Jeff Yankellow, who will be opening his new bakery, Simply Bread, next month in Phoenix, had several priorities when shopping for new ovens to support his business. His oven needed to be portable and handle his product variety and capacity with room to grow.
"Our original location was not going to be permanent, so we wanted an oven we could move," Yankellow says. Simply Bread will bake primarily artisan breads and breakfast pastries as a specialty wholesale operation supplying area restaurants and hotels. Yankellow purchased a deck oven and a rack oven to meet his production needs and space limitations.
"Deciding on the oven size was tough," Yankellow adds. "What we have now should last about five years."
Yankellow is among the latest of a long line of bakery entrepreneurs facing crucial decisions about one of their biggest investments in terms of price and core operation need. The investment can easily cost $50,000 to $70,000, says Robert Norton, owner, Fresh Fields, Stillwater, Minn.
Norton opened his 4,700-sq.-ft. bakery café in January last year and, like Yankellow, purchased a deck and rack oven. Finding the right ovens tailored for each bakery is less daunting when bakery operators prioritize their shopping needs. For Norton, the oven loader was one of the attributes that moved him towards the oven he purchased. "They can retrofit the oven to include a loading system that lifts out of the way," he says.
As a bakery café restaurant doing scratch baking, Norton positioned his ovens in full view of customers. The position helps him differentiate himself from his competitors, but the set up is not ideal for other food production. "Make sure of your ability to do a salad, soup and sandwich line," Norton says. "In our next site, we probably would place the oven in a different position."
Complement product lines
Oven options are seemingly endless for new bakeries or bakeries looking to diversify their product lines or expand operations. Rack ovens, deck ovens, revolving tray ovens, convection ovens and combination ovens are among the broad range of possibilities for retail, in-store, foodservice and specialty wholesale bakeries.
Shannon Talty, owner, Olde Hearth Bread Company, Casselberry, Fla. went a step further by custom building a Spanish hearth oven in his bakery for artisan bread baking. He says fewer than 15 are in operation in the United Sates. The round oven was built on-site using poured mortar, and it features a revolving hearth and small front door the size of a bread peel.
"It has kind of a bus steering wheel on the outside of the oven that rotates the hearth," Talty says. His bakery has been operating for seven years, and he had previous experience with this type of oven as a baker for Acme Bread in Los Angeles.
"This oven sets us apart in terms of our crust," Talty says. "If you had no experience with it, however, I wouldn't recommend it."
No matter what kind of oven, proper steam injection is a must for most artisan bread bakers. "You need good steam from the beginning of the bake," says Lionel Vatinet, owner, La Farm Bakery, Cary, N.C. Vatinet's 2,000-sq.-ft. bakery relies on a four-deck oven for its full line of products. The different decks can be adjusted for varying temperatures, allowing La Farm to produce a variety of products at the same time.
Preparing your bakery and your budget for a new oven can be daunting. By prioritizing your needs, you can cut through the clutter and select the right oven for your business. Vatinet and other bakers agree that every bakery differs in its oven demands, but they offered tips for making sound investments.
Where to start
Know how much oven space your bakery can handle. Account for oven loading space and other food production that does not require use of the oven, Norton says.
Learn which ovens work best for your product line. Deck ovens offer the hearth baking advantage. Rack ovens can require less time for loading and unloading a higher volume of products. Revolving tray ovens offer versatility for a wide range of products. And, smaller convection ovens might be just the right addition for a foodservice bakery. Prioritize your needs and educate yourself about the options. Once you choose the type of oven you need, dig in to the details with the manufacturer about how it operates.
Quantify production volume, and allow room for growth. Production volume can be difficult to predict as your bakery changes during the years, but it is better to grow into your equipment, bakery operators say, than require another investment after only a short time. "Go with more decks if you can instead of wider decks with more doors," Vatinet says.
Get referrals from other bakers. Your oven manufacturer can likely offer some bakery references. "If they won't tell you that, I wouldn't buy the oven," Talty says. Ask the reference about bake quality, maintenance, service, etc.
Choose an efficient energy source for your priorities. Most bakery ovens are available with gas or electric power, and some are even wood and coal fired. Preferences vary depending on where you are located. Vatinet's gaspowered deck oven was more economical than the electric at the time of his purchase. "But in North Carolina, the price of gas went up 18 percent last year," he says. Gas may be cheaper in some areas, but an electric oven may provide better temperature controls, Vatinet says.
Determine your price range. "Its always going to be more money than you think it is going to be, so plan for that," Norton says.
Maintain your investment
Once you have made your decision, ovens require up keep and maintenance.
Be prepared for inspectors seeking health and safety certification. "Both of our ovens were sold to us without BISSC approval," Talty said. When the local inspector asked for the paperwork, Talty had arrange for the certification himself. The expense was a few thousand dollars he had not expected.
Be involved in installation, and understand the basic mechanics. "As the owner, you should be involved in putting it together," Norton says.
Prepare for emergencies. Once you purchase the oven, start collecting some spare parts. "We put together our own little box of parts for emergency oven repair," Talty says. He also recommends having spare oven peels on hand.
Find a qualified maintenance person. Depending on where you are located, a repair person that deals specifically with bakery ovens may or may not be available. Check with your manufacturer about maintenance policies and recommendations before an emergency occurs.
Check your water. Watch for lime deposits clogging your steam injection systems. If you are in a location with a lot of minerals in its water, you may need extra filtration to condition the water.
Keep your ovens clean. Keep the burner clean from flour dust especially, Yankellow says. He recommends using an air compressor to keep ovens clear of flour and other dust.