“Thank you for opening,” a customer calls to William Leaman as she leaves Bakery Nouveau, her arms laden with bread. “Thank you for coming,” he calls back. His West Seattle bakery has been open for less than two years, but already has generated buzz most bakery owners only dream about. Check out any food review Web site, and Bakery Nouveau consistently receives the highest ratings possible. The bakery turns customers into devotees as soon as they taste its products, which include chocolate croissants, Parisian macaroons and baguettes. One enthusiast even penned a poem for the local paper espousing her love of the bakery's famous twice baked almond croissant.
Word of mouth as well as plentiful press spurs a lot of the buzz. “There has been an article almost every month since we opened,” Leaman says. An article in the Seattle Times in September 2007 really helped put the bakery on the map, he says. “People read about it and hear about it. The most powerful thing we have going for us is word of mouth,” he adds.
Leaman is no stranger to press coverage or accolades. He was a member of the Bread Bakers Guild Baking Team USA 2005, which brought home gold from the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris, France. “Basically, the process made me a better professional. I look back at the whole thing and it still seems like a dream. We [the team] were very blessed and lucky that we did everything right on that day,” Leaman says. “That's what I tell these guys [his employees] all the time. Not every day is the right day, but hopefully, on the right day, you get it right. I feel like I'm more of an ambassador than I am anything else. And, I try to teach these guys to stay humble.”
After the competition and years of working for bakeries and restaurants in Fayetteville, Ark., Las Vegas and Seattle, Leaman began dreaming about his own bakery. That dream came true in December 2006, when he and his wife, Heather, opened Bakery Nouveau. Nobody would have faulted him if he had touted the fact he was a member of the gold-medal winning Baking Team 2005 when he was opening the bakery.
However, he wanted his products to be the draw, so he kept his team experience out of the press releases. But, he is proud of his success, and the Coupe du Monde trophy is on display in the bakery. Customers also recognized him from the Food Network's coverage of the team. “When they come in and see the product, they say, ‘Now I understand why you won.’ People take a lot of pride in knowing that they have that in their neighborhood,” he adds.
It was almost destiny that Leaman found the perfect location for his bakery in the West Seattle neighborhood where he lived. On the way to get ice cream, he and his wife walked past a storefront (a bakery) that was for rent. He made inquiries about the building's owner, and eight days later, he had the space. The location had been the home of Blake's Bakery, which had been a neighborhood institution for 50 years before closing several years ago. Leaman hopes Bakery Nouveau will have same longevity.
While Bakery Nouveau has a French name, Leaman didn't set out to open a French bakery. He simply wanted to offer high quality products and preserve the tradition of baking. “We've been kind of coined a French bakery, but I'm not going to argue with it or fight it. Hey, it works,” he says.
What works is Leaman's innate sense for what West Seattle residents want in a bakery. He hit the nail on the head from the beginning with the product mix. When developing the product line, Leaman focused on creating products that would keep the bakery busy all day with pastries for breakfast, breads for lunchtime sandwiches and a variety of chocolates and desserts for all-day treats. “I try to give them [customers] something they can relate to, but also have some French cakes and pastries. I try to tap the world of artisan bakery and also high-end desserts and candy. I torment myself a lot with all three.”
Perfect product line
The bakery offers a variety of artisan breads, including ciabatta, baguettes, brioche, focaccia and fougasse; pastries, such as the twice baked almond croissant, fresh fruit Danish and muffins; cookies, cakes, tarts and many other desserts; a variety of chocolates; and lunch items that often feature fixings not common to bakeries, such as roasted duck and foie gras.
In total, Bakery Nouveau offers 150 different products with 120 available at a time in the showcases. “If we don't have something in the case that day that the customer wants, it does force them to try something new,” Leaman says. “They don't usually get upset.”
One of the most popular products is the twice baked almond croissant. “I didn't realize how obsessed they [the customers] would become with twice baked almond or chocolate croissants,” he says. Leaman slices baked croissants in half, then toasts them and dips them in simple syrup. He fills the croissants with almond cream and pipes a layer of the almond cream on top of the croissant, which is then dipped in sliced almonds and baked again.
Customers also love the Phoenix, a cake with a pecan dacquois bottom layer topped with pecan caramel, caramel mousse, 70 percent chocolate mousse, another layer of caramel mousse and coated with caramel. Squares of decorative chocolate adorn the sides.
“We're focused on raising the level of the products and the quality of the products. The product mix keeps the customers excited,” Leaman says. “It's pretty amazing what we've been able to do in a year and a half.”
The retail space in the front has seating for about 15 customers, but during the busy lunch hour, customers also stand along the ledge in the front window to eat. “That front door should be a revolving door because [the customer flow] stays pretty constant,” Leaman says. During the week, the bakery services about 250 customers a day, but on the weekends the customer count doubles.
To help make the sometimes long wait more bearable, the bakery offers samples. Leaman or another member of his staff walks down the line, handing samples to customers. The personal sampling serves two purposes: it keeps the customers happy even as they have to wait, and it allows Leaman to get feedback on products. “You get so many different points of view, and I use that as a point of reference, or sort of a direction, to see what I have to work on a bit more,” Leaman says.
Focus on products
The main focus of the retail space is the products. “Our goal is to get the customers as close to the product as possible. Everything is to make them understand that what they see is what they get. That's the magic,” Leaman says.
Bakery surrounds the customers from the products in the showcase, back stock on the wall behind the counter, and walls adorned with hanging baguettes and baking awards. The front window also is filled with baskets of baguettes and bread showpieces. Customers can watch the bakers pulling product from the ovens from the back of the retail area.
“It seemed such a natural fit to put the ovens as close to the customers as possible, so they can see us, and we can see them and make them a part of the process,” Leaman says. “I want them to see where everything comes from.”
The narrow building, only 20 ft. wide, requires extreme organization for production. One walk-in cooler holds the bread dough and breakfast pastries; another cooler is for sandwich meats, and dessert and tart mis en place.
Along one wall are four reach-in freezers with 10 doors, where Leaman's mis en place production mentality is epitomized. One compartment holds all of the dessert and cake mis en place, such as dacquois, fillings and praline creams. The second unit stores purees, frozen ingredients and Parisian macaroons, as well as space for daily product lamination/processing. Remaining freezer space is dedicated to holding partially completed tarts, pastries and cakes before they are finished for the showcase.
Breads and breakfast pastry baking begins at 4:30 a.m. to fill the showcases for the bakery's 6 a.m. opening. Sandwiches also are prepared in the morning, so customers can buy their pastry and coffee for breakfast as well as their sandwich for lunch later. Savory pastries start coming out of the oven about 10:30 a.m. Finishing and pastry production occur all day.
Products are prepped the day before and proofed or retarded overnight. For example, from beginning to end, baguettes take 36 hours. They are made with liquid levain, poolish and regular levain under controlled fermentation. After shaping, they are taken to a neighbor's cooler, which is kept at 35°F. Because of his limited space, Leaman worked out a deal with the Husky Deli two doors down.
The deli allows Bakery Nouveau to use its cooler and the bakery supplies bread to the deli. The lower temperature of the deli's cooler works well because it slows the baguettes down, Leaman says, and then when they are brought back to the bakery's cooler, which is 40°F, they come back a bit before baking.
The breakfast pastries are mixed in the afternoon or evening, and placed in the cooler for bulk fermentation overnight. In the morning, the dough is pulled to start the laminating and shaping process, and then it is held in the cooler until it is ready to be baked.
The bakery's oven space is limited with its two convection ovens and a nine-pan capacity deck oven. This requires small batches (only 12 baguettes can be baked at a time), but Leaman sees this as an advantage. It helps ensure freshness, and products, especially bread and croissants, can get into customers' hands while still warm. “When we take product to the front, we announce, ‘hot baguettes’ or ‘hot ciabatta’ or ‘hot croissant,’ so it gets the customers' attention,” Leaman says.
Importance of baking
All new employees start on the oven because they have to know how to bake before they can do anything else, he says. If they can handle the ovens with the variety of product baking times, then they can handle the production aspects of baking. The ovens are kept busy with the bakery selling about 200 loaves of bread on weekdays and 500 loaves on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as 1,000 breakfast pastries daily during the week and 1,500 on weekend days.
After mastering the actual baking process, bakers move to laminating and after that, they shift to the dessert or bread stations. “It allows me to keep employees for a couple of years, and it allows them to go through a natural process of training,” he adds.
Chocolate and confectionery items, which along with cookies account for about 8 percent of sales, are produced on a 700-sq.-ft. mezzanine at the back of the bakery. Leaman's brother-in-law is a full-time assistant chocolatier and confectioner. Leaman purchased a chocolate enrober just before Christmas, and with the machine, the bakery was able to produce 20,000 pralines for the holiday.
The enrober makes 1,000 pieces per hour and is flexible enough to run a variety of moulded chocolates. It takes about eight hours for the bakery to mould and fill about 4,000 chocolates. To help speed production, Leaman uses a proofer to keep a supply of chocolate melted for immediate tempering and use, which is beneficial when the bakery runs about 3,000 to 5,000 candies in a high volume day. With about 30 varieties available, Bakery Nouveau sells about 2,000 chocolates a week.
Location, location, location
For retail bakeries, location is key, and Bakery Nouveau's is ideal. Husky Deli, a Seattle institution, is two doors down with a product line that works in tandem with bakery, and the demographics of the area include a majority of residents with expendable income.
“Bakery is one of the few businesses that can bring a neighborhood back,” Leaman says. “This neighborhood wasn't really hurting, but it kind of needed a shot in the arm, and that's why I wanted to be here.”
And, the neighborhood has welcomed the bakery with open arms. “We're the meeting place. We have a lot of hugging going on between our customers, or we have people who will share a table with complete strangers. That part is really cool; it's become a part of our culture,” Leaman says.
He dreams of Bakery Nouveau remaining in the space for 50 years, much like his predecessor, Blake's Bakery. “The thing is now with having the bakery come back to the neighborhood, it preserves tradition, but also creates a culture for the neighborhood, which is pretty amazing.”
at a glance
Founded: December, 2006
Web site: BakeryNouveau.com
Management: William and Heather Leaman, co-owners; Jeremy Gadouas, assistant pastry chef
Business: 90% retail, 10% wholesale
Market served: Seattle metro area
Number of employees: 35 (15 production)
Bakery size: 2,700 sq. ft. (2,000-sq.-ft. main floor, 700-sq.-ft. mezzanine)
Product line: artisan breads, breakfast pastries, cakes, cookies, tarts, chocolates, candy, cookies, quiche, sandwiches, pizza, full coffee service
Product breakdown: breakfast pastries, 30%; desserts, 30%; bread, 17%; coffee, 15%; chocolates, confectionery and cookies, 8%
Average ticket sale: $12
Major equipment: spiral mixer, reversible sheeter, proofer, two convection ovens, deck oven, enrober, two walk-in coolers and reach-in freezers
Bakery supply distributors: Puratos, Peterson's, Rosella's
sampling of prices
|Oat and date bread||$5.00|
|Twice baked almond croissant||$3.50|
|Honey pecan scone||$2.00|
|Chocolate tart, 3 ins.||$4.00|
|Phoenix cake, 8 ins.||$36.00|
|Quarter sheet cake||$45.00|
|Lemon meringue tart, 6 ins.||$12.00|
|Chocolate chip cookie||$1.50|
|Ham and cheese baguette||$6.00|
|Roasted duck sandwich||$7.00|
|Quiche, 8 ins.||$12.50|
|Earl Grey chocolate||$1.00|
|Chocolate box, 2-piece||$2.50|