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Recipes for baking success

The first International Artisan Bakery Expo got off to a solid start with several sessions devoted to helping community bakery owners improve their product lines, plan for success and think outside the box.

My wife and I were particularly interested in a session on attracting and retaining quality workers led by business partners Leslie Mackie and Scott France of Macrina Bakery & Café in Seattle.

Starting from a small community bakery with one facility (similar to Smittybread, with production, packaging and sales under one roof), Macrina now has four retail locations plus a 50,000-square-foot production facility and 280 employees.

All along, a key challenge has been to attract and retain quality employees. They start by posting job openings whenever and wherever they can. I found it interesting that they have found great success with Indeed, an online job listing service that Smittybread has tried without much luck.

They have not sought growth for the sake of growth but rather to enhance the communities they serve and help them create an environment in which their workers can grow and thrive. It starts with employee orientation followed by a bread class in  which Mackie explains the various products they sell and how they’re made. They also make sure each employee understands the company’s mission and core values.

“Our mission is enriching communities through the joy of artisan baking,”  Mackie said. I sat there thinking, that mission fits Smittybread to a T.

While Smittybread will likely never achieve the scale of Macrina, its easy to foresee the day when we have more than one retail location and additional production space so that we can serve a wider audience and provide more opportunities for existing and future employees.

Peter Yuen in Las Vegas
Pastry Chef Peter Yuen meets with bakers after his demonstration on woodgrain-colored croissants at the 2019 International Artisan Bakery Expo in Las Vegas.

During a morning demonstration session, pastry chef Peter Yuen baked some excellent buttery croissants and then showed how to step it up a notch by using cocoa-colored dough to create a wood-grain pattern. I’m not sure how the beautifully colored croissants taste since they weren’t baked on the spot, but his plain butter croissants were not far removed from Smittybread’s croissants, a testament to our bakers’ skills.

In between workshops and demonstrations, my wife and I and two Smittybread employees perused the vendor aisles, tasted numerous samples, and met new industry contacts. We ended the day with a sushi dinner at Takashi, a small restaurant far removed from the Las Vegas strip and one I highly recommend.

Big day at Smittybread

The moment of truth arrives. It’s one thing to talk about artisan bread and another to deliver.

First thing out the gate getting ready for the West Lafayette Farmers Market: my starter was so happy it spilled all over the dining room table

These three loaves of multi-grain rye sourdough bread represent the first bake for my first ever farmers’ market June 3, 2015, in West Lafayette, Ind. I was pleased they turned out so well and they must have brought me luck: I completely sold out of bread within a couple of hours. (Photo by David “Smitty” Smith)

Farmers market, here I come

  A couple of weeks ago I put in my application to be a vendor at the West Lafayette Farmers Market. This afternoon I received great news: my application has been accepted!

I’m thrilled, and a little terrified. Working with sourdough (real sourdough, not some additive) is unlike baking most kinds of breads. Store-bought yeast is a hybrid, bred to give a predictable result.

Natural yeast, so to speak, has a life of its own. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out it surprises you — usually not in a good way. So, saying you are going to show up with armfuls  of loaves at a certain time and actually doing it can be very different.

And then there’re the usual questions: Will anyone like my product, is it priced right, will I bring too much or not enough? (My hunch is you can’t go wrong bringing more than enough, whereas sitting there with nothing to sell would be painful.)

I can’t wait. There are many things on the to-do list between now and Wednesday, including fine-tuning a production schedule, putting together a presentable booth, deciding what to bake and what to leave out, procuring bags and shelves and labels. And that’s just for starters (rim shot).

The West Lafayette Farmers Market is open 3:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at 3065 N. Salisbury St. See you there.