Grand Central Bakery: continually changing
In a bakery where the organizational motto is, “Nothing is sacred,” change is inevitable. “We're always trying to create a culture that raises new ideas, and I'll be the first to admit that it's not easy,” says Ben Davis, co-owner of Grand Central Bakery in Portland, Ore. Grand Central has six retail bakery locations in Portland, with two of those locations operating as commissaries: one for bread and one for pastry. All locations have fresh baking of pastry items on site; baked bread is shipped to each location from the central commissary.
In order to keep product quality high and the bakery operating as efficiently as possible, training is key. With a bakery that promotes change as much as Grand Central, the training is continuous.
During the first year of employment, employees have four reviews with Davis and his management team. “The reviews for the first year are really task-oriented and are very specific, like ‘how do you form this loaf?’” Davis says. “You're graded on how you form the loaf, and that aids in our training. The review process in the first year is really a blueprint for the training; it directly reflects what they are supposed to learn.”
The reviews closely match the job description and expectations of that employee. This ensures that everyone is on the same page, and the employee knows the standards. After the first year, employee reviews occur annually.
In addition to employee reviews, training occurs during regularly scheduled product tastings. Every week at the bread commissary, Davis sits down with the sales staff, head baker and bakery leaders, and they cut up a sample of that day's loaves. “It gives a format for sales to give feedback to production in a ‘safe’ environment,” Davis adds. It helps the bakery keep the products within the defined specifications for aroma, flavor and crust color.
The bakery started the meetings years ago, but was not always committed to a regular schedule. “We'd do them for a while, and then we then we would blow them off. But we wouldn't catch trends as quickly. So, now we religiously hold onto that weekly bread tasting,” he says.
On the pastry side, the meetings occur once a month with Davis' sister, Piper Davis, pastry production manager and co-owner, sitting down with the pastry bakers. The bakers bring in samples of everything they produced that day, and they examine what is good and bad about each product.
“We've worked on trying to develop that critical culture without it being a personal attack. It's a big hurdle,” Davis says. “It's a good thing that people are taking personal pride in their products, but sometimes their guards go up. If you can, create an environment where you eliminate that by emphasizing, the ‘its just bread,’ or ‘it's just a scone’ metality.”
Grand Central's delivery staff also is trained as the final quality control point and operates as the customer of production or as an intermediate customer. For them, rule number one is if it looks weird, taste it. “Baked products are great that way,” Davis adds. “Usually if it looks funny, it is funny. Someone forgot the salt or there's the wrong amount of preferment in it. You need to empower the delivery crew to confront production. In the heat of the battle, at 2 o'clock in the morning, you have to have a delivery manager that will say, ‘I'm sorry, I'm not taking these out.’ Again, you have to have the culture that it's not a personal thing, it's just a rosemary roll and production has to redo it.”
Grand Central is based on systems, and systems do change regularly, but while each system is in place, it remains consistent. Davis stresses keeping production uniform, so employees are doing the same things at the same time every day. Humans are creatures of habit; when you do something the same way every day and then you forget to do something, the brain is triggered and hopefully the mistake is caught, he says.
“It's systems, systems, systems. We are constantly inventing them,” Davis says. “What works for five employees, fails miserably with 10, and what works beautifully with 10 will fail miserably with 20. You have to constantly evolve your systems for your size. I can honestly say that we are making more bread better right now than we were five years ago, no doubt.”
Freeport ensures staff is on the same page
If everyone in Sacramento, Calif., knew about Freeport Bakery's sales training program, there wouldn't be enough applications to go around.
“We start new sales staff out with our cakes, and we send them home with a few different slices every day until they have tried everything we make,” says Ann Mueller, operations manager. “We find it's best that they have tried all of the cakes in order to have a working knowledge of our product line.”
The cake-training program lasts about two weeks, and it isn't all fun and sampling. Existing staff assists with the training process, but it also falls to trainees to study and teach themselves from information packets containing the characteristics of each cake. Upon completing the initial cake training, they can move on to other distinct training programs, including cookies, pastries, the cash register and so on.
“These are formal trainings, with a trainer, check lists, tests and quizzes. We start the program at a slower pace, then we pick up at the end. If someone is not catching on, they can't continue with the program without further training,” says Marlene Goezler, owner. “In this case, they cut strawberries, bus tables — there is even training for that — and other chores.”
New hires start with cake training because cakes are the foundation of the business. With an understanding of the cakes, employees can get into the front room and begin to help customers. There, they naturally begin to learn other elements of the bakery.
“Training is an ongoing process; you don't just graduate when you pass a test,” Mueller says. “With each new season, there's new stuff. Also, there are safety and customer service training programs. Further down the road, trainees learn how to handle wedding cakes orders.”
The goal in the extensive training is to make sure each employee at the front counter is able to assist with any question a customer might have. Mueller believes customers need more than one sales person; everyone should be able to help to some extent. The training program ensures that's the case, and that all employees have a certain standard of knowledge and ability.
“We acknowledge that everyone comes from a different place,” Goezler says. “But we ask that they go through our training. Once they ‘get’ our system and philosophy, we then ask for their feedback and suggestions.”
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