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The bakery café built its reputation on fine artisan breads baked in a woodfired oven, but has since expanded to include handcrafted desserts, savory dinner entrées and catering–all rooted in quality ingredients.
Each department has developed its own rhythm for turning out product–the tight quarters (only about 2,500 sq. ft.) and demanding schedule leave little room for mistakes. A bread baker’s day begins between midnight and 2 a.m., depending on the day of the week. Start times are bumped up on Thursdays and Fridays in anticipation of the much busier weekends. Click on the image at left for Wheatfields sampling of prices.
The bakery’s naturally fermented breads are divided into overnights and same-days. Overnights–including white sourdough, country French, seasonal flavors like cranberry pecan or walnut sage and pain de campagne–are all made using one of four starters: white, whole rye, whole wheat or whole spelt. They’re mixed, divided and shaped before retarding overnight. Bakery manager Josh Hilliard arrives first to start mixing all the same-day breads. A second baker comes in about an hour later to begin baking the overnight breads, followed by two benchers at 3:45 a.m., who will start shaping the same-days.
“The goal is that when the baker is finished with the overnights, the oven has about a half hour of down time to reheat and then we start baking the same-days and continue on with that cycle,” Hilliard says. Because the overnight doughs can handle higher heat, they’re baked at temperatures close to 500°F. They also help cool the oven down to 460°F, which is the target temperature for the lighter, same-day breads.
The first shift of three pastry chefs arrives between 3 and 4 a.m., with two mixing and prepping product and the third baking product that was prepared and then frozen until needed, such as croissants, Danish, breakfast pastries, muffins and cookies. The croissants, which are offered in plain, almond and chocolate varieties, are the most popular item.
“The croissants are huge sellers,” says Teresa Heustis, pastry chef. “I don’t think there’s anywhere else you can get them the way we do them; we just sell out of them every single day.”
Then, the pastry team starts filling the cases with whole cakes and slices, as well as tarts, cookies and the bakery’s popular tiramisu, refilling the cases as needed. “It’s not always routine, but I have a system,” Heustis says. “Usually I make up croissants Tuesday, Wednesday; Danish I make up on the weekends.”
The first cook arrives between 4 and 5 a.m. to start prepping breakfast items. Mondays through Thursdays only one cook is working, but Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays two to three cooks run orders and prep items.
Tough to train
The hectic pace of Wheatfields’ work environment makes it tough to train new employees. Many new employees have had no formal baking or culinary training beforehand, which often works in their favor, particularly the bread bakers. It usually takes two to three months to get comfortable with the oven and the pace of producing bread.
“You have to learn when breads are proofed properly, you have to learn what color we’re looking for, and scoring always takes people a long time to get right,” Savoie says, adding that they are critiqued a lot in the process. “You have to have a hard shell to take that and realize it’s not personal; it’s just that this is what we’re looking for and this is what you need to work on.”
Because the learning curve is quite steep and the early starts and long hours are trying, Wheatfields has instilled working interviews as part of the hiring process.
“We started doing the working interviews so people can come in, check the place out, and see if it’s something they’re interested in if they don’t have any experience,” Savoie says. “They come in for four to six hours. It’s really good because it’s a great time for everyone to be really honest. And it works out better for all of us in the end.”
Ultimately, it goes back to a dedication to quality and passion for the product. “We’re striving to have the freshest quality product,” Savoie says. “We’re human beings. We’re not going to make everybody happy every single day, but we can try and that’s what we want to do.”