hope you had a wonderful Christmas / holidays!

Mr. Zita
Head Bread Baker
Bang Bang

[f] www.facebook.com/BakeryBangBang
[I] www.instagram.com/BakeryBangBang

 

Comments

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

People have a perception of a place without ever having been there. What a lovely write up and some great food. When it comes to pastries, desserts, all manner of baked goods the UK is like the best kept secret. Everyone knows about the big food chain popular with the masses but if you want the best stuff it's the places only known about by word of mouth. My hat off to you for your enterprise and making it happen. You have a lovely place there and what's more you all look happy. Nothing like a privately owned bakery realised by the passion and hardwork of everyone involved.

Great Job.

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you, Lechem!

I try not to be a judgmental person, and would rather personally experience something (especially food) before forming an opinion. I took negative comments about the UK with a grain of salt, explored and made my own conclusions. A wise decision, I'd say. And what you say is true; some of the best stuff is only known by word of mouth!

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Beautiful writeup-nice looking bakery and product!

As for your business, there are many questions to answer in order to be successful. Often it is better to understand the answers before you write your business plan. What is your marketing plan?

Who is your customer base in Cambodia? Age? Nationality? Income level? What foods do they like? What are their comfort foods? What are foods they would not think of making themselves but would like to have (NEED to have) on a daily basis? Holiday foods? Birthday foods? Foods for celebration? Foods for workplaces? Foods for charity events? The answers to all these questions will help formulate your business and marketing plan.

If you can do this beautiful write-up, you can write a great plan. Keep it simple and do-able. Make your goals measurable. You got your feet wet. Now how do you make your effort sustainable?

Wish I could visit you but you are far from me. Looking forward to the second writeup!

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

:) Well, you caught us red handed. We didn't do a proper, thorough business plan before opening the bakery.

I can answer most of your questions based on the clientele we've developed at Bang Bang, and the clientele we had at a local Sunday farmers market we previously attended (for approx. a year). However, we made some assumptions that weren't exactly true. Goes to show you, it doesn't hurt to be thorough with your research! 

Thank you for your kind words and advice. I'll be ruminating and giving a few of your questions deeper thought. 

Zita

bikeprof's picture
bikeprof

Mr. Zita,

I've followed you on Instagram for some time now, and from the looks of things, you do really great work...and (to again state the obvious) LOTS of it.  Being young as you are is a big plus in handling it, but as you discovered, there are limits. 

I think some careful analysis of the total cost, and the return on investment, for all the things you do might be appropriate, if you haven't done it already.  I run a small bakery that I opened in the last year, and getting more and more efficient (while improving quality), and distinguishing between things that are "nice" to provide for customers, and which ones actually help keep the business afloat, have become more and more central to my thinking and my work.

This business is hard work...no two ways about it.  It is also so rewarding, and I really appreciate seeing your drive and the success you have had and the progress you have made.  I also share your interest in traveling to gain insight and inspiration, as the community of bakers I know around the globe is full of awesome people - talented, generous, and hard working.  

Given the last point, I wonder if you might benefit from joining the BBGA, to access their discussion forum (a really great resource for me and many other bakers who regularly go there for help/troubleshooting/insight/camaraderie)?!

Best of luck out there...

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

That's a fair assessment. I'm sure my youth and health has a lot to do with the progress we've made. There's no way our bakery would last as long if I was unfit! But as you say, there are limits.

Another careful analysis is due, most definitely. We're gradually figuring things out, identifying what is and what isn't worthwhile for us to purchase or produce. It'll be a fickle process but we'll pull through. And another yes, I'd likely benefit from joining the BBGA. Several bakers have encouraged me to join, but for one reason or another it had escaped my mind. Thank you for the reminder. This time I'll have a serious look into it.

Cheers!

Zita

chouette22's picture
chouette22

...for taking us along on the ride. I enjoyed your write-up and pictures very much and wish you lots of luck and stamina to push forward. 

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thank you, Chouette! Will do my best to push forward, for as long as I can manage :) 

Zita

WatertownNewbie's picture
WatertownNewbie

First, I wish you much success.  Your shop looks great, your products appealing, and your team energized.  I chuckled when I saw the photo of your hotel room after your return from the bakery run to Bristol and Bath.  I like bread, but still would have a problem consuming all of those fine products.

I second the suggestion of joining BBGA.  When I joined as a member in the Serious Home Baker category, I had no idea of what to expect in the forums, but the discussions include matters that are central to what you are encountering.  How to start a business.  How to make basic decisions about what products to offer and what to skip. Staffing.  Purchasing flours and other ingredients.  Finding the right equipment and using it correctly.  So many things are discussed there.  Give it a look.

Lastly, please post Part 2 so that I can continue to follow your quest.  Do you have a web site?

Good luck.  I hope that you do well.

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Haha, yes, I can't help but smile each time I see the photo of our hotel room. Sadly, we didn't consume the bread pile in its entirety, only nibbled on most. But can you blame us? We couldn't help ourselves from trying an assortment of breads!

Noted. I'll give a serious look into joining BBGA. Sounds like it has the answers (and questions) I need!

I'll definitely post Part 2 later, not sure when since I'm presently busy with work again. We don't have a website but you can follow us on our Facebook page:
www.facebook.com/BakeryBangBang/

Anyways, thank you for your encouraging comments (much appreciated) and happy baking!

Zita

pul's picture
pul

Sourdough and western style bread are still not known in Asia. So I guess your customer base is pretty much formed by tourists. I know well China and even there we find bread as we know it only in hotels (5-star). So have you tried to bake for hotels in Siam Reap? I also suggest that you take a look at the Japanese bread scene. I think their baking style fits more the palate of Asian people.

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Our current customer base are expatriates and tourists. A tiny fragment of that are local Cambodians but it's slowly increasing. We're adamant on producing "western style" breads and cakes, since it's our passion, but will consider catering more towards the Asian palate in the future. At least with some products. :)

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Life is indeed a voyage of discovery! Thank you for sharing your voyage. The photos are wonderful.

I am looking forward to the next episode.

Happy baking!

David

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Thanks, David! Happy baking to you, too!

Zita

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Nothing is as rewarding as running your own business doing what you love... If you don't go broke or get burned out!  Keep at it and things will get better and better I am sure.  Well done and

be happy while baking!

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Hi Dabs!

Doing what you love is certainly rewarding. But, and a BIG BUT, not going broke or getting burned out while doing so isn't easy, haha. 

As always, thank you for your continual support and happy baking!

Zita

isand66's picture
isand66

Great Post!  Always nice to catch up with you and your baking and business adventures.  Looking forward to seeing your part 2 to hear how you are doing now.  All your baked goods look excellent and I'm sure once you get your final or close to final game plan in place you are bound to be successful.

Regards

Ian

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

:) Thanks, Ian! If I had more time and energy, I'd post more often... but, you know. 

Cheers, and happy baking!

Zita