I'm a better baker because of it,” says Robert Chaffee, Certified Master Baker, of his 10 trips to Russia where he trains bakery entrepreneurs to develop new products and build their businesses. Chaffee may be a better baker, but he also has become a training specialist of sorts. He specializes in training bakers under difficult situations.
From St. Cloud, Minn., where he taught baking to prisoners, to Russia and other Eastern Block countries, where he continues to consult bakers about making the most of limited economies, Chaffee has found his niche in baking challenges.
He doesn't see it that way though, primarily because of his positive outlook and passion for bakery. At the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud, where he ran the bakery for five years, Chaffee proudly shares the experiences of one of his trainees who was the first baker to pass RBA's Journey Baker test. Of his most recent trip to Russian bakeries, Chaffee humbly notes that this trip (his ninth) was the first time all of his bakery products worked.
American baking formulas do not translate well in Russia because ingredients are so different, and their consistency and availability can vary drastically from day to day, Chaffee says. Their vanilla extract, for example, is a concentrated powder rather than a liquid.
“For flour, you get whatever the farmers bring to the mill that day,” Chaffee says. “You never know what you're going to get. Sometimes its strong, sometimes it's weak.”
Chaffee grew up in a restaurant family, so he was exposed to foodservice work at an early age. After high school, he joined the United States Marine Corp. in foodservice and continues to serve in the National Guard as Company Food Service Sergeant. “I am known across the state for my baked goods, especially cinnamon rolls during drills. No war medals for me,” Chaffee quips.
From 1988 to 1994, Chaffee owned and operated a retail bakery in Duluth, Minn., which specialized in breads, cookies and cheesecakes. Since that time, Chaffee has been a member of the Retail Bakers of America and the Minnesota Bakers Association. After loosing the lease on his bakery, Chaffee transitioned into teaching baking at vocational schools in Duluth and Indian Hills, thanks to guidence from his mentor and fellow MBA member Dexter Larson.
In 1998, Chaffee was elected to the MBA's board of directors and became president of MBA in 2002. He says his involvement with the Minnesota association has been invaluable because of its large resource pool of great bakers.
Needing back surgery and a rest from the physical labors of bakery, the timing was right when he was asked to take over as executive director for MBA. He has been executive director for about a year and says his primary goal is to build membership in the association. “The problem is, bakers say they are too busy, but the best bakers in Minnesota are the ones going out and getting involved. They learn a lot of things by talking to people from all over.” Chaffee says.
Learning from-and sharing with-bakers from all over has been Chaffee's life's work.
Michael Kalupa focuses on serving retail bakers
While his customers may know Michael Kalupa for his bakery's quality decorated cakes, bakers know Kalupa for his involvement in local and national bakery associations. He helped strengthen the Southeastern Retail Bakers Association (SRBA) and is a leader in shaping the future of Retail Bakers of America (RBA).
Kalupa has been involved in the bakery trade since he was a child. His father grew up in a family bakery and worked for a bakery distributor. Kalupa worked for the same distributor for 12 years before he decided he'd rather be one of his customers. He and his father purchased a bakery in Tampa in 1979. After operating the full-line retail bakery together for a year, Kalupa bought his father out.
Kalupa's Bakery recently moved into a new 3,200-sq.-ft. location to better handle the demand for decorated cakes and other bakery items. The bakery also operates a full-service deli, featuring soups, sandwiches and salads.
As Kalupa was adjusting to managing the business as a solo owner, he began to feel a bit lost, thinking he had no place to turn for advice. He was a member of the national bakery association, RBA, but wanted something closer to home.
“I wanted to start a local association. I knew a few bakers, and one of them let me know about the Southeastern Retail Bakers Association,”Kalupa says. He met with a group of SRBA members at an RBA convention. Among them was Mitch Cross, who owned Tasty Pastry in Tallahassee, Fla., and turned into something of a mentor for Kalupa.
“When Mitch was elected to the board for SRBA, he brought me along with him,” Kalupa says. Cross nominated Kalupa for a seat on the board, which he won. Kalupa continued to work on the board in various positions until he was elected president of the association. He served as SRBA president from 1993 until 1995.
While a board member of SRBA, he worked hard to bring the national trade show, RBA's Marketplace, to his home region. His efforts were awarded this past March when the trade show was staged in Orlando, Fla.
After he served as president, Kalupa-continued to be active in SRBA committees and events, and was selected as the SRBA representative to RBA Affiliate Congress. The Affiliate Congress was a committee made up of representatives from various local bakery associations to try to bring them all under the umbrella of the national association, RBA.
“From there, I began to get more involved with RBA as they moved toward uniting all the local associations,” Kalupa says. He is now an executive committee member in line to become president of RBA. He is very excited about the direction RBA is heading. The association recently changed its name from The Retailer's Bakery Association to Retail Bakers of America.
“The future of RBA is to work on bakers' concerns and education for bakers,” Kalupa says. He says the association wants to bring back the workshop format and use CDs as a training tool. The CDs will offer ideas on how to boost sales with different products, and will cover techniques to produce the product, what the final product should look like and how bakers should merchandise the product. “The products will be geared toward professional, independent retail bakers,” Kalupa says.
“I'm looking forward to helping professional, independent retail bakers. SRBA will always be my first love because it's my home association, but RBA is a great association. It's one of those organization where you get to sit down and talk to other bakers about goals and how to get there.”