Now and again someone pokes their head in the kitchen door at the bakery and just watches what we’re doing. Sometimes these people are just curious about what happens in a bakery – but often I can tell straight away it’s an old time baker checking out what we do with trained interest.
This happened again last week, and it inspired me to share with you some of the reasons behind what I am trying to do. This bakery, apart from being committed to making awesome artisan bread, is all about solving problems - from half a lifetime running bakeries, I have seen and experienced quite a few.
One of the things is I am trying to create here at SourdoughBaker Cafe is a sustainable workplace for bakers themselves. Too many bakers are lost to the industry because of the enormous toll that being a baker takes.
Bakers work awful hours – starting in the middle of the night, often never seeing the sunshine. They gradually become sleep deprived as result of attempting to maintain some connection with their family and friends. Often, they become isolated from the rest of us who maintain normal hours.
I have seen families (and bakers) gradually break down far too many times. I'm sure this occurs with any occupation which is primarily a night time one - but in the case of bakeries, there is no great financial reward for the bakers in doing these hellish hours, and in the main, there are workable alternatives to the midnight start. It's just that very few bakeries have tried to change the status quo.
One of the reasons you can’t pop in to our bakehouse and pick up a loaf of hot, fresh sourdough at 7 in the morning is that I won’t ask anyone to work completely antisocial hours.
We start at 6am most days, which means our bakers get to hang with friends and family on a regular basis. We still manage to get fresh bread out of the oven by about 9am. We try to have some late baked bread from the day before reserved for the morning’s toast as well, just in case our customers are in need. If you know our bread well, you will know that it’s perfectly fresh for a full 24 hours after it’s baked, so we have no qualms about providing this each morning while the new batch of delicious sourdough bread comes out of the oven.
Bakers are, in the main, hardworking craftspeople. They have been treated unfairly as a result of a consumer expectation of fresh bread first thing in the morning. While there are quite valid reasons in some cases why a bakery needs to finish their baking by six a.m (for example, wholesale deliveries to cafes and so forth), there are just as many ways to achieve civilised baking hours by utilising existing technology and leveraging what can be done with products, packaging and customer expectation.
Really, I find it bizarre and a bit last century when I speak to bakers who still have to work the old fashioned ungodly hours.
I agree though - our stance with regard to slightly later product on the shelves does cost our bakery money in lost business. It also makes us just that little bit more sustainable. I hope you agree.
And working in daylight hours means I get to have a chat with passing old time bakers too!