Bakers Journal

Editor’s Letter: April 2015

April 16, 2015
By Brian Hartz

Seeing the Forest

I’m writing this as I frantically prepare for vacation. Emphasis on “frantically.” It never fails: I make a list of what I need to pack and yet spend the entire pre-departure day scrambling to and fro, throwing items into a suitcase until it’s near to bursting. Then I empty out the suitcase and re-pack it – failing to look at my list, of course. Realizing I forgot a critical item (or five), I start the process all over again.  

Did I mention I’m leaving town for a grand total of four days? A long weekend, basically. Really, it shouldn’t be this difficult.

Packing might be a headache, but once I arrive at my destination and settle in, I relish the opportunities for self-reflection that occur while one is on holiday. Being away from the daily grind opens up the mind to new possibilities – with all those pesky trees out of the way, we can finally get a glimpse of that mysterious forest looming just over the horizon.

In a way, we’ve been asking you, our readers, to self-reflect over the past few months as we’ve been conducting the first-ever Jake the Baker Award competition. The response was outstanding – and it’s going to make the judges’ job difficult, to say the least. Personally, I’ve been impressed with the depth of your insights into what makes you and your bakeries special.

One entrant regaled us with the story of how she met her husband by placing an ad in the German equivalent of Bakers Journal; 29 years later, they remain happily married and working side-by-side – he as a master baker, she as a pastry chef. Thirteen years ago, they immigrated to Canada, settling in Nova Scotia. They steadily grew their bakery enterprise from selling door-to-door and via word of mouth to the point where the business now includes a bake shop, café, and a regular presence at four farmers’ markets. They serve traditional products and even some German specialties, but also have adapted to the demand for gluten-free baked goods. Their hard-won success has inspired their daughter – representing the fourth generation to take up baking – to carry on the family business by managing the café and studying hospitality management.

Another entrant unspooled a tale of more recent success: she and her husband took over a failing bakery in 2013 and have turned it around thanks to a passion for making everything from scratch and a zest for social media and viral marketing – including a particularly inspired April Fool’s Day gag last year – that brought newfound attention to not only their business, but also the little town in the Rockies they call home.

“After a year spent in France, we knew what a bakery should be. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be baking everything from scratch,” the entrants wrote of their desire to turn around the bakery, the bulk of whose product, prior to their takeover, had been brought in from outside suppliers or made from mixes. Despite some products being available only on certain days due to the emphasis on from-scratch baking, their business has seen a noticeable uptick in both retail and wholesale numbers.

As someone who has spent a lot of time writing about business and businesspeople, I never tire of hearing stories like these – and I wish we could reprint all of them in their entirety. Each and every one represents the stuff of dreams, of reaching for the sky, of casting aside doubt, of shirking conventional wisdom – of seeing the forest and ignoring the trees that block the view.

The winner of the Jake the Baker Award – which is generously sponsored by Ardent Mills, Callebaut and Bunge Oils – will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Bakery Congress in Montreal as well as an award plaque and a cover story in Bakers Journal. I’m sure I speak for the other judges when I say I wish there could be more than one winner. Picking one is not going to be easy.

And I thought packing for vacation was tough. 

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