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The Birth of a Bakery
 
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in bakerslife's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, January 13th, 2008
3:58 pm
Of course, just when it couldn't get better...
MORE EXPERIENCE POINTS!!!

Yes, a former employee has filed an unemployment insurance claim against me. Whee.

Read more...Collapse )

Current Mood: aggravated
Tuesday, December 18th, 2007
1:00 am
Bad news...
One bit of bad news at the bakery...

Our linen service, Domestic Uniform, is suing us.

Now, we had longer-term contracts with several services. This included linen, credit cards, pest control, and payroll service. Now, the circumstance with the other services is that we let them idle while we were in negotiations with the guys buying the bakery. Why? Because I knew we had contracts, and we had 3 potential buyers for the business within the first few days after we closed. So, if the service providers didn't want to just transfer everything to the new owner, we were planning to work out something with the new owner to just carry things over. This could be tricky with things like payroll and credit card services, but we'd figured out a couple ways to handle it.

Details of Linen Delivery Issues and Last StopCollapse )
So, long story short is I assumed they just flushed the contract in a big goodbye and good riddance sort of thing. Which was just as well. I wasn't happy with them, and if they were willing to bow out of the contract, I didn't see any reason to pursue them, because coordinating delivery times when we aren't open to the public and hounding them about the charges was going to be a pain.

We even found a pile of linen that the guy had missed, and *we* called *them* and asked them to pick up their stuff, which they never did.

Two weeks pass, and I get a phone call on our home line as I'm doing some paperwork in the office. It's Wes Swisher, a collections attorney for Greenberg, Grant and Richards out of Texas and Florida. He hits me from out of the blue and I'm shocked. I was expecting a bill or a call or something. Not a collections lawyer threatening to go after me, the new owner of the business, and also threatening to go tell all the business' suppliers that the bakery doesn't pay its bills, all kinds of stuff like that. The call ended up in a shouting match and I finally hung up. This guy was massively rude. But then, he probably graduated pretty low in his class to end up being a lawyer with a bad telemarketing job.

Details about problems, contract, lawyer stuff...Collapse )
But what is this case going to be in court? A big he-said, she-said argument? God I hope not. Because the plain fact is that if the driver would have talked to me, if their customer service person would have called me, or if they would have written me, I would have told him to keep bringing the linen if they were going to hold me to contract. I had immediate need of it, plus I knew I had future needs and further we were already talking to 3 prospective buyers for the business at that point. It's an easy thing to just increase the rent by $60 a month and include 1 year of free linen in the rental agreement.

The sad reality of this whole thing is that I think Domestic Linen is after money for nothing as much as money for services. Trying to rope new food service businesses into 5 year long contracts then retaining collections lawyers to pursue the failures, even as little as $600, is pretty slimy considering 80% will go under in 5 years, the vast majority in the first year. The little bit of searching I've done on google always pops up a case or two on the first page of any search on "domestic uniform"... I think these guys spend a lot of time in court, and everything I've experienced is echoed in documents from other cases. And most of those are in the thousands.

Shameful.

And I feel disgusted that I even got involved with them, and I kick myself for not telling them it's a month-to-month or forget it.

Current Mood: disappointed
12:49 am
Good news!
Well, two good things happening at the bakery recently.

One is that a customer has decided to take over the bakery. We're selling the furniture, fixtures and equipment at a reasonable rate, and working out a deal to rent the space. This should cover the majority of our outstanding debts and give us a small revenue stream. Plus, the bakery doesn't just die... it gets to keep going. This is a very strong positive all the way around.

Just means that it will take a bit longer to get back to CA than expected, because the training process and getting all the business stuff figured out and done is taking longer than expected. Plus, this means I'll be moving in the dead of winter. Joy.

If I get stuck in a pass, Huckleberry is the first to get eaten. I'm just putting that out there so no one ends up surprised.

The second good thing is that yesterday I did the most beautiful cake of my career thus far. The lady got a bargain, and I think she knew it when she picked it up. But it was one of those rare instances when the customer just turned me loose. She said she wanted a castle cake, she wasn't picky about what it looked like other than pink and purple, and she didn't quibble about the price. I just got into it, and designed the cake I'd want, and it turned out beautiful. Ah... joy. I will post pics as soon as they're developed.

Current Mood: content
Saturday, November 17th, 2007
4:38 pm
Blues
Feeling awfully depressed today and I have a tooth that is positively aching.

Mom called last night and I don't think she meant to, but she really hurt my feelings.

Also, have put my finger on the worst part of running a business with family... it really brought out the absolute worst in people that I really care about.

Current Mood: depressed
Sunday, November 4th, 2007
1:56 am
Bakery is closed...
Well, Wolf got the job offer and accepted in Palo Alto.

We decided that it does not make sense for me to try to run the bakery during what should be peak season with minimal help. Additionally, we felt that posting a "closing soon" notice and expecting employees to continue showing up and doing a reasonable job was probably not realistic, either.

The final straw was our most senior employee screwing up $70 of product making a batch of chocolate cake, and yet insisting that he followed the recipe to the letter, despite the fact that it did not fit in the mixer that it always does and he had to switch to a larger machine... and the batter was waaay too thin--at first sight, I knew it was f'd... and half was baked off by then--like rubber, and shrinking as fast as it was cooling. When repeating the batch, instead of completeing the job assigned, he did the minimal up to his scheduled time, clocked out and left a note telling us the rest of the batter was in the refrigerator. (Wolf and I stepped out for 2 hours to visit family as we'd been out of town for several days.) The upshot his whole shift was it cost roughly $40 in labor, $110 in raw materials, plus overhead to bake SIX... yes, *SIX* layers of cake (2 sheets and 4 eight inch rounds.)

I'm not saying I closed the bakery over this one incident. Hardly. But, I found myself imagining what it would be like during the holidays, with Wolf gone, everyone wanting time off, me not wanting to add employees because we would be closing in a matter of months anyway, and then what happens when I really need something and a situation like that happens? It would all fall back to me. I just couldn't expect that the follow through would be there.

Sounded like a crappy way to spend Thanksgiving to me.

So I just said that was enough, and we posted a sign with a picture of Marlon Brando as the Godfather on it, explaining we'd received an offer we couldn't refuse.

We've received several calls from our better customers expressing both sadness at the bakery leaving and well wishes for our future. The jerks, regardless of their minimal patronage, have not changed their tack.

Current Mood: sad
Thursday, October 25th, 2007
2:55 am
Well, Wolf has an interview in Palo Alto next Tuesday. (Yes, we are trying to get in touch with Bay area friends to coordinate time together! Must see baby! Must see others! Must go to City College! Must stop in to make contact with potential employers! Time is rapidly filling up!!!)

That leaves me in a quandry. Do I shut down the bakery when he leaves? Or do I do my best without the help until the end of wedding cakes contracted for next summer?

Here are some other variables to consider. Lots of Pros and ConsCollapse )

It seems like there is greater opportunity in the SF Bay area. Plus, Wolf hates it here, and I also have to say I'm getting sick of being just anchored enough to the bakery that we can't do anything outside the handful of restaurants that stay open late. But on the flip side, this business is *just* starting to turn a bit of a profit, and it seems like we have some very strong potential business coming our way.

Lots of stuff to weigh. Two of the heaviest things are the bickering with Wolf and having friends.

Current Mood: stressed
2:26 am
Massive cake weekend survival!!!
Well, with more careful planning than ever, I made it through a 6 multi-tier + 6 birthday cake weekend, and the most any cake was late was 1/2 hour (and there was drama around that, but they were being whiners because it was a massive cake with LOTS of detailed deco and dairy-based filling that needed to stay cool as long as possible.)

But yes, the trick was to get all the cake baked a week in advance (say YAY for the new very cold freezer) and to start cutting the boards and cakes in advance and filling the buttercream cakes 4 days in advance.

I actually didn't have to pull any all-nighters for this feat, but we did desperately need the new guy's help as well as Aaron's help when they were available. I *did* work 15 days straight at about 18 hours per day, but that is SO much easier than pulling 2 all-nighters in a weekend, which happened during our last 3-cake weekend. Plus, the bakery remained open and stocked during regular hours. Not massively stocked... in fact Aaron's absence was blatant, the cold case pastries were lame... but there was stuff available.

Not everything was perfect. In fact, I'm a little worried that I really disappointed one of our regulars. Her cake had marzipan roses on top of each of 3 tiers which would go on a stand. I think she was expecting them to look as realistic as gum paste roses. Marzipan roses never are, and I didn't like the way the realistic style roses were looking, so I did ribbon roses instead, and I think she was disppointed but too midwestern to say so and have me correct them... she just said they looked fine and hasn't been back. Foo.

Also, the banquet center for one wedding cake had it in their head that we were delivering at 2 pm. The couple's contract clearly stated 4 pm for a 5 pm reception because it was filled with our home made custard, which is dairy based and should not sit out for more than 4-6 hours. Well, the mother showed up, and asked the center rep where the cake was, and he promptly pitched our ever-loving asses under the bus by saying, "I don't know... they should have been here by 2:00." So this woman starts freaking out and getting the florist involved. Does anyone call us? No. Wolf called at about 3:30 to let them know we were running about a half hour late. He really should have given a specific arrival time, but didn't. So, we get there and everyone is whipped to a lather about the cake. It was such an easy setup it was crazy... we had it in and up in 5 minutes (it had 4 tiers already stacked, the top just needed to be set in place, and 3 flowers placed around the topper) and we even spent an extra 15 minutes or so putting extra flowers around the base of the cake. During that time, I was told by both the banquet center person and the florist that 1) EVERYONE has their cakes set up by 2pm, and 2) I shouldn't sell people cakes that need last-minute deliveries. The banquet center has taken the extra step of calling some of the brides coming up for us and them that they need to contact me regarding setup times.

Wolf has since contacted both the florist and the banquet center and let them know in his easygoing way that they were out of line. The florist apologized and sent a bouquet, which was a sweet gesture. The banquet center, however, maintained the position that wedding cakes have to be set up by 2pm, regardless. I think I need to write a letter explaining that we carefully consider delivery times, and determine the best time for the given filling and design. And further, that if they're going to be picky about delivery times, I will refer couples wanting the more fragile fillings back to them for refrigeration space and to have them move the cake into place at the appropriate time... leaving it up to them to explain to their customers why I can't just drop it off at the last minute. I mean, really... the banquet center is getting 5 to 7 times what I'm getting for each wedding before the meal is figured in. Either they can play nice and we can all work together, or they'll lose business over it.

Current Mood: crazy
Tuesday, October 9th, 2007
12:53 am
Let there be cake...
Oy vey...

Through a minor-ish paperwork screw up, I managed to schedule 5 multi-tiered cakes for this upcoming weekend, as well as 5 more standard cakes.

This wouldn't be a problem if either we had more decorators, or if I could for sure focus only on cake. But prior to next weekend the most I've ever done in a single weekend is 3 multi-tiered cakes and a few other odd cakes.

I'm nervous about this, as weather has been punishingly hot indian summer lately... but we're supposed to get a break from that very soon. (Crossing fingers!)

On top of that, it's homecoming weekend for Central High (my Alma-mater) and two of our employees are both seniors at Central and need time off for the football game and dance.

So... more cake than ever, down two employees.

BUT! I'm doing more planning and preparing than usual, and we're jump-starting cake prep tomorrow. Plus, we'll be test-driving one of our newest employees (who has been very good so far) in a mission critical situation. He's picking up the hours that the guys who need off for homecoming can't work. Maybe I'm kidding myself, but I think we'll manage!

Current Mood: optimistic
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
3:28 am
If a bear falls in the back of a van, does Wolf hear it?
Here I finally have pictures of the bear cake disaster recovery. See the pictures.Collapse )

Current Mood: creative
Sunday, September 30th, 2007
2:29 am
Just when I'm utterly freakin' ready to just slam the bakery doors shut and call it a miserable failure, I have a day like today. It started out bumpy, but once I could just focus on the wedding cake things smoothed out.

The 5-tier hexagonal wedding cake that was blocked with flowers was utterly gorgeous. The bride steered me in a direction, but listened to my suggestions, let me know her preferences, and made sure the flowers arrived in time to get them all arranged, and other than that just let me do my thing, and the results were very nice. The delivery went without a hitch. I guess it was a pendulum swing thing... last week was a really bad wedding cake delivery, this week was a really good one. Once I get pics developed I'll either have them here or on Facebook. And woot! Added bonus! A nice photographer that I've met at a couple bridal events who would really like to do a picture book with my cakes in it for me was there doing the pictures, and when I said hello and asked him to make sure to get a good shot of the cake for me, he promised he would and he'd get a copy to me for no charge. Yay professional pictures of the prettiest cake to date! :)

Next week will be a madhouse. 3 wedding cakes... 2 real wedding cakes, and 1 self-pick-up (very fancy standard cake) type, and 1 sculpted cake--a train. I'm going to have to remember to have fun with it all! The following week we have 4 wedding cakes... 2 real ones, and 2 self-pick-ups.

Current Mood: artistic
Saturday, September 22nd, 2007
10:10 pm
Human nature?
Interesting... today we delivered a wedding cake that the family nearly destroyed and the mother of the bride showed up demanding that we go fix it immediately because the problem was somehow our fault.

Shari warned me that this sort of thing would happen, but I really thought that they would be rare in the extreme. But evidently not so.

I put in probably a total of 45 hours, give or take 5, making a 5 tier wedding cake with two satellite cakes that had trellises supporting dozens of gum paste roses. I'd put in about 30 hours straight including delivery, and it looked really beautiful set up.

Long DescriptionCollapse )

QuestionsCollapse )

Gah... I know, I know. One of my professors kept talking about how running a small business is like a chess game, and you have to enjoy finding out what happens when you move the peices. I keep wanting this to be a light switch, not something multi-faceted.

Oh well... that ended up being more lengthy than expected. Guess it just brings some thoughts to light.

Current Mood: frustrated
Monday, September 17th, 2007
1:53 am
Another odd week...
Well, my Aunt quit on us this week. Evidently I was being too rough on her. Wolf keeps telling me that I need to tone my expectations of people down, and that even the slightest comment is seen as heavy criticism.

Blah, blah, blahCollapse )

Good grief... seems that I have some real nerve expecting people to WORK and do the STUFF I NEED DONE rather than just letting them hang out and shoot the shit on my dime. In Michigan this makes me the worst boss in the world. ESPECIALLY considering I CORRECT them and REMIND them when they aren't doing what I WANT.

We've lost 2 employees since re-opening. In some ways it's not surprising, since during our break I did some basic calculations, and yes, these folks need to move their asses faster or there's no reason for them to be here, and I've told them that, and begun to pressure them all to be more productive. It's just disheartening when even your own family can't deal... especially since we were paying her to do a stripped-down, simple, version of counter... everyone else needs to hop back and forth from counter to prep.

Current Mood: disappointed
Monday, September 10th, 2007
12:20 am
"The bear is DOWN!!!"
Oh, today was not pretty.

A long and tragic bear tale...Collapse )

Current Mood: indescribable
Wednesday, September 5th, 2007
5:36 pm
Stuff...
agentanderson and his sweetie visited last week. It was awesome to have them visit, and very sad to see them go. An amazing kicker is that the two of them helped us for about 30 minutes each night, and that ended up saving us enough time to have dinner and visit with them every night, with no real detriment to the bakery. In fact, having friends around made it extra-pleasant for Wolf and I and it made things actively go better.

Kind of brought us to the conclusion... there's no point in any of this if we can't be somewhere near friends, or have some time to spend with them. No amount of success or failure is worth it.

We started noodling numbers and the bakery as a business alone is probably worth somewhere near $400K without real estate. Also interestingly enough, it's producing right about where I was expecting the first year to be in the business plan, although the profitability is poopy primarily due to employee issues (which I've kvetched about ad nauseum). I don't think the business would fetch nearly what it should be worth, but we are seriously considering putting it up for sale, anticipating that it will take several months to sell anyway. Plus, Wolf is starting to shop for jobs in LA, SF, and Seattle. I've also glanced through things and there are $40-70K jobs that after the experience running the bakery, I'd be qualified for, plus there are other bakeries for sale out there.

Also, retch was a massive help in getting some thoughts on what to do and where to go crystallized. It's good to have friends with business minds that aren't emotionally attached to the business that one can bounce thoughts off.

Current Mood: melancholy
Tuesday, June 12th, 2007
2:04 pm
Employees
The bread guy position...

...no, not something new and kinky. Darn.

The "bread guy" is the person we need at midnight that comes in to make bread. We've had Jerry, a GM retiree, doing it for Thursday and Friday, and Wolf for Saturday, Sunday, Monday. This situation came about when our previous bread guy, Dave, quit with no notice the week before Easter.

And kind of good riddance, because he wasn't willing to create artisan quality breads... he was churning out a bunch of mediocre stuff based on my recipes, but frequently overwork, overproofed... just not what we wanted. John, our pot washer had been helping out with breads here and there when he finished his pots and pans early, and we recognized that he was pretty good at breads. When Dave quit, we asked John if he'd like to quit washing pots and pans part time (7am-11am), and start doing bread full time (3am-11am until he was trained, 12am-8am after). He was ecstatic. But after two days, he called us the night before he was supposed to be in saying he just wasn't able to get enough sleep, couldn't do the shift, but he was thinking about getting his own place, etc., etc. Okay fine.

As a stop-gap measure, we called Jerry back in for 2 nights a week, and put Wolf on bread for the weekend, but continued to find projects, and keep training John for breads, and keep John working full time. Well, that was weeks ago. This past week, Jerry's mother in law was dying, and he needed time off. We called on John to fill in for Jerry on Thursday and Friday. He did really well on Thursday, but 3 hours after leaving called to say he wasn't feeling well, and just couldn't work the midnight shift because he can't get enough sleep. I told him that was fine, but that we also don't need a full time pot washer and his hours would be going back to plus or minus 4 per day. The plain fact is we need bread when we open, not at 2pm, which is what happens when it gets started at 7am.

Well, John came back in to talk with me and explain that he really needs full time work and really likes his shift the way it has been. I had to point out all kinds of things like--it's dead right now, and it doesn't help business when the bread is not there for people to purchase when they come in in the morning. That we've been coming up with work to keep him busy for 40 hours at the same time that I've been having to pour in all kinds of extra hours because we've been holding the bread position open for him, waiting for him to get a place or work something out, and now that we have an emergency, he can't be inconvenienced for even 2 days.

He actually said, "You don't understand... I really need this job... all the other places I've applied to don't even call me back." But despite that, no budging on the hours he's willing to work. Even after I offered a $1 per hour shift premium. No dice.

So, I'm calling bullshit on him and interviewing someone this Thursday. If this thing is going to fly, I'm not getting up at midnight to make bread, doing bake-off, whipping out a few wedding cakes, doing all the pastries, and then getting back to bed at 10 pm only to repeat the process ANY MORE. If this town wants a bakery, it needs to support it by coughing up the workers to make it run, and the $$$ it takes to pay them and me and my suppliers.

Employee profitability...

What I'm finding is that most of our employees, even after lots of training, are capable of producing about enough product to pay for their own time and not much more. On average, one of my people in the kitchen for 8 hours produces $125-$175 in product. If pushed to do much more, either by working faster or longer hours, that amount is either reduced from the next day's production or the person quits after a short while.

To contrast this... when I was INTERNING (no pay 2 days, $8/hour 2 days) at Noe Valley Bakery, I'd typically produce 80 cupcakes, which sold at $3 each, set up and baked off 7 dozen cookies at $10 per dozen, made 3 large fruit tarts at $35 each, 12 med fruit tarts at $3 each, and 12 small fruit tarts at $1 each, plus 5 lemon meringue tartlettes at $3 each, 8 pies at $10 each, and probably another $100 of miscellaneous stuff. Roughly $650 in value... and it was probably costing them less than $100 to employ me on the days I was paid.

The midwestern work ethic I grew up with is toast, gone, kaput, nada. And not a single person has come to me saying, "If I had a raise, I'd produce more." In fact, I gladly hand out overtime at 1.5x if someone is getting things done. But it's clearly not the money here. It's just that people don't want to work very hard, and they want to work the hours they choose.

Reliability...

I've had to bonk Aaron, our counter guy, on the head pretty hard. In a single week, he gave himself a day off, set his own hours on his first day back, called in absent the following day, then the day after that showed up late. I told him his hours were getting cut because business is slow and I need people I can rely on, and cut him to one day per week. So, this week when he showed up for that one day, he really worked. I hate to be an asshole boss, but something has to give, and I can't have someone picking and choosing the days that it is convenient to show up.

Current Mood: annoyed
1:45 pm
Business Side Thoughts...
Cakes are currently carrying the bakery. Looking at the numbers, for summer it would make perfect business sense to shut down the bread, pastries, etc., lay off all my employees, cut operating expenses like electricity (considering the heat, the air conditioning bill is going to be perverse... we run an oven in 90+ degree weather, then need the lobby cool enough for customers... we get bit both ways) and simply do wedding and graduation/special order cakes all on my own. The food cost is low on cakes... especially the ornate ones. The labor is what really adds value and no one except me can perform it. This would take us from breaking even to very profitable. BUT... there would be no real room to grow, and the value of the business would lie solely with me, making it very difficult to sell or pass to anyone else, ever.

Plus, I FREQUENTLY have wedding cake customers who expect to pay more than I ask. On the flip side we FREQUENTLY have people pissing and moaning about the cost of most of our other items... as an example, Tammy had a lady outright walk out because the tag was up on the shelf for our sweet boules which run $2, and the lady wanted a sour boule which was next to the sweet boules but was not labeled and runs $2.25. The customer refused to pay the extra $.25 because "the sign says..." and she was quite belligerent about it. And the worst thing is the customer RECOGNIZED the difference... she did NOT want a sweet boule, but she refused to recognize the fact that the sign posted near the sweet boules didn't apply to the sour ones.

We've been kicking that idea around for quite some time, in fact. Maybe even not just making it a summer change, but a permanent one. The reasons I haven't done this yet, though, are: 1) Ethics--I don't feel right laying everyone off as soon as the business cools down... it feels wrong. 2) Saleability--without additional employees and the ability for the business to live without my presence, the business's only value is furniture, fixtures & equipment. 3) Customers--despite the jerks, we also have customers come in every day that rave about different things we make, and I don't like the idea of disappointing them. 4) Ego--there is a certain amount of prestige in having a full-service bakery versus a cake shop, and I don't like feeling as if I've failed.

Other options being considered are just doing a "Month Off for Restructuring" sort of thing, to get processes and such down, but that feels like a death knell to me. Plus, I know I still have cake contracts to complete during that time, so thinking I'll have tons of extra time to spend on processes is a fallacy. Lots of places around here that take a month or so off during their first year just don't open again... and customers recognize that. Another possibility is just hiking prices on everything... this would make individual sales more profitable, even though my employees don't produce much, and it would slow down business so that I need fewer employees. Then, when business picks back up in the fall and there are more efficiencies, whoopee... we'll actually make something.

Decisions...

Current Mood: hopeful
1:08 pm
Exhaustion
Having several separate lines of thought... splitting into smaller, more digestible, posts.

Well, finished a 4-tier wedding cake this past weekend, and it looked pretty, but the hot pink and black (especially the black) accents that the bride wanted certainly detracted from the cake. I didn't have to do a full-on all-nighter plus this time thanks to Wolf... he covered the bakery Saturday morning, after I did the setup for the cakes the night before. It actually worked out pretty well. But I'd still pulled a 28-hour shift at the bakery, got 4 hours sleep, finished and delivered the cake, then after another wedding cake consult went to dinner and bed and passed out for 14 hours. Fighting a cold plus all the squirrelly hours has been draining.

It's a weird thing... plus with the wedding season just hitting full tilt, we have at least one and as many as three wedding cakes every weekend until the end of July. Phew. But I don't want to do any more 42-hour runs at the bakery. In fact, I'm damn sick of all-nighters. I've found that after working for 20 hours, the floor in the ladies' room starts to swim and move (this has happened several times--the floor is a really pretty dimensional-stone tile pattern that just must be way too exciting for my brain when I'm exhausted.) Also after 24 hours, minor auditory hallucinations start (this week I kept hearing what sounded like NPR reports playing on a radio turned down too low to actually hear detail. I checked the radios in the shop several times, only to find that they were all off. I thought about turning one on just to fill in some noise but realized that what is on in the middle of the night is lame. Last time that happened, I just kept thinking I heard people saying my name as if they were getting my attention for a question.) This has to be what real honest-to-god biological exhaustion is like, but what I don't get is why on earth getting substantial doses of sleep on my days off don't resolve the problems. When we first opened, the long stretches of work actually felt good, and the sleep was invigorating. Feels kind of like a battery has been drained too low and can't recharge.

Current Mood: tired
Monday, May 21st, 2007
3:12 pm
Here & There...
Funny, Wolf expressed a sentiment that I think I feel as well. After dinner the other night he said, "I don't want to die here. They wouldn't bury me, they'd just deep-fry me. And I'd only feed a family of four for three days!" And, yeah... we're not doing so well here in terms of interpersonal things, business things, family things.

Today our banker showed up with some papers for us to sign. She repeated again and again how exhausted we both looked and how we should both get some rest. She also offered us access to any more money if we need it... line of credit, another 5-7 year loan for capital expenditures, anything. Plus she kept emphasizing how *well* we were doing, and told us to keep it going and she'd support us in any way. Even funding additional stores if we want to expand. We explained that we're at a weird juncture where we're deciding to either expand or contract... expand to reach out to more wholesale and such accounts, and get people and processes in place to put good bread in local markets and restaurants, or contract and become a simple cake shop until we can find the people to staff a real bakery. And when we explained the profitability of each of our lines, she was still with us.

On the flip side, my mom, who's been helping out at the bakery by doing counter for us, continues to go out of her way to hurt me, Wolf and the bakery. For instance, today. Wolf and I were supposed to grab some dinner last night together. Wolf went upstairs for a nap, and I decided to stay downstairs and get some cake done to fill up the case (our refrigerated case, which had been on the fritz all weekend, and had just been repaired) and maybe make up for a really sucky Sunday. Needless to say, by the time I went upstairs, Wolf was deep in mid-sleep, and I was pretty damned exhausted, too. I tried to wake him, but he was zonked. Shortly after that, I passed out, too, with clothes on. So, when we woke up today, we were both starved... we hadn't gotten our one meal (we almost never eat more than a single meal in a day) yesterday, and we had tons of work to do before we could run out to get something. Admittedly, we were both nibbling on day-old, but that's not really a meal.

Anyway... when things finally calmed down, Wolf and I needed a real meal, and I was about to invite my mom to breakfast with us, and I said, "Well, we haven't eaten a meal in more than a day..."

I got about that far, and my MOTHER... you know, a mother? The person who's supposed to care about you even if no one else does? Yeah, my mother... says in a mocking tone of voice, "OHHHHh, poooor baby..."

I barely finished my sentence after that, but I did invite her to breakfast and she declined.

But what is that about? My *banker* expressed more concern and empathy than my *mother*. GAH. Whose mother treats them like that?

Another item of note is that I spoke with my old boss and my old boss's boss at Copenhagen. It was good (in some ways) to hear that Shari went through much of the same stuff, and in fact, still goes through a lot of the same things that we're going through with customers, suppliers, employees, etc. It was a nice conversation, and Shari told me directly that she and the rest of the family have wanted to find someone that really knows what it takes to run a successful bakery and is willing to take it over from them so that they can retire. She indicated that some form of transfer of ownership was definitely possible if I want to return to the Bay Area, and do some sort of training/working for equity/easy payment plan to take over their bakery. Massively flattering and awfully tempting... considering I loved the way their bakery is set up and running and would more than anything want to keep it running as is or better. (Shoot--our place is kind of a mini-Copenhagen.) That dovetails nicely in terms of what the Nielsens want... someone to take over their business who will run their bakery well, and not just run it into the ground.

So, yeah... strangeness whipping all around. We're taking half of Saturday, Sunday and Monday off for memorial day... and I am looking forward to it IMMENSELY.

Current Mood: exhausted
Monday, May 7th, 2007
3:44 pm
Still in hell...
Ugh.

This experience is the most bizzarre and insane thing I've ever had to live through. I feel more and more discouraged every day. It has to get better or I'm quitting.

I've had (I think) three employees quit with no notice since my last posting. First the bread guy, then the gal that had been with us from the start, and most recently a culinary student just about to graduate. I guess I'm an oddball, giving notice for all my jobs save one... and in that case, I was being abused. It seems like employees actively want to try to screw me... one pulled his exit the week before Easter, the next at the end of a week after the local paper'd written a huge article on us and we were swamped, and the third was 3 days after being hired as a replacement for the second. What the fuck? When can *I* quit with no notice?

When Dani quit, it was coincidentally 2 days after my Dad installed a video camera to counteract some of the theft issues we were having with employees and the till. Hunh... connection? Supposedly, she was just "too stressed out" working after that.

I had a wedding cake this weekend and ended up working for 42 hours straight to make up for the culinary student's f-ups and cover for missing people and get a totally complicated cake finished. There was a breif yay moment... the bride was at the reception location when we dropped off the cake, and nearly started crying because she was so happy with the cake.

But operating a bakery with no trained staff and relying on family to help is terrible. My mom is being difficult and adding to stress levels. Wolf either can't or won't listen to simple directions.

It's frustrating. Tempting to either close or turn it into a cake shop.

Current Mood: discontent
Wednesday, February 28th, 2007
4:48 pm
Ugh...
Okay, another difficult week, but we're getting by.

Today, however, I received my first piece of hate mail. Yes. A little old lady went to the trouble of sending a bakery hate mail. I remember her pretty clearly... she came in and was P.O.'d that we didn't have the damned frozen cake donuts in the case, but instead had freshly made yeast raised donuts. She grudgingly took a PLAIN... yes PLAIN... donut, and a cherry danish, bitching the whole time about us changing the donuts. This same person then over a $.85 donut and a $1.25 danish writes a letter and sends it with no signature or return address saying she hated the donut and that the danish was old, and that this was expensive for leftovers. Both items had been made THAT day. She picked the crappiest possible item--a plain donut, and the danish was made fresh that morning, so all I can think about that is either she just wanted to pitch a bitch or she doesn't understand that good food has TEXTURE... that we will not be serving the standard donut crap that is just formed into a dozen different shapes all with different names and comes pre-made from the foodservice, but that we'll be serving the ACTUAL item that the donut knockoffs are named after. An Eclair here WILL NOT BE a rectangular donut with custard. It just pisses me off, though... after she made that huge stink about "no frycakes", did she honestly think I wouldn't know who she was when she specifically bitched about the items she then purchased? When I see her in again, it's going to be very hard to keep from asking her to not come in again. We'd even suggested that she go down the street to a "bakery" that is essentially a donut shop to find what she wanted... oh wait... this was on a Monday, and that's their closed day. God, I hate getting their customers... they are cheap asses that have a horrible palate... and we get them on their closed days. That explains it. Bah.

I have moved to the hinterlands and I'm paying for it with little pieces of my sanity. I can't even consistently get staples like formed chocolate cups or rye flour here. These things are special order items that require lots of jumping through hoops to attain. In San Francisco all of these things would be available in abundance at any time. GAH!

On the flip side to this kvetching woman, I also got a piece of fan mail today from someone saying that they loved our bakery. I have to focus on the positive. The negative mostly comes from people who think a bakery is a donut shop. I promised myself I'd re-evaluate things at 1 month, and here I am. I'm seriously thinking about dumping donuts altogether, because all they do is invite bitching... the price is too high, we don't have yeast-raised, we don't have cake donuts, we don't have custard, we don't have... well, just bite me. If I wanted a dawn donuts or a Krispy Kreme, that's the business I'd have set up.

Dad actually had the best logic... he asked if business is going up or going down. Reality is that it's on a gentle steady climb up. He said that we must be doing what people want then. Good point.

Current Mood: crazy
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