Fresh is vital to Bakery Nouveau
Many operators would consider a nine-pan deck oven that bakes only 12 baguettes at time problematic. But William Leaman, co-owner of Seattle's Bakery Nouveau and member of the Coupe du Monde gold medal-winning 2005 Bread Bakers Guild Baking Team USA, views it as an advantage. Sure, it requires more work for the bakers, but for the customers, it means always being in the right place at the right time.
“When we take product to the front, we announce ‘hot baguettes or ciabatta or croissants’ to create excitement among our customers,” Leaman explains. “Sometimes we feel as if we're running a short-order bakery, but we've built our business on the philosophy ‘keep it hot, keep it fresh and you'll keep their attention,’ and it's been working very well for us so far.”
Baking begins at 5 a.m. and continues throughout the day so that customers are assured of getting products that are no more than three hours out of the oven.
As the bakery only has two convection ovens, pastries must be baked in small batches as well. But that's also okay with Leaman, because it gives him greater freedom to use seasonal ingredients to create limited edition items that he can promote on the bakery's blog. He also plans to use other social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, to give customers a heads-up on such items.
“For example, a really good friend of mine owns a produce company, and he'll call me to ask if I want a half-pallet of organic raspberries that just came in,” Leaman says. “We have the flexibility to grab them, build products around them and immediately promote these special fresh-from-the-oven items.”
In a recent blog entry, Leaman introduced an apricot/plum hybrid called the aprium and teased customers by telling them “I'd expect some interesting tart-like creations soon.” In the meantime, the blog promised that the unusual fruit would be featured on the coming weekend's Charlotte cakes.
The opportunity to purchase small amounts of just-picked produce allows Leaman's creativity to run wild and for him to offer a constantly changing selection of new products that showcase the bakery's versatility. The fact that quantities are limited gives social media-savvy customers good reason to check the bakery's web alerts on a regular basis and encourages them get the special products before they're all gone.
Not surprisingly, keeping service quality high can be a challenge when each day brings new products to learn about and sell. That's why one of the key characteristics Leaman looks for in a new employee, whether for front- or back-of-house, is flexibility in both skills and attitude.
“With our constant introduction of new products, nobody on our staff has the chance to get too comfortable with our offerings,” he says. “To make sure that everybody in the front and the back is aware of what's coming, we post all of our new product background, ingredient information and photos on our blog — we call it our daily Cliffs Notes — so it's all easily and immediately accessible.”
Small is a virtue at little t american baker
At little t american baker, everybody's a critic. But it's not that the customers complain; they've been giving the breads and pastries produced in this tiny bakery rave reviews since it opened two years ago.
“We're our own toughest critics,” explains owner and former Bread Bakers Guild Baking Team USA member Tim Healea. “Each one of our bakers knows exactly how each product should look and taste, and I can rest easy knowing that none of them will allow anything that doesn't meet those standards to be sold here.”
Because the Portland, Ore., bakery is so small — production space is only 800 sq. ft., equipment is basic and only two or three bakers work during any given shift — and because it puts out a full line of products, from breakfast pastries and breads to cookies and cakes, Healea has to rely on the specific strengths of every staff member. Each baker has a particular area of expertise, “so we are able to empower these individuals to make decisions regarding what products make it into our cases and on our shelves,” he explains.
Being small has advantages besides constant quality control. Fewer staffers make it easier to ensure each individual is thoroughly trained on procedures and techniques. It also speeds the process of adding new items to the product mix.
Limited production space makes small-batch baking throughout the day mandatory, so customers are always assured of getting the freshest products, whether they visit little t early in the morning or near closing time, Healea says.
Baking begins at 5 a.m. to have croissants and other breakfast items ready for the store's 7 a.m. opening. The last breads of the day come out of the oven around lunchtime so they're no more than a few hours old when the bakery closes at 5 p.m.
The crew begins each day with a specific production schedule, but Healea leaves some wiggle room to make sure product availability will keep up with demand. It also helps that many items have components that can be prepared in advance, such as tart shells and cookie doughs, which make bake-off and finishing quick and easy.
To keep production running smoothly and quality consistent, the basic product list at little t remains pretty much the same year-round. The menu generally features 17 different bread SKUs — made from five or six doughs formed into different shapes and sizes — a dozen breakfast pastries, three to four tarts and cakes/cupcakes and six to eight varieties of cookies. Specific flavors of each product rotate to give customers an ever-changing range of options.
Locally grown seasonal fruits also keep little t's product offerings new and exciting. For instance, while focaccia is always on the menu, the schiacchiata con uva or grape focaccia is available only when pinot noir grapes are available from local growers.
Healea purchases flours and grains from a local natural foods purveyor. “We're way too small to be able to specify particular fields, growers or mills, but we do insist that our bread flour be made from hard white wheat grown in Idaho on irrigated land. I have found that I can depend on this flour to be pretty consistent from year to year.”