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April showers to bring May sourdoughs, pastries

It looks as though the end of April may be a little wet, but with luck the skies will clear in time for our fourth weekly “bake sale” this coming Saturday (May 2) from noon-3 p.m.

There will be an ample supply of sourdough breads, baguettes, Italian loaves and pastries to go around. We changed some of the selections, so look at the menu posted below. As before, purchases will be limited to a maximum of breads and pastries per customer so that our staff can keep up with demand.

Lafayette Sourdough pan loaves(top) and Amber Wave pan loaves are among the items for sale at the May 2 Smittybread Bakery bake sale.

Purchases will be limited to 6 pastries, 3 bread loaves and 6 pretzels per customer. These can be ordered and paid for in advance or purchased at the time of sale. We ask that customers who attend or pick up orders observe social distancing. (So far social distancing has been the norm. It’s a gratifying sight compared with some lines we’ve seen at department and grocery stores.)

The following items are for sale:

  • Pretzel, $2
  • Plain croissant, $3
  • Cherry Danish, $3
  • Cinnamon Roll, $3
  • Blueberry Scone, $4
  • Brownie, $4
  • Chocolate or almond croissant, $4
  • Morning bun, $4
  • Baguette, $4
  • Italian hearth bread, $6
  • Lafayette Sourdough (pan loaf, $8; boule $7)
  • Amber Wave Sourdough (pan loaf, $8; boule $7)
  • Multigrain Sourdough (pan loaf $8; boule $7)
  • Seeded sourdough, $7
  • Rye sourdough with caraway, $7

To order prior to the sale, send an email with phone number to smittybread1@gmail.com or call 765-250-8214 between 10 am. and 4 p.m. Pre-sale orders must be received by 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 29. Keep your preferred credit or debit info handy. Cash or cards are acceptable at the time of sale.

In case you are wondering why a bakery would bother having a bake sale, for the past several weeks our community, state and nation have been struggling to come to grips with a deadly new viral infection dubbed Covid-19. I decided as a business owner that it would be best to let employees who want to socially distance themselves to do so.

It takes about a third of our usual staffing to put on these bake sales, which so far have generated the equivalent of two to three average business days in gross sales per event. So far it’s allowed us to keep the bills paid and our customers to have access to the baked goods they prefer.

Smittybread likely will be operating on this ad hoc basis until the governor says it’s time to start opening up businesses, parks, schools and other gathering places. While I have applied for assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program, I’m not counting on seeing a dime of the money that Congress so hastily dedicated to bolstering the economy.

On a related note, the Tippecanoe County Health Department has decided that bakeries will not be allowed to set up shop at local farmers’ markets through the month of May. Same goes for a whole list of vendors who normally would be at the markets next month, such as food trucks. I guess ready-to-eat foods (except for fresh produce) is considered too risky.

We, like many other stressed businesses these days, are looking forward to getting back to business on a more normal basis, hopefully by June 1. Until then (and even after then!) support your local businesses, stay safe and keep calm.

Bake sale a success; encore in the works

Last week’s Wednesday bake sale at Smittybread Bakery, conducted amid coronavirus concerns and nearly perfect weather, was a sellout. We had such a good sale we decided to do it again, but this time on Saturday instead of Wednesday due to weather conditions. (For event details, see below.)

We knew there was pent-up demand for Smittybread, but we had no way of knowing the extent until about 45 minutes into the April 8 sale when it became apparent our bread would run out well before the scheduled 5 p.m. end.

At the peak the line of customers stretched about half a block, owing in part to customers spacing themselves several feet apart. Still, we soon had to start letting customers know their wait might be in vain.

By 3 p.m. the line was shortening and customers were graciously accepting whatever we had left rather than what they had come to buy. When fresh-baked goods ran out we began selling previously unsold bread from our freezer until that too was gone.

Shortly after 4 p.m. we taped a “sold out” sign on the window, having squeezed the equivalent of a decent Saturday into one short afternoon.

Thanks to all of our wonderful customers for turning out! Many wore masks, in keeping with coronavirus safety recommendations.

The bake sale was a good way to keep staff involved and positive about the bakery’s future. Sadly most of the Smittybread staff was unable to participate in the sale because without daily commerce it isn’t economical to bring in more than a skeleton crew.

Out of deference to the safety of staff and in keeping with the spirit of social distancing, we will continue to maintain irregular hours until further notice. Hopefully restrictions will soon lift and we’ll be back to more normal hours in a few weeks. Meantime here are the plans for our next bake sale:

  • The sale will be 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, April 18. (With luck the current windy, cold and rainy weather will have improved by then!)
  • Advance orders must be placed no later than noon Wednesday. The reason for this is to have enough bread and pastries in the works for pre-orders and for walk-up customers, given that sourdoughs and croissants take 48 hours advance planning.
  • You may buy up to 12 pastries (total). You can also buy up to four breads, limit of 2 loaves of any one kind. Pretzels, limit of 6 per customer. If after the sale ends Saturday there are any products left they may be purchased on a first-come, first-serve basis up to 3 p.m. Feel free to call to see what we have left.
  • To place an order call 765-250-8214 between 10 am. and 4 p.m. or send an email to Smittybread1@gmail.com If you leave a message or send an email, please include a name and telephone number where you can be reached. We will be in touch to take payment over the phone for all advance orders. Have a credit card handy.

Products available for advance ordering are the following:

  • Pretzels, $2 each
  • Plain croissants, $3 each
  • Chocolate or almond croissant, $4 each
  • Granola cookies, $2
  • Blueberry scones, $4
  • Whole wheat fig/anise scones, $3
  • Cinnamon Rolls, $3 each
  • Morning buns, $4 each
  • Lafayette Sourdough (pan loaf, $8; boule $7)
  • Marquis Sourdough (pan loaf, $8; boule $7)
  • Multigrain Sourdough (pan loaf $8; boule $7)
  • Seeded sourdough, $7
  • Rye sourdough with caraway, $7
  • Italian hearth bread, $6
  • Baguette, $4
  • Granola, $7

Selection on the day of the sale may vary. If time permits we may add a bread or pastry variety, but as these are uncharted waters it’s impossible to say how much time we’ll have to extemporize. We hope everyone gets a chance to stock their pantry without unnecessary risk of exposure to the virus. As always, stay well!

Inching Back into Business

After taking a week off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smittybread Bakery will conduct an afternoon bake sale from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, under the pop-up tent in the bakery parking lot at 415 S. 4th St., Lafayette, Ind.

Our products will be similar to those we usually take to local farmers’ markets such as sourdough boules and pan loaves, baguettes, pretzels, Italian bread, and croissants.

Our sourdough lineup consists of Lafayette Sourdough, Amber Wave, Rye with Caraway, Multigrain, Seeded Sourdough, and Pain Au Levain. Sorry, no olive or Marquis sourdough at this time.

Non-sourdough breads will include Italian hearth bread and baguettes. Croissants will consist of plain, pain au chocolate and almond. We will not have Danish but we should have a few Cinnamon Rolls for sale and perhaps other goodies as time permits.

We will be limiting purchases to no more than six pastries per person and three loaves of any one type per person. We don’t have enough employees or dough on hand to sell croissants by the dozen at this time. (If you would like a dozen pastries for a future date, let us know. We welcome advance special orders.)

For breads, the limit is three loaves of any one type. If you would like or need additional breads, check back at 5 p.m. or shortly after. If there are any breads or pastries left, they will be fair game.

Why a bake sale at this time you might ask? Well, baking is what we do. Like anyone else, we’re getting a little stir crazy. And we know, from the calls we’ve received in person and on the answering machine, that customers are getting anxious about their diminishing bread supplies.

As of today it appears from Indiana Department of Health Data that the coronavirus is spreading relatively slowly in Tippecanoe County compared with other parts of the state, and we hope that continues. We encourage customers to observe social distancing, hand washing, face masks in public and other precautions in accordance with government COVID-19 recommendations.

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.