That is it. That is where the bread comes from, and believe it or not, if I told you how many have been baked in this little guy -I am unsure if you'd actually believe me. I quite frankly can't believe it either. But, built like a tank and imported from Belgium, it keeps turning on each day, so I am just thankful.
It holds anywhere from 3-12 loaves at a time, and was purchased new back in 2016 right when 'Micro-bakeries' were becoming a thing. Ali and I spent $5,500 of our personal savings to get the shop going and this oven was the key. Or felt like it was at the time. Later we learned (and are) that many things make this ship sail. I am just thankful it seems to have a good hull!
That being said, I have replaced the seals, light, door handle, knobs, hinges, fan all twice over now. Eventually I have given up on the light in the oven (who needs the light when its only 18" deep?) And the knobs are almost so worn out so I have notched where 'they should be' with a knife in the facade above. The stones are charred black from use, the internal steel is slightly warped and features a dark-hue to it's once brilliantly silver finish.
This oven has as many miles on it that a larger professional commercial bakery oven would have in a few short years.
On a Saturday it takes anywhere from seven to nine straight hours of bread baking to get everything out and on the shelf. Around 125-225 loaves depending on the day/season. It is my biggest blessing to have such a well-built machine, but also my biggest hinderance being meant for such small production.
Above is our new oven, waiting to be shipped and setup eventually in our Boulevard location. Each deck holds more than my whole current oven could hold in one-go. It can be programmed to turn on and be pre-heated before I arrive, separate controls for each deck. C'est une chose de beaute!
Midnight wake up time for me? Doubtful.
It is a massive leap forward for the shop, and not without its costs involved (hello very, very expensive hood-system) but the amount of time saved has me casting longingly into the-not-so-distant future of possibly having a more 'regular' lifestyle which will no longer have me getting to work by midnight on a Saturday or one any other day.
Machines are like that though, right? They can make such a difference in our daily lives, but it should be known they also can break down, need repairs and cause more than enough headaches over time as well.
I think I will take the occasional repairs for a few more hours of sleep at this point.
What will I do with all that extra free time you ask? Well, I already carve spoons, play guitar, learn(ing) another language and trying to be a dad, husband, historic homeowner...gardener, cyclist...
I think I will just bake some more bread.
A la prochaine!
I took this picture almost a year ago, and one day before everything kind of changed for us all.
It was early March, and I was snapping a picture of the store to share with customers that morning, but if I recall, Ali had come in and mentioned a few reports, and I actually had a customer go on about another instance as well about a certain issue/sickness/what have you.
I never got around to posting this, I later was at home with my wife asking ourselves what are we going to do? How is the shop going to continue on, and what is the best for us all?
Crazy. I take detailed notes everyday on the bakery/going-ons to refer to for reference and what to make the next year or even on a certain day each month to find the sales trends. Boy-howdy though, looking over last years notes in March, it reads like a horror story.
'X amount of cases' - 'lockdown starts' - 'X amount deceased' - 'No line of customers, people nervous' ...And so forth.
This isn't about politics/beliefs, more about looking back on a year of business and reminding myself (ourselves) about the constant which is change. We were reading the news as a family every night waiting to see if we could go into work, even if we should go in. If we are, what products to not make, how long to stay open. Texting our Health Inspector, waiting for advice on a weekly basis.
Eventually though, things started to make more sense and we just kept chugging along doing what we could do.
It's been a stressful one, right? But here we are. Somehow decisions were made, bread was baked and people were fed and cared for. What a job!
Now, Ali and I are looking forward and figuring out how the business and life has changed. Our sales trends are thrown off (again) and what made sense doesn't much anymore or perhaps what people are interested in or how they shop with us has adjusted. My father was in the shop the other morning around 4 a.m. and had a heart to heart with me. The one thing he shared in all of his years of work is that, 'Business Models have to change'.
With that being said, we are taking a small bakery hiatus shortly after Easter and closing the shop for retail Tuesday the 6th and Wednesday the 7th of April so that we can be a husband and a wife for a moment, and look at the next steps for us all. We never really get to do that much, so we figured we really should. Cause when you are in the woods...
Anywho, enough rambling, thanks for the support, for taking us as we are, and for recognizing that we are just a small family, running a small bakery.
As we approach the spring equinox I begin to get anxious over all the great things soon to come. Gardening, summer bike rides, beer outside in the sun while I play guitar on my porch, watching my grains grow and seeing my daughter become extra dirty trying to help Dad plant in the garden and 'make the yard look nice'.
This year will be particularly exciting for numerous reasons, one of which is the Red Fife grains growing on our property and the potential to once again make a loaf for the community with grains strictly grown, harvested and milled within the city of Tecumseh.
Of course, having my daughter now running around like the wild-child she is will be something not entirely unlike excitement, either.
I take my baking very seriously. I am pretty sure I haven't gone a day in over ten years now where my hands weren't touching bread, pastries or something along those lines. Heck, I had to take my starter on my last vacation with us -just so I could bake on my supposed time-off.
So you can see above, those were beautiful heads of heritage Rye that I had grown about two years ago on my property and had taken on the experience of baking bread from start to finish in its fullest. I needed this project!
Tilling the soil, dowsing the seeds, tending the crops, harvesting the sheafs, painstakingly threshing the berries in a bag while cursing a lot, to finally milling the said berries and turning them into loaves for one day of baking at our current store-front about two years ago.
I never felt more in-tuned to my craft then when those loaves came out of the oven. To think, I had seen through the life of that loaf, from start to finish. There were no commodity sacks of flour involved, just these hands and a few other simple tools of the trade.
The simplicity of the craft with the chance each day to refine yesterdays work has always drawn me closely to this passion of mine.
It was baking in its true, unrefined form. And I laughed when I thought about the true cost of those loaves and all the work that went into them. The $5 I charged? I think they really cost around $13-$15. But it wasn't about that. Not at all.
It was to do what we love doing. Ali and I set out to bake for the community, to nourish, to fulfill a spot in town that wasn't filled and to test ourselves each day to the pursuit of the perfect loaf, and the relentless passion to the craft.
Yesterday, I wandered around my little wheat field with my daughter and thought about the beautiful opportunity we have presented before us once again. If the weather permits, if the deer don't munch too much, and if the cards align, we could potentially be making the purest Tecumseh loaves again for the fine folks we bake for each day. My daughter seemed lack-luster. She's just in it for the chewy crust, I won't lie.
Now how about that? A loaf of bread can inspire as much as it can fill ones stomach. My anxiety aside, I think there's a lot ahead of us, and I am certainly glad you are here with us for it all. Whether a new location being constructed, a fun loaf to experiment with, or trying to be a Father, Husband, Baker, Farmer, Miller, Accoutant, Food Blogger(?), I am thankful for you.
Since 2016, I have milled our whole-grains in some capacity. Whether just the rye by hand when we started, or the red fife for a unique special bake, up to most recently when I was milling all our whole-grains for the wheat and rye based breads on a daily basis. That meant, at any given time the loaves on the shelf were using our own fresh milled grains and getting us closer to our optimal product we were striving to achieve.
Sadly, our mill we were using ended up biting the dust after two years in our current location of constantly daily use. I had mixed feelings on it, as it was adding even more time to my nights because of how small it was making the quantity that could be milled at one given time an issue, thus creating a longer night trying to mill everything needed for the next day’s baking. As the bakery grew, so did the need for more flour and the bottleneck I was facing just wasn't working anymore anyways.
On the other hand though, milling allowed me to have the freshest flour possible, the most nutritious bread I could ask for, and a flavor unparalleled. I was stuck in a hard place between continuing to use the best local grains possible, and drawing the line between being a baker, or a miller.
Maybe we’d just have to leave the mill on the back burner while we build our new downtown location, and perhaps, we could work on that concept again at a later time.
Then as fate would have it, baker buddy Randy George reached out about an opportunity too good to pass. Red Hen Baking was selling a beautiful, custom made 16” stone mill made by hand and encased in southern yellow pine and they needed a good home for it. Alisyn and I couldn’t say yes quick enough to the opportunity to continue our desire for fresh flour, using local grains, and providing an unrivaled product available here in town.
So there it is, being packed up in Vermont a few days after we spoke and now it seems our bakery dream is coming together slowly but surely as all the parts of the puzzle fall into place.
We have a few months ahead of us still to go, but having secured all the equipment has lifted a bit of weight from our shoulders, and it was a relief to know we didn't have to sacrifice some aspects of the operation we enjoyed just to try and make the deadlines and cost of the buildout happen.
It put us at ease as well, as the hopes and dream of the new location has been to 'continue to do what we do, just more of it'. And now, we can mill even more flour, buy even more grains from local farmers and provide even more high quality bread and pastries with the healthiest, freshest flour possible to our community.
We look forward to this new endeavor and the great flavor yet to come.
Well loafers, that is the latest, and we will keep you informed as the days go by.