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.
The work at the shop never ends. I found myself waking up at 10:30 p.m. Friday night in order to get all the baking done for Valentine Saturday this past weekend. Yet, here I am working on the website and more on my day off when rest seems to elude me. It's a passion to the craft, perhaps. Maybe it's just being an owner/operator of a small business. Beats me, I learned not to think about it too much anymore.
If you snoop around (as I know you are doing) you will find I have begun adding individual product pages for our loaves of bread. The goal is to highlight each loaf with a picture, a short description and then some vital facts like; whole grain content, locality, crumb and flavor notes.
I hope this transparency will allow more folks to make decisions based on needs and desires in their food and allow us continuously share the knowledge we love and have our our breads and products. Our bread is and has been a defining factor of our involvement with the community in terms of nourishment and sustainability and in turn been a major role in our bakery over the years. I feel it's about time it received more attention on our end in order to share the knowledge of a good loaf!
The pastries are there too, but as I learned at the start of the pandemic -a loaf of bread goes further for a family than a cup of coffee or a croissant. So for now, bread!
Ain't that the truth?
I also have obviously added this blog as well in hopes to keep in touch more with the tremendous amount of folks who continue to support us since 2016. Goodness, to think, I used to write newsletters weekly when this started. But as the business grew, so did my need in other areas. Hopefully I can quench my love of writing and sharing here in the coming months, and keep the fiercely loyal informed of the bakeries going-ons as well.
Thanks again for supporting us. I consider myself lucky that working this amount is a blessing for my family, myself and the community we are working to support. Someone once told me when I said I was tired at the shop, "You could be slow and close the businesses doors. That's the alternative".
And there you have it folks. Another slap in the face from reality.