If We Build It, Will You Come?

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If We Build It, Will You Come?

Cyn here. We’re thinking of adding a bakery, maybe an edgy counterpart to our underground lair.

The story so far: I’m squeezed in the middle row of an airplane, elbows scrunched tightly, knees bumping against the seat in front of me (and I’m only 5’2″) just coming back from a weekend bakery seminar in Chicago. The plane’s so crowded that they thew my little roll-on suitcase into the belly of the beast at the last minute, so now I’m left typing these notes on my little cell phone instead of a laptop. (How do the rest of you type so fast with your thumbs?) Another question: how do other restaurants afford to send their chefs skipping through various countries doing research on “new trends” while I’m sleeping on my ex-brother-in-law’s sofa to save money and stuck on the red eye from Chicago instead of luxuriating in some Paris bistros and bakeries??? Can you spell jealous? I can.

Anyway, our Pastry Chef Katy and I are heading back home with our heads clouded full of ideas. The main thing we’re after is some industry statistics to help us decide whether to add a bakery up above us or not. Checked out Chicago bakeries also, but didn’t see anyone doing our secret idea. (Nah, can’t spell the beans yet on that part but you’ll be the first to know.) The seminars were awesome, but left us with more questions than when we started. Here’s a surprise: all of the bakeries that gave presentations (even fancy-ass-high-end snoots from L.A.) use bagged “cake mixes” for their creations. We were dumbstruck. Don’t they do everything from scratch? Real scratch? As in “cracking open eggs and adding pure sugar” scratch? The last thing we intend to do is open a bag of mix with scissors, even if you don’t know.

This isn’t an easy decision. On the one hand, our kitchen crew is elbow-to-elbow in a tightly packed space and could really use some breathing room. Pastry chefs “patiently” have to wait for oven space…guys making peanut butter have to wait for big mixers to become available…prep cooks sometimes have to balance a cutting board across a sink space in order to clean and prep fresh vegetables. Things get so tight around here that we even added an overnight shift to keep caught up on prep work. So we could certainly use the extra space and equipment a bakery would bring.

On the other hand, our rent is already astonishingly high, at least for independent owners like us who have no deep corporate pockets to reach into. Writing a check for tens of thousands each month is hard, and adding even more to that rent check makes my sleep fitful. We’re thrilled that our business has been so good, but we’re also shouldering a massive loan from closing our Duluth a year ago (walking away from that debt simply is not in our vocabulary or makeup).

Yet the thought of selling super-fresh donuts, just out-of-the-oven breads, warm cookies, simple but elegant cakes, swoon-worthy cupcakes and other decadent goodies still strongly beckons us into temptation. (And the chance to play with words is wildly appealing to a wordsmith.) Sigh.

All these hot dreams, though (I said hot) do not make a smart business decision. (Ha! Got spanked big time by venturing into beautiful Duluth 12 weeks before the economy crashed). For this potential bakery, we’ve researched the hell out of costs, margins, leasehold improvements, staffing, marketing, recipes, equipment, venting, health code requirements, flooring material, price points, competition, food traffic, yada yada yada…as promised, this is a peek behind the curtain revealing the kind of things that keep me awake at night.

As always, thank you.

Cyn (aka Cynthia Gerdes)

By | 2016-10-14T16:36:35+00:00 October 13th, 2011|Bite Me Blog|0 Comments

About the Author:

Cynthia Gerdes, CEO, co-founded Hell's Kitchen along with Steve Meyer and her husband Mitch Omer. The behind-the-scenes whirlwind pulls levers, whistles while she works, and dials up the magic in Hell as much as possible, much like the Wizard of Oz. A writer by trade, she's also fearless in pulling back the curtain and showing everyone what it's REALLY like to run a busy restaurant.