George and Phyllis Enloe are committed to providing high-quality, artisan breads and pastries to Amarillo, a metropolitan island in the Texas Panhandle. The bakery café offers a mix of traditional European products and American favorites.
Sixteen years ago, Phyllis Enloe traded scalpels and scrubs for bowl scrapers and whites. After a nearly 20-year career in surgical nursing, Phyllis, who always harbored a passion for bread baking, abandoned the chilled environment of an operating room for the heat of a bakery. Yet, the move was less dramatic than one might believe, she says.
“Nursing and baking share a common thread, if you think about it. In each, you serve people, and you care for people,” says the founder and co-owner of Village Bakery Café, Amarillo, Texas. Residents regard it as the source in their city for top-quality artisan breads and viennoiserie, American pastries and French bistro-style breakfasts and lunches.
Phyllis attributes her commitment to baking to her mother, who, “when I was a child, allowed me to cook and bake to my heart’s content.” Yet, before Phyllis graduated from high school, she knew she would go into nursing.
In 1992, the surgeon for whom she worked took early retirement. Phyllis’ choices included returning to hospital nursing, working for another surgeon or pursuing her long-held desire to bake.
She and husband George, a commodity futures broker who works with cattle ranchers and feedlot operators, visited several artisan bakeries across the country. The couple turned the family kitchen into a small artisan bakery. George purchased a 30-qt. mixer and a tabletop sheeter and positioned them in the breakfast room. Heat lamps served as proofers. Their two daughters helped carry made-up loaves to be baked in neighbors’ ovens. In return, Phyllis gave finished product to neighbors, who became her taste testers.
In 1994, George located a 1,700- sq.-ft. storefront in a strip mall in an affluent Amarillo neighborhood. Armed with the equipment from their kitchen, a used rack oven and reach-in coolers, the couple opened for business that December with three employees, including Phyllis and George, who works part time after the futures markets close, managing the financials, including purchasing ingredients.
“I had no idea of how much work would be required,” George recalls. “After a couple of weeks, if someone had suggested that we abandon the business, I might have taken up the suggestion, but Phyllis was staying the course.”
George’s reservations disappeared after the first month, when the couple discovered the bakery had turned a modest profit.
Broad product mix needed
When Village Bakery Café opened, Phyllis focused bakery production on European-style pastries and artisan bread products. Artisan breads and rolls include French baguettes and boules; varieties of ciabatta and focaccia; multigrain country bread with herbs, nuts and cheese; fougasse; cornmeal; rye; whole wheat; challah; and seeded or red curry lavash. Viennoiserie items include plain, fruit and savory croissants; plain and filled brioche; Danish and puff pastries; tarts; and tortes.
“But we needed products that would attract customers immediately,” Phyllis says. She added more Americanized items, such as biscuits, turnovers, cinnamon rolls and muffins, each featuring a signature touch. For example, she created a sweet yeast dough formula and cinnamon smear for cinnamon rolls, and bakers heat the cream cheesebased icing to a specific temperature so it glazes the rolls evenly.
To capture decorated cake sales, the bakery café introduced decorated dessert cakes and tortes for special occasions, mostly birthdays. Decorators use hand decorating and fresh flowers, finishing cakes in customary decorated cake sizes.
Retail bread and pastry sales, however, comprise just more than one-third of revenue. The store’s nearby affluent consumers provide potential for artisan bread and pastry sales, but the business would not have succeeded without attracting the broader customer base, George explains.
“Bread and pastries would be the draw because nothing like this bakery existed in Amarillo,” he says. “The real money would come from sandwiches and meals. Back then, we could sell good bread for $2 a loaf and a sandwich for $4.50. The math was obvious.”
Phyllis adds, “From the beginning, café sales have been a good thing, but now with the current economy, they are even more important to us and our customers. We offer high-quality food with good value.”
In addition to croissants, brioche, muffins, and Danish and puff pastries, the breakfast menu lists savory panini, croissants, burritos, turnovers and brioche, each filled with varied combinations of bacon, ham, sausage, egg, cheese, peppers and spinach. Saturday breakfast specials include pancakes, waffles and French toast.
Lunch offerings include freshly made deli and panini sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, soups, salads with scratch-made dressings, two types of quiche and a daily lunch special.
Each week, the bakery café posts on its website the $9.80 daily lunch specials (entrée, salad and bread) and soup varieties for the next two weeks. A recent special was broccoli cheese soup, beef tenderloin on focaccia and mixed greens salad featuring strawberries and glazed pecans with a strawberry vinaigrette.
Most bread production goes into preparing sandwiches and accompanying soups and salads. Customers receive slices of baguettes, ciabatta or focaccia– or another variety at their request–with every lunch special. The Enloes give away a lot of bread, in part to educate their clientele about artisan bread.
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The kitchen staff also creates casseroles, finger sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres, dips and cheese balls for family gatherings and special events. Frozen casseroles are especially popular among customers who purchase them after work for evening meals.
The daily bread lineup always includes focaccia, ciabatta and a baguette variety, often made from sourdough or sponge dough with wheat germ. Sourdough and multigrain loaves are baked, frozen and pulled as needed daily for sandwiches. These formulas hold up well when frozen, Phyllis notes.
Bakers also prepare sufficient bread sticks and lavash to maintain a consistent inventory. Customers like bread sticks with quiche; lavash, both seeded and red curry, is popular with soups and salads. Lavash sells particularly well during the winter holidays with the bakery café’s scratch-made dips and cheese balls.
Each day bakers prepare one bread variety that sports additional small ingredients to add flavor. Smoked tomato bread is one of the most popular.
Though Village Bakery Café produces some products each day, Phyllis consistently changes and seasonally rotates many offerings in the bakery product mix and café menu. “We have to make what we offer interesting and create excitement,” she explains. “This helps keep our customers coming back.”
While growing the business, Phyllis continued her education with stints at the French Pastry School in Chicago, The San Francisco Baking Institute and the National Baking Center in Minneapolis, where she trained with master bread baker Didier Rosada and master pastry chef Philippe LeCorre. She since has been host to other aspiring artisan bakers who later opened bakeries.
Increased production capacity
Sales grew steadily, and by 2000 production out-stripped capacity and the 1,700-sq.-ft. space. From 2000 to 2001, the Enloes rented an additional 700 sq. ft.; purchased a spiral mixer, a retarder and a deck oven; replaced the tabletop sheeter with a reversible floor model; and added refrigerators and freezers, including exterior units.
Phyllis also made strides to improve efficiency. Just as she had ensured her nursing team set up for the next surgery, Phyllis trained her production and sales personnel to prepare for the next day.
“Employees close their work day with the next shift in mind, whether preparing a filling or assembling boxes for box lunches,” she says. Results were nearly immediate. For example, the first bakers start at 4 a.m., rather than 3 a.m.
“When you come in at four o’clock, that’s no time to have to search for things,” she says. “And, it’s easier to hire people to come in at four, compared with three.”
Labor-saving equipment also has helped to refine production, such as the retarder and coolers, which allow preparing product in advance. For example, bakers mix cookie dough and deposit it on sheet pans twice a week for the freezer and make up and freeze croissant and Danish items once a week. Frozen items are placed in the retarder overnight for baking the next morning. “The retarder also serves to smooth out production when we have to speed up or slow down,” George adds.
Cross-training employees to handle pastry and bread production has yielded additional benefits. “I’m fortunate that I can ask any person to step into another area and that person will do well,” Phyllis says. “This gives us great flexibility, which is especially important during holiday production.”
Initially, some employees resisted because they were accustomed to their jobs, George recalls. “But they realized that having the additional skills made their jobs more interesting and rewarding. And we’re not so dependent on one or two people for a specific task when other employees can step in.”
Revenues hold steady
With the economy slow down in 2008, the Enloes saw sales level off. Yet, through the recession, revenue has remained steady. “People still want to eat fresh, high-quality products,” Phyllis observes. “That’s where the bakery café fills a need because it’s affordable.”
The Enloes don’t shy away from setting prices to return a profit. Ingredient costs are 30 percent of sales, while labor runs 42 percent. Retails reflect the bakery café’s purchase of high-quality ingredients, such as beef tenderloin and 85 percent butterfat, unsalted butter (1,000 lbs. a month), and competitive wages for skilled bread and pastry bakers. “As long as we keep our costs at these levels, we know our prices return a profit,” George says. “If those levels increase, we raise our prices.”
Customers do not complain about prices, even during the recession, he continues. “Some customers may not come in as frequently. Still, they know they get a high-quality, handmade product that tastes good. And they like being in the store; they enjoy the café environment and seeing the bakers at work.”
Typically, the Enloes raise prices in the fall. “Going into the holidays, consumers seem to be less sensitive to increases and are willing to buy what they want,” he says. But volatile ingredient prices are causing food costs to fluctuate more, and small businesses have no way to hedge against higher prices.
“We probably will have to adjust our retails more often and identify products at price points acceptable to customers. All the while, we need to plan ahead, look out six months to a year and buy when opportunities come up,” George says.
In addition to volatile prices, the Enloes anticipate having to cope with greater government regulation and increased taxes. For Phyllis, that means the bakery’s heat likely will intensify. Does she miss the cooler conditions of the operating room? “No, George and I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
A hot tomato of a bread
Each day, Village Bakery Café bakers prepare a special variety of bread. Smoked tomato bread is one of the most popular types.
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The savory bread, which features a ciabatta-like structure, is sold whole and sliced for sandwiches or to accompany soup.
Prior to making the dough, the kitchen crew roasts garlic. They also dice Roma tomatoes into large pieces and smoke them with freshly ground black pepper and olive oil in a smoker behind the bakery. The tomatoes are drained and set aside with the roasted garlic. Production for a 10-kg final dough begins with making a poolish starter of 100 percent water, 100 percent flour and 1 percent dry yeast. Bakers use unbleached, non-bromated, 11 percent protein flour. The poolish develops overnight.
The next morning, when preparing the final dough, bakers use 65 percent water to 100 percent flour. They incorporate the poolish, roasted garlic, salt, fresh thyme and oregano, and small percentages of levain, olive oil and whole wheat flour, which adds color.
The dough is mixed in an 80-qt. spiral mixer for five minutes each in first and second speeds to develop the highly hydrated dough. Mixed dough is transferred to fermentation bins where it rests for 45 to 60 minutes. Bakers then punch down the dough and fold in the tomatoes.
The dough rests another 45 minutes and is punched and folded again to help strengthen the cell structure. Bakers transfer the dough back to the workbench to divide and shape it into 24-oz. rectangles. Formed loaves are laid on linen and allowed to rest about 60 minutes.
At a three-deck oven, a baker lifts the loaves from the linen and places them upside down on a semi-automatic loader. After an initial steam for four seconds, the loaves bake 35 to 40 minutes at 475°F to 480°F. The resulting loaves feature golden crusts, an open cell structure and a mouthwatering aroma.
Village Bakery Café at a glance
Name: Village Bakery Café
Location: Amarillo, Texas
Management: Phyllis Enloe, president/co-owner; George Enloe, coowner; Kim Mills, kitchen manager; Daniel Urbieta, retail manager
Market served: greater Amarillo, Texas
Number of bakeries/stores: 1/1
Bakery/store size: 2,400 sq. ft.
Number of employees: 16
Primary business: retail, 99%; wholesale, 1%. Foodservice, 65%; retail bakery, 35%
Business hours: 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, offering bakery foods and breakfast and lunch for on-site dining or takeout
Sales: $750,000 (2010 est.)
Average ticket: about $12
Product line: artisan breads/rolls, European viennoiserie, dessert cakes, special-occasion dessert cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, squares, quick breads, cheesecake; breakfast/lunch items, including savory breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, waffles, French toast, deli and panini sandwiches, salads, soups, quiche, fresh fruit, frozen casseroles/entrées, hors d’oeuvres, deli trays, box lunches, espresso/ brewed coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, fresh-squeezed juice
Production methods: all scratch from all natural ingredients
Major equipment: spiral and vertical mixers, semi-automatic bun divider/rounder, reversible sheeter, retarder, proofer, semi-automatic oven loader, three-deck oven, rotary rack oven, reach-in and walk-in refrigerators and freezers, bread slicer, pan/utensil washer
Plans: maintain high product quality, continuously enhance artisan baking skills, promote artisan baking industry
Bakery supply distributors: Johnson Bros. Bakery Supply, Ben E. Keith foodservice distributors
Bakery Café a sampling of prices
Plain croissant, 4.5 ozs. $2.05
Muffin, 6 ozs. $2.70
Cinnamon roll, 10 ozs. $3.10
Chocolate chip cookie, 3 ozs. $1.75
Chocolate cream pie,
10 ins. $16.80
Plain cheesecake, 10 ins. $38.00
Fresh fruit tart, 10 ins. $32.00
French baguette, 16 ozs. $3.40
Ciabatta, 24 ozs. $5.25
Country bread with herbs, nuts, cheese, 32 ozs. $6.30
Multigrain bread, 32 ozs. $5.25