Sunday, February 7, 2010

Weekend Post: The Other Baby (our bread baking business)

Here is part three of the other side of my life. You can catch up on part one and two from the past two weekends.

After the hard times in Amarillo, we decided to treat ourselves to an upscale loft in the heart of the Dallas scene. We nurtured our marriage and had fun cooking gourmet meals and drinking lots of good wine at night. I was working for an interior design firm and Clint was plunging through learning the mortgage business. Not by choice, by necessity. After several months, the mortgage business started taking a downward turn. “Again”? I would ask myself? “His job is not working out, again?” As I was becoming a little bitter that my husband was not happy (again) with his job, I found Clint watching out the window one morning. He said, “look how cool that is..”. It was an Empire Baking Co. (who now is our competition) delivery truck unloading fresh bread to a café. I thought to myself “don’t you even think about it…”. A week or two later, he was on his way home in bumper to bumper traffic and called me and told me he can’t quite thinking about opening up a bakery. I was hesitant at first but then started praying for God’s will. Several weeks went by and I was on my way to install drapery and Clint was having troubles with his boss and it just hit me like a ton of bricks! What do we have to lose? I called Clint and said, “pack up your desk…we are opening up a bakery!”. He said, “seriously?” And that was all I had to say. Two months later, he was at the San Francisco Baking Institute and we were scheduled to open our very own bakery after his return. We had no idea what we were getting into. The saying holds true that ignorance is bliss. We had four things on our side. A dream, passion, hard work ethic, and strong faith.

We designed the bakery of our dreams and worked hard day and night finishing out the space, laying the hard wood floors board by board and staining the floors on our hands and knees. A 1940’s style bakery with butter yellow walls, warm wood floors, a carerra marble counter with fresh pastries displayed on crisp white platters. Black and white photos of our family from the 40’s adorned the walls along with schoolhouse pendants giving a light glow from the ceilings. Old framed menu chalkboards hung above the countertops with a list of all of our made from scratch baked goods. The smells of fresh bread bellowed out into the dining area from the tiny hot kitchen. Frank Sinatra was to play lightly as people sipped on their cappuccino and bit into their flaky croissants. The morning we opened our doors in March 2004, Clint had been up all night cooking and baking. We didn’t think we were ready to open but Clint’s dad said we would never be ready and we just had to do it. About an hour before we opened, I found Clint in the bathroom sobbing. He was scared to death. He looked up at me with tears streaming down his face and said, “what if we don’t make it?” I embraced him and told him he was already a huge success by having so much courage opening his own business to share his passion with others. I will never forget that morning as long as I live. This was the beginning of the seesaw of lifting one up while the other one was down through hard and grueling times ahead.

Weeks went by and we couldn’t keep the counters full of fresh baked goods. Long lines spilling out our doors for lunch made us excited and nervous at the same time. We were only a three-man show; Clint in the kitchen and me and one employee up front. How would we ever keep up was the burning question in our hearts. Clint was getting no sleep and we were both exhausted, working 16-20 hours a day. We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment where we were only there for a few hours to eat a large pizza in bed and fall asleep watching the Food Network. I remember, as Clint would get out of bed at 1 am to go start breads, my body would ache and my mind was full of worry. How in the world could he keep going?

Every morning in five short hours in the bakery kitchen, Clint would produce, all by himself the entire amount of product we would sell that day. From an assortment of artisan breads such as sourdough, baguettes, multigrain bread, batards, ciabatta, jalapeño cheddar to a variety of croissants done the right way…pain au chocolate & pain au jambon. These were complicated procedures of mixing, proofing and baking off just right. Fresh cranberry scones, bran and blueberry muffins, cinnamon rolls, granola, three different kinds of quiches would also be made from scratch at the same time. While this was all going on, Clint would have a large pot of chicken stock boiling for a homemade soup of the day. He skimped on no ingredients or procedures and that is why people couldn’t get enough of our product.

Many mornings I would be tying on my apron, walking into the back kitchen while the sun was coming up. I had already drank my coffee and said my fervant prayers, begging the Lord to get us through another day. I will never forget one morning when I smelled the strongest scent of my Grandma Fanny's kitchen as I was walking in. It brought me to tears and I knew at that moment she was with us, helping us get through the dog days of starting a business. For she knew hard times of being a farmer's wife in the dust bowl days. She worked endless hours on the farm and she was my strength many many mornings through the smell of her tiny farm kitchen. I would lift my teary eyes to the sunrise and say, "thank you, Grandma Fanny. I love you."

I felt my ancestors so strong through those tough times. I would sweep the bakery floors exhausted at night while I listened to old music that reminded me of the farm. I would stare at the 1940's pictures of my family and would get an overwhelming feeling of peace. For I knew they were with us, praying for us, and so very proud of us. I found such courage and strength through those photos, for I was reminded of the hard times they endured on the Texas Plains. I felt so blessed I had such strong and deep family roots. I realized what a gift that was and could only pray someday my grandchildren and great grandchildren would find strength and courage through mine and Clint's legacy of what we hope to leave behind. I also have a soft heart for the pregant women who have to work on their feet. I sometimes cry when I see a pregnant woman tired and working. I know exactly how she feels. I worked every day until I was nine months pregnant. Twelve hours on my feet was brutal. I will never forget falling into bed at 3 months pregnant so tired I cried my eyes out. In the afternoons when I was further along, I would sit on a chair and sweep because I just couldn't stand anymore. I would be bent over the kitchen sink washing stacks of dishes and praying that my baby was okay. I have such an apreciation of what the women of the past did...they cared for their families, grew babies in their wombs all while working hard day in and day out. They didn't have a choice, just like I didn't have a do what you have to do, period. This is the exact reason why the women before us were so much tougher and stronger...I saw this in my Great Aunt Clementine when she was dying. That woman was tough because of what she had to endure growing up in the Great depression. Nothing was easy for her.

We ran into several hurdles each and every day because of starting our business on a dime. We would be so tired and bogged down that we wouldn’t get our inventory list correct and would run out of product right in the middle of the lunch hour. As Clint would have more bread in the oven, we would have a line out the door and he would be dashing to the store to grab more chips and tomatoes. Then he would get back in a hurry and almost a heart attack and our sweet little 18-year-old employee would giggle and tell Clint we were out of ice. That might be one of the worst feelings….people standing there waiting for their drinks when you realize there are no more bags of ice in the freezer. This went on for two years. Somehow we were making money & every time we turned around there was another article written about our business. Things were going well but we were tired and getting a little burned out. We had NO time off…ever. Even on Sunday mornings we would nod off in church as we knew that might be our only tiny nap before we had to go directly to the bakery kitchen to take inventory, clean, and go to the store to get groceries for the week. In the meantime of all of the chaos, Clint had started a wholesale business out the back door of our bakery. Restaurants and delis had come to us needing good bread and we couldn’t pass up the business so that is how our wholesale business was born. On a hot summer day in July, I was riding around with Clint in our white Ford Explorer that had 180,000 miles on it delivering bread to restaurants and hotels in Dallas. I was due any day with our firstborn. I started going into labor while delivering bread and the next morning our son was born! Back at the bakery Jacque Braun and Lauren Hazledine, our sweet employees, came up with Ben’s BLT sandwich that was later one of our best selling items on the menu!

As the chaos of our lives continued, we needed more room with our growing family; therefore, we bought a home and renovated it. Clint would get home from the bakery and lay hard wood floors & crown molding as well as paint. We were doing only what we knew we had to do….survive. Balancing a baby and the bakery was extremely hard but we somehow plunged through and didn’t know any different. There is so much wisdom to be learned from the ways of the past. I came to know the reason why people use to live above their business. You live, eat, sleep, breathe a small business (especially a bakery). I still ran the front of the café with Ben in the back kitchen half the time and the other half he was passed around from customer to customer. One morning, I served 45 customers with Ben in a Baby Bjorn (a papoose type thing). No wonder I thought motherhood was not what it was cracked up to be! Everything I knew, was the absolute hardest way. Through these hard times, our faith and our marriage became rock Clint described it, "our roots were growing deep into the ground. And although our tree was new and small, it would be big and strong someday because of the deep roots that were presently growing through a cold and windy storm".
To Be Continued....

1 comment:

Jinny said...

Love the story. Thanks for sharing. Your story is truly inspiring for me. You are a blessing to the readers of your blog.
Love, Jinny