Article Published in “True Loaf” April 2011
In 2007 I set up Bethesdabakers, a two day a week sourdough microbakery, in our small terraced house in Snowdonia. I started by simply announcing to friends there would be bread available Friday 6.00 p.m., baked 8 small loaves, sold 6 and grossed £7.20. Two months later I sold the equivalent of 84 small loaves, had to introduce a second bake day to cope with demand and had switched to a bake-to-order only system. On day one I mixed about 4K of dough; a year later I mixed nearly 60K – and there was no waste because it was all pre-ordered.
I started with just my home baking gear and only bought equipment as it was needed – first a fridge for overnight dough fermentation, then a small spiral mixer. I got by with our domestic oven for four months before buying a bottom-of-the-range commercial convection oven. These three major items, bought new, only came to around £1,600, and the total spent on equipment since I started is around £3000.
The quantity of bread I produce might be miniscule even in terms of a small High Street baker’s output but I think what I have achieved is important for three main reasons.
Firstly it provides an alternative model for people who want to start a career in baking. It shows that it is possible to set up a bakery in your own home for a comparatively small outlay. It’s a low risk way of establishing a business – perfect for the person who has maybe only a day or two a week spare to start small and see if the market is there.
Secondly, it may be pretty lo-tech in baking terms but it is hi-tech in its use of computerised systems. The website (www.bethesdabakers.com) acts as a showcase cutting out the need for flyers and other forms of advertising. It lets me show our 60+ customers what I’m baking in the coming week and it emails their orders to me. After the first few weeks of pre-bake sleepless, panic-filled nights I started to develop a system of spreadsheet calculators. These now store my bread formulas, work out the order and calculate customer bills, produce my daily bake schedule complete with bread type, sizes, numbers, ingredient quantities, dough and starter weights, act as a recording system, produce invoices and detail bread supplied to commercial customers. I use a spreadsheet to help in converting yeasted recipes to sourdough, calculate bakers percentage and starter builds. I use email to remind customers to check the website at the start of the week, and text messages to signal “last orders” and “bread ready”.
Thirdly, because I only bake naturally leavened bread, it has allowed me to present sourdough as the norm and to develop a wide repertoire covering the full spectrum of what can be made from leavened dough. Customers have long ceased to think in terms of sourdough, they just think of it as good bread.
Every week I bake six regular breads; Campagne, Mick’s Special, Wholemeal, Multigrain, 5 Seed with Spelt, Baguette. To keep customers (and myself) interested, I have introduced a range of three specials – a main special, a rye special and a flatbread/brioche special – that change each week. Well into my fourth year, this has meant the repertoire has grown to over 70 breads. Yes, I do make big French mîches and serious German ryes but I also make a diverse range of breads not usually associated with sourdough, more delicate brioches, breads from enriched doughs, naans, focacce, fougasses and many others.
What I have developed is now a tried and tested package – methods, administration, bread formulas – transferable skills that could easily be passed on to anyone wanting to get started in bakery this way.
What next? Well, last year I took three months out to write my big bread book intending to find a publisher. The way it’s panned out so far I have published “Bethesdabasics” my introduction to sourdough myself. Later in the year I will publish a second book about Bethesdabakers and how to set up your own microbakery. After that, the full baking repertoire …