Bakery Owner - San Francisco Street Bakery
Over 20 years in the field
How did you become interested in a baker job?
I was working in a white collar job where I felt unfulfilled.
My wife and I were starting a family, so I thought it might be a good time to change careers. I wanted to do something that I enjoyed doing, and I thought being a baker would work better with my family schedule. My great-grandfather was a baker in Ohio, and he'd done reasonably well with it. So I went to the baking program at Seattle Central Community College.
What was your first job after baking school?
The program hooked me up with a job making donuts in a mom-and-pop shop in Edmonds. I bounced around a couple of other places and then ended up in a small shop that was close to my house. The owners were nice, and I stayed there almost 2 years.
It didn't take long to figure out that I would be far better off being self-employed in the industry than working for other people. So when our kids were of school age, we looked for a bakery that we might be able to run. We really liked Olympia, and we stumbled upon a vacant bakery that had equipment and was within our reach. So we decided to take the plunge. We opened up the bakery and moved.
What's the hardest thing about being a baker?
The hours are the most difficult part—they're always bizarre. Mostly they're in the middle of the night. For years I got up at 2 a.m. and worked until noon; the hours tend to run long. Breaks are kept to a minimum. It's physically demanding.
So what are the good parts about baking?
There are success stories. We're one of them. We're well established and make a good living. The things that draw people to making food are hard to quantify. At the end of the day, you can see what you've done.
I get this absurd amount of respect because I'm the baker. I'm just making cookies and bread, but people hold that in high esteem. When people come to see the bakery, they're happy. It's a pleasant experience for them. The community made the bakery. It's a focal point for the neighborhood because people have made it that way. If they hadn't, we wouldn't be here.
What skills are most important in a baker job?
People come through the bakery with varying skill levels, but most food creation is an art. Some people without a culinary background have an innate touch with food. You have to be really stubborn and determined, because the food industry requires a lot of strange hours, hard work and physical endurance.
What's your favorite part of the day?
It's nice to come in when no one else is there, get a cup of coffee and get organized before you dive in for the day. It's amazing how awake you can be at three in the morning.
My favorite time is the morning, right after the retail folks have set up the front. All the bread is up; the bagels are in their bins; all the pastry is out. It's great to see the product up and have it ready for customers.
Any other advice about being a baker?
If you decide that you want to be a baker, it's not something to take lightly. You have to really struggle learning your craft for the first couple of years in situations that are not ideal. You have to be ready to fight your way through.
If you want to become a high-end pastry chef, get your education at the best school you can afford, apply yourself as intently as you can, and don't let anybody tell you that you can't do it. I can't tell you how many people told us that we can't do what we've been doing for the last 15 years.