I’ve written about five blog posts in my head over the past almost-two months. Some of them were nice, but most of them were discouraging and depressing. The bakery opened just two months ago and it has been a whirlwind. A whirlwind of extreme highs and lows, dirty dishes, lots of pastries, long lines, long days, and short nights. What I’m negotiating now is the difference between a dream and reality. The only dream I’ve ever really had was to open a bakery. However, dreams are very vague. My dream included: Riding a dopey Dutch bicycle to my bakery each morning around 8am, listening to loud lady-punk music all day, stirring cake batter in vintage Pyrex glass bowls with flimsy wooden spoons, lots of smiles, handing warm chocolate chip cookies to little kids as they giggle with glee, and shutting off the lights at night feeling refreshed and ready for another day. What The Dream did not include: numerous alarms blaring in my ear before 5am each day, swollen hands and feet, all of the bundt cakes that do not unmold perfectly (I should have been keeping a running tally), a few really bad reviews, dealing with customer service for eight hours each day, paying lots of bills, and forgetting to reorder business cards every day for the past two weeks.
The Dream also did not include:
- The couple that came into the shop last week. They are in their early 80s I would guess. She is in a wheelchair and so he takes care of them. She ordered a piece of galette with almond cream, apricots, and maple syrup. He had a piece of peach coffee cake – the recipe came from my paternal, Polish grandmother. They each had a cup of pourover coffee with heavy cream. After he was done, he came up to the counter and said, “You sure know how to make a pastry, young lady.” Usually I think “young lady” would be kind of offensive, but I was flattered when it came from him. She came up to the counter a few minutes later. I asked if I could get anything else for her. “If I brought in one of my recipes for a cake, would you make it for me? You see, I can’t use my legs anymore, I can’t stand. So I’m not able to bake or cook anymore. I miss this cake a lot. It has Kahlua in it. Can you get Kahlua? So would you make it?” I said I would be honored to do that for her. And that I can find some Kahlua. Her husband came into the shop the next day with the recipe. He stayed for a sweet roll filled with raspberry preserves. He said, “This place is like Cheers. Everyone knows each other.” He sat at a table, basking in the sun, telling everyone who came in that they couldn’t go wrong with what they order, that everything is great. He came back the next Wednesday for the two cakes.
- Going shopping at the farmers market. Okay, so this was actually part of my dream. But the reality of going to the farmers’ market to buy cheese, milk, fruit, veggies, etc. from local producers is better than the dream. I have always said that I “support local” but understanding he weight and importance of that wasn’t clear to me until I was about a month in to this bakery thing. The only reason my doors stay open is because people choose to support me. Some of my customers support me because they need a birthday cake or something for a snack or a dinner party — but what I’ve noticed is that there are simply people who come to support me because they want me to do well. They of course enjoy what they buy, but their goal was to come in just to support me and my business. So, if I can play a small part in doing the same for other businesses and producers, then I will. It’s more expensive for me and it’s less convenient, but it makes a difference.
- The regulars who come in asking “What do you have today?” I originally felt the pressure to put together a set menu of the same items that would exist each day. After a while, I realized that wasn’t realistic for me. I get bored with the same things and what happens if I get 10lbs of strawberries from a local farmer that I want to use and the menu doesn’t fit that? Because I did get those strawberries and they were amazing. We used some, sliced, in the middle of lemon macarons. We used some for tarts with coconut cream filling. We just had fun with them. My regular customers come in, looking so excited about what they are going to find. I try to have some similar items each day, but they do change and rotate. The favorites are: cardamom pound cake (GF, DF), macarons (GF), cinnamon rolls (V), and date cakes (grain-free, DF).
- The line around the block on opening night. The line that lasted for two hours. My whole family was on deck helping. It was unbelievable.
- Working with my sister-in-law. Danielle is my husband’s sister. She is a trained pastry chef and ran one of the best bakeries in Portland, Oregon for several years, before moving back here to be closer to family. About three days in to my first week at the shop, I sent her a text that basically said, “oh my god i’m dying can you help”. She is now working at the shop three days each week and it is wonderful. We work so well together creating flavorful, beautiful, rustic, humble pastries. Our visions are very similar. We flow through the kitchen well, and pass by each other seamlessly. I’m so thankful for her help and am learning so much from her. One of the great things about working with other people is that you can learn from each other and pick up little tricks that you would never have thought of doing.
- Adding something (hopefully) valuable to the community that I love. This is also something that I just thought sounded wonderful. And, on paper, I think we all want to contribute to our community and make it better. I didn’t realize what that meant, to be honest. I wanted to have a bakery and bake for people on a regular basis. I never imagined the people who would meet their friends there and spend two hours drinking tea together, laughing and talking. Or the people who would tell me about their neighborhood and introduce me to their kids and bring their five-day-old baby to meet me. I essentially wanted a kitchen with a few chairs in the windows. To see all of those tables PACKED is something really special.
Each day, something new and weird and wonderful happens. The first month felt like a boxing match for 12 hours per day. Now? It’s a challenge for 12 hours per day but it isn’t impossible. It feels like the good is outweighing the stuff that seems impossible to handle. Opening a bakery isn’t all flowers and powdered sugar and fresh peaches and sunshine. But sometimes it is and those are the most rewarding moments ever.
Here’s to more pastries, more work, and more frequent blog posts.
Second photo by Wyn Wiley Photography