The second RBA Roadshow, which took place March 3 in Seattle, drew 120 attendees.
About 180 bakers, instructors, vendors and volunteers converged at Renton Technical College, Renton, Wash., on March 3 for the second Retail Bakers of America (RBA) Roadshow. The RBA launched the regional roadshows late last year in an effort to return to a focus on education and networking.
Vendors and attendees connect during the showcase in the Renton Technical College cafeteria.
The surprisingly sunny Seattle morning began with sold-out tours to three of Seattle’s top bakeries. Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle offers handcrafted bread, pastry, desserts, savory lunch items and chocolate confections. Owned by chef William Leaman, the bustling seven-year-old bakery where many of the employees know customers by name will open a second location in Seattle’s Capitol Hill this spring. The second stop was West Seattle’s Shoofly Pie Co., the small retail pie shop that turns out 300 handmade pies per week (on a slow week). Owner Kimmy Hsieh Tomlinson talked about the explosion of wedding pies in Seattle and the challenges of remaining “pie press-free.” The tour ended at Cupcake Royale, Seattle’s first cupcake shop that now has five locations and a café in Bellevue. The business has centralized baking to one location for quality control and runs on a 24-hour production schedule. All cupcakes are hand-iced in a signature swirled shape, with an experienced “froster” averaging 100 per hour.
In between stops, RBA’s Renee Rouwhorst, who also owns Ryke’s Bakery in Muskegon, Mich., encouraged attendees to share ideas they got from the visits that they planned to bring back to their own bakeries. From sampling freshly baked product to customers in line to creating “donation request forms” for local charities to shouting out what product was hot out of the oven so customers could hear, bakers were inspired by seeing fellow business owners in action.
Back at Renton, bakers visited with suppliers such as Lucks, Dawn Food Products, Puratos, BakeMark and Flavor Right during the vendor showcase before a packed afternoon of classes, which were offered on two different tracks: business and baking/decorating.
A froster at Cupcake Royale demonstrates the bakery's signature icing technique.
Charra Jarosz, a decorating consultant for Lucks, demonstrated a few simple yet special decorating tips to add interest to single-serve desserts. She thickened a shortening-based icing with confectioners’ sugar until it was fairly pliable and then scooped it with an ice cream scoop to top cupcakes for a summery theme. She demonstrated wriggling her wrist to enhance icing piped with a star tip to create a ruffled effect and suggested turning Madeleines into pops or dipping macarons in chocolate.
“These tips are all small, easy things you can do,” Jarosz said. “I know how it gets. You get into a flow and don’t have time to think; you just want to get product into the case.”
Beth Fahey, owner of Creative Cakes in Tinley Park, Ill., argued in favor of open-book management to get staff on board with financial goals. “I report our financials on a weekly basis to my staff; it keeps me honest and keeps them focused on where they are,” she said. She noted that she’s the “money person” at the bakery, while her sister (and co-owner Becky Palermo) is the decorator. “You must be the older sister,” one attendee exclaimed. “How’d you know?” Fahey replied, laughing.
In the kitchen classroom, Dan Miskosz, owner of Decadence Custom Cakes, quizzed attendees while he demonstrated basic tuille dough. “Why do we cream?” he asked? After a pause, one attendee replied, “To incorporate air?” “Yes,” he said, and gave a mini lesson on the creaming method. “You’re mixing a fat, the butter, with a liquid, the egg white, so we want to create an emulsion by mixing and incorporating air that builds air cells that will hold onto the liquid.”
Erhard Volcke demonstrates three-fold puff dough. "It's really important that you don't (overmix) the dough at the start because you're going to roll it several times," he said. "Just pound it a little, then sheet."
Norman Davis, owner of The Sweet Life Inc., who demonstrated shoe making with his colleague Zane Beg, extolled the value of tools such as textured rolling pins to help customize cakes and upsell the customer. “You can buy an 8-in. textured rolling pin for $35, and I would charge the customer $55 or $60 just to buy the pin,” Davis said. “Then you can really upgrade your fondant cake by imprinting the customer’s name on it.”
Melody Biringer, founder of the Crave Co. and an unabashed startup junkie, explained how crucial it is for business owners to understand their own temperament in order to be successful. “Know your personality,” she said. “I, for one, know that I need a beginning, a middle and an end to every venture I undertake.”
During the last business track class of the day, Rouwhorst again reminded attendees to take home tidbits they’d learned that day. “I want you to implement two things you’ve heard today,” she said. “As owners, you want to get to a point where you can steer the ship instead of just rowing.”