Solving the production puzzle at New Seasons
In the five years that Jesse Dodson has overseen the bakery department at New Seasons Market, Portland, Ore., he has made strides in making the seven in-store bakeries operate as efficiently as possible. (New Seasons has a total of 10 locations.)
All of the bakeries operate off of a production schedule that sets out the time needed for mixing, fermentation, proofing or retarding, shaping and baking. Production employees can plug in the time they want the product to come out of the oven, and the program works backwards to let them know when each step needs to be started.
“That way we can plan specifically,” Dodson says. “There are variables, but they are minimized. We can put the production schedule together like a puzzle to maximize our efficiencies.”
The schedule is tailored to fit each bakery’s product demand. So while one bakery may be producing three batches of an item and have production spread throughout the day, another bakery can have a condensed production cycle of only 12 hours. The bakeries produce almost 100 different bread products from eight doughs.
Depending on the product needed, production begins between midnight and 3:30 a.m. when a mixer arrives to begin that day’s products. The shifts are layered so new staffers arrive every two hours.
Dodson also worked to shorten the time needed for fermentation. He altered the doughs’ preferments to allow for the shorter fermentation, which allows production to begin later in the day.
New Seasons also uses the production schedule to ensure the bakeries are always properly staffed. Since the schedule is posted in each bakery, employees know exactly what they will be doing before they come in for their shift. Almost all employees are cross-trained, so they can handle mixing duties as well as shaping.
“We usually start people on the mix because that gives them a fundamental understanding of how things begin, and eventually they are baking,” Dodson says.
Dodson also has taken a look at how the bakeries themselves are set up and has designed three bakeries for the best product flow. “They are little bakeries, so I like to think of it all as a loop,” he says. Somewhere close to the front, but obscured from the customers’ view is storage, then the mixing station. Close to the mixers should be the washing/sanitation area since most of the washing up comes from the mixing stage, and it avoids carting dirty mixing bowls through the rest of the bakery. After the sanitation area should be the proofers/retarders, then the shaping bench. The bench needs to be close to the proofers/retarders because some products go back and forth between the two. Next to the bench is the oven and cooling racks.
“Two more bakeries are opening in the fall, and they will be the best ones yet,” Dodson says.
Showcasing strengths at Linda’s Kitchen
Linda Lorkowski, founder and owner of Linda’s Kitchens Bakery, Tallmadge, Ohio, knows that with her name hanging on the shingle, the buck stops with her. The business is an all-scratch, full-line retail bakery specializing in cookies, cookie trays and specialty cakes. Staff is minimal, consisting of Lorkowski, two full-time and eight to 16 part-time employees, depending on the season. Her husband and children help out, as well.
“I’m the one who manages my shop,” she says. “At more than one point, I thought I’d promote a good employee to manager, but it never worked.”
She has noticed that there are employees who are great at their job, whether that’s decorating or baking, but managing others, troubleshooting, and projecting what comes next are very different skill sets. Lorkowski’s management style showcases the employees’ indivual strengths.
Two office staffers handle the orders, though almost everyone is trained to answer the phone. Recently, more orders have been coming in via internet, especially for cookie trays and other corporate gifts. When the economy soured, many local businesses folded that had ordered the cookie trays for gifts. Lorkowski refocused on the website and capability for online ordering. Many of the lost local sales were replaced by nationally shipped cookie trays.
After the orders come in, they are channeled to the appropriate preparing room. Every order goes on a master calendar that everyone can access. Cakes go on the bakers’ baking list, so they know what to do day to day. The decorating room is where a lot of the action happens, and where employees are trained to think on their feet, to be quick without hurrying.
“You are only as good a decorator as you are a problem solver. You can’t just melt down when a mistake is made–you have to be confident enough to fix a human error that inevitably is going to happen,” Lorkowski says. “We always talk to them about human error, accidents that happen and will happen again, and differentiate that from an error that shouldn’t be happening, the result of being in a rush. When we find those errors, we set something up so that the error doesn’t happen again.”
Lorkowski keeps an open door policy. The dialogue goes both ways, as she insists that employees not only understand what needs to be done, but also why it needs to be done. That helps them understand that every employee relies on the next one, and to think not only about the task at hand, but the bigger picture.
“If something’s wrong, it’s not a single person’s fault, it’s the fault of the team,” Lorkowski says. “And I’m the team leader.”