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Becoming a Baker


abooja
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I'll try to give the abridged version of my story because you've undoubtedly heard it before.

I want to become a professional baker. I've baked all my life...yada, yada, yada...and now I want to finally try making some sort of career of it. I understand it's hard work that involves long, early hours, heavy lifting and little glamour, but I still want to give it a shot.

I have been unemployed since December 2007. I spent ten years in two major corporations working various low-level procurement/application support jobs. No one's knocking down my door to hire me, especially in this economic climate and now that I no longer live in the NYC metro area. After the last rejection email a couple of weeks back, I decided that maybe it was a sign, and an opportunity to pursue something I really care about. Although we are in some debt and he pays massive alimony (and will for the next six years), my husband makes decent money and says we can afford it. Any money I eventually make will be better than nothing. He just wants me to be happy.

We can't, however, afford cooking school. From what I've read, here and elsewhere, it's not necessary, especially to wind up making just $10-$20/hour. My intention is to either volunteer my time somewhere to learn the ropes, with the hope that I will eventually be hired, or try to get hired doing some ancillary work in a bakery, with the intention of someday moving to the back of the store.

So, I've been doing my research. We just moved to suburban Philly a few months ago. As I've always done all our baking, we had little familiarity with local bakeries, especially around here. There didn't seem to be any. Sadly, most folks in the suburbs seem content to buy their baked goods in supermarkets. I wasn't going to be a snob about it, however, and figured some experience is better than none at all, but supermarket bakeries, even Wegman's, all seem to buy premade mixes and doughs elsewhere, and just bake them off in their ovens. A lot of stuff appears to be delivered in its final form. I can't imagine I'd learn much working there, although I'd be pleased to learn otherwise.

I then Googled bakeries within a 30-mile radius of my home. The Chestnut Hill area of western Philly seems to have a bunch, so we went there on Saturday to check them out. Of the four we visited that day, only two appear to do any actual baking on premises, but even they seemed to rely on deliveries of some prebaked items from a local manufacturer. In one of the bakeries, I could see some baking being done -- three guys in the back were arranging baguettes in a couche -- but I have no idea what else goes on back there. It was a bit disconcerting, because I heard a lot of good things about this place and figured it would be my primary target.

There are several more places I want to check out before begging for a job. I want to at least have some knowledge of the place before I do so. I don't have to be in love with their products, although that would be great, but I do have to know whether or not they actually produce them in-store. This seems to be less and less the case.

Some questions, if you've read this far:

1) Is this really the way to go about getting a job, given my lack of professional experience and training?

2) Will I gain anything, besides a small income, by working in a supermarket bakery, even a Wegman's?

3) If I'm primarily interested in breads, but enjoy all types of baking, should I try working in a place whose focus is bread, or does it matter?

4) Do I ask to become a baker's apprentice for no pay, shoot higher and only settle for a non-paying job if I have to, or take any kind of job I can get and hope they'll eventually let me pitch in with the baking?

5) If I do manage to become an unpaid apprentice, approximately how long should I expect to work for free before I know I'm being taken advantage of?

6) Will those three guys in the back of the bread bakery try to kill me if I volunteer to work there for free, potentially displacing one of them?

7) Assuming I'm not hired by the shop in which I volunteer my time, will other bakeries consider this free work valuable experience and be more inclined to hire me for pay?

8) Is a bakery the only game in town or are there other opportunities I am ignoring, such as restaurants?

9) Related to question #8, do bakers basically bake in bakeries for their entire careers, or is there some higher baking goal to be met?

10) One day, long into the future, will lending institutions be more inclined to help finance my own bakery with a few years of professional experience under my belt, or am I just kidding myself?

Any help/advice you can give would be great, and much appreciated.

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I don't have the answers to any of those questions, but I do know that King Arthur flour offers several short-duration classes at their Norwich, VT headquarters that you might find helpful...."Setting Up a Successful Bakery" and "Breads and Pastries for a Successful Bakery". Check out their class offerings here.. Two to four days in duration, priced around $650.

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My 2 cents:

1) Is this really the way to go about getting a job, given my lack of professional experience and training?

I think its a good plan. Volunteering (but please call it staging) will get you in the door and if your skills and performance are good, they'll find a way to bring you on. But realize if the bakery is too small, there may be no turnover to free up a space for you.

2) Will I gain anything, besides a small income, by working in a supermarket bakery, even a Wegman's?

If nothing else, you may learn production skills and some decorating skills. I don't know this but I've always assumed they send their people off to bakery school to learn some basic skills.

3) If I'm primarily interested in breads, but enjoy all types of baking, should I try working in a place whose focus is bread, or does it matter?

Diversify - you never know what you'll end up doing or enjoying. Look at me - I cook meat now :biggrin:

4) Do I ask to become a baker's apprentice for no pay, shoot higher and only settle for a non-paying job if I have to, or take any kind of job I can get and hope they'll eventually let me pitch in with the baking?

Your call - pay is nice but getting your foot in the door may be more useful in the long run.

5) If I do manage to become an unpaid apprentice, approximately how long should I expect to work for free before I know I'm being taken advantage of?

I think you'll decide that for them. But when you start feeling like you're being taken advantage of then its time for a friendly talk with the boss. You might also consider approaching things from the beginning by defining the time - "I'm interested in a one month staging..." That makes the terms clear from day one and gives you your chance to prove yourself. It would also help you focus your time on what skills you want/need to pick up in that time. If you say 30 days and you're still washing dishes at 29, its time to get stuff done in that final day.

7) Assuming I'm not hired by the shop in which I volunteer my time, will other bakeries consider this free work valuable experience and be more inclined to hire me for pay?

Absolutely.

8) Is a bakery the only game in town or are there other opportunities I am ignoring, such as restaurants? 

Others will have a better idea than I if a restaurant would hire you, but consider coffee shops, hotels, tea shops, maybe a confections shop that might want to expand their offerings, approach a gourmet shop like my own, or really get creative - what about local sororities/fraternities, churches, community groups that have a commercial kitchen. What about corporate kitchens. Let's say that some big downtown office building has a cafeteria, maybe they would take you on, and then you could build your reputation from there.

9) Related to question #8, do bakers basically bake in bakeries for their entire careers, or is there some higher baking goal to be met? 

That seems like its up to you. I already, after one year, really want to be in the restaurant race. Its where my passion and pace are.

10) One day, long into the future, will lending institutions be more inclined to help finance my own bakery with a few years of professional experience under my belt, or am I just kidding myself?

Possibly, but they are more interested in your ability to run the numbers and present them in a coherent manner that shows that you can pay them back. They don't work in the field so they don't know a wegman's baker from RLB.

Hope this is helpful.

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The biggest concern that I'd worry about is how physically fit you are. (I'm throwing this out there because I don't know anything about you.)

Baking is very physically demanding, and as the new person, you will be doing the drudge work. Sacks of flour, sugar, etc. weigh 50 pounds each. Shortening and icing mix base used at supermarkets comes in 95 pound cubes. You will be expected to mix up 100+ pound batches of dough, icing, etc. and expected to move it around all day.

I have often been the only female (and the oldest person there by a decade+) at bakeries I have worked at, because all the other women and people over age 35 washed out in their first week; unable to lift commodities or move batches of product.

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It's probably worth keeping in mind that you're almost certainly walking into workplaces where the staff are living in fear of losing their jobs. All of the professional news sources have indicated that the industry is heading deeper into a serious contraction, and artisanal baked goods are just the sort of thing that consumers are foregoing as they cut back. Everyone here in Providence is getting worried, and in-house pastry chefs are among the first folks to go. (I have a good, skilled friend who just lost her job at one high-end place here in town, in fact.)

I raise this not to suggest a change in plans but rather to urge a certain respectful, sensitive demeanor. If Philly is at all like Providence right now, saying that you want to do a stage until a spot opens up there or that you have someone at home bankrolling your stage would not be prudent. Stick to the work and craft: you'll do anything (clean or lift something; arrive early or stay late) to help out and that you want to learn out of a sense of respect and support for what people are doing, and so on.

Good luck and please keep us posted here.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Thank you for the thoughtful responses. Please keep 'em coming.

Working backwards, while I am 39, I am in pretty decent shape and am quite strong. I own a Bowflex that I intend to start using again for the first time in many months. Regularly, now that you mention the fitness aspect. Thanks for that information. I would not have thought about that, though I did envision lifting large bags of flour.

BTW, if I go into a small, local bakery and ask for a staging job, will they even know what I'm talking about?

Here are some additional questions, specifically to Lisa and others who have worked or currently work in a bakery: after x number of months (years?) being the grunt, did you eventually move up the food chain and, if so, to what? Did you get better jobs within the bakery or move on to other bakeries for more money? Other than owning your own business, what level of achievement is considered most desirable in a bakery? Or am I thinking too much about this and there is no career path, just the job? :unsure:

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It's probably worth keeping in mind that you're almost certainly walking into workplaces where the staff are living in fear of losing their jobs. All of the professional news sources have indicated that the industry is heading deeper into a serious contraction, and artisanal baked goods are just the sort of thing that consumers are foregoing as they cut back. Everyone here in Providence is getting worried, and in-house pastry chefs are among the first folks to go. (I have a good, skilled friend who just lost her job at one high-end place here in town, in fact.)

I raise this not to suggest a change in plans but rather to urge a certain respectful, sensitive demeanor. If Philly is at all like Providence right now, saying that you want to do a stage until a spot opens up there or that you have someone at home bankrolling your stage would not be prudent. Stick to the work and craft: you'll do anything (clean or lift something; arrive early or stay late) to help out and that you want to learn out of a sense of respect and support for what people are doing, and so on.

Good luck and please keep us posted here.

This is a very real concern of mine. In good economic times, a paid employee must hate to see some new, enthusiastic twit volunteer her time to learn the business. Lots of people seem to give this advice to baking nobodies, however, and I couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't a bit more complicated than that. I'm torn because, as much as I want to bake, I don't want to take away someone else's income to do it. I certainly don't want someone to undermine me, the noob, because he's worried about losing his job. This seems inescapable, however.

This is a really horrible time for the food service industry, as it is for so many industries. I just assumed that a lower paying job than the one I last held, one presumably without benefits, would be easier to attain these days. I imagined putting in my time to learn the business while no one else was hiring me anyway. This fantasy had me waiting a few years for the economy, and our personal finances, to pick up while I gathered all this scary experience, so that owning my own business sometime in the future would seem that much more attainable. Perhaps I am just fooling myself and the industry will dry up before that ever happens. It seems to be happening already. :sad:

Can you tell that I'm easily discouraged?

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I have worked in a couple of mom&pop places and nationwide supermarket chain.

The supermarket chain had 3-4 positions in the bakery, each one specialized, with no real advancement, except for the ability to transfer to another location if you moved. The stores I worked at were higher volume locations in my state. The positions were:

baker - baked breads, fried doughnuts and thawed breads (more than half of the breads were shipped in frozen -already fully baked), worked at night

decorator - decorated cakes (cake was brought in frozen) made cream pies, etc. worked days and was responsible for cashiering in addition to filling display cases with food, made frostings & fillings from mixes

assistant decorator - decorated on the decorator's days off, helped package items on other days, cashiered

PT packager - packaged items like bags of rolls on days the AD didn't, worked 2-3 days a week

+++

At the mom & pop places there was no real room for advancement, since the family ran everything. At one place I 'moved up' to being bookkeeper when 'dad' retired. At another, I was general manager when a son opened a second location.

+++

I did learn a lot of things about how to run, and not run, a bakery and about what customers expect. I'd like to have my own place some day, but I am painfully aware that most Americans simply do not purchase their baked goods at artisan bakeries. And, here in Phoenix, rent is very high, so making a go of it is pretty dicey. (I have plans, but, until an investor shows up, I am about 5 years away from making my move. -Gotta pay off my culinary school loans...)

The other pitfall is that some things you may learn on the job are customs and procedures unique to that company, and are not things to replicate in your own place. (like mixing the chemical sludge that the supermarket calls custard and uses in everything from doughnuts to fruit tarts instead of real pastry cream) The #1 thing I learned at the supermarket was that the ingredients in all of their baked goods were very reprehensible.

One resource I have really enjoyed is my membership in the Bread Baker's Guild of America, www.bbga.org. They sponsor classes, meetups and offer a lot of educational resources, including reading lists. So, wherever you are, you can get an excellent education through them at a reasonable cost. Individual memberships are $80 a year.

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I don't know about you area of the country but we are selling baked goods at the Farmer's Markets in Southern California. The weather in your part of the country would probably not be condusive to a year round job.

There's a place on the web called Etsey where people sell their baked goods. Check out this article. http://www.savingadvice.com/blog/2008/10/2...ine-bakery.html

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Isabelle, thank you for that suggestion. I read the article and checked out etsy.com, but find it very hard to believe that anyone would buy baked goods online. It's a route I had considered long ago, and dismissed. I do like the idea of selling at farmer's markets, but it's certainly not the season for that around here. Unless there are some farmer's markets open year-round that I've yet to discover.

Lisa, thanks for taking the time to give me such a detailed response. I do have more questions, if you have the time. For instance, do you still work as a baker, in a bakery? At what age did you begin this endeavor and for how long have you worked at it? I expected the day-to-day life to be tough, but I figured the road would be somewhat easier for someone with a formal education in the pastry arts. I must say, I am not encouraged. :sad:

I saw a sign for a part-time cake decorator on the door of an established bakery in Philadelphia the other day. I know that I cannot do that, at least not now. My decorating skills suck or are, at best, marginal. It seems, as with most things in modern life, folks favor style over substance. Lots of baked goods look pretty, but taste just "eh". I suspect, if I had mad decorating skills, or an interest in obtaining some, I would have a better chance at landing a job. I have some DVDs on cake decorating that I bought a year or so ago, but rarely look at as it's not where my interests really lie. If I thought that it would get my foot in the door or otherwise give me some advantage, I would consider practicing.

I checked out bbga.org earlier today, based on a suggestion from another website, and considered sending them the $80 for membership. After starting this thread, however, I wonder if my money wouldn't be better spent elsewhere. I mean, I want desperately to be able to say I have finally accomplished something I've always wanted to do, but I fear that ship may have already sailed. I hope I am wrong.

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abooja, take the M & P if you can get it. Experience is what you want, and you will get it. Granted, it won't be artisinal, but it still is experience. There are on-line bakery courses, short 1 and 2 day ourses at local schools, and many, many books to read

Farmer's markets are great, but you must fit the criteria. For a successful bakery you will need contracts or at least some good relationships with stores, cafe's, restaurants, caterers, and hotels. Walk-in customers are great but won't pay all of the bills.

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I read the article and checked out etsy.com, but find it very hard to believe that anyone would buy baked goods online.

Zingerman's in Michigan does have a huge mailorder business, but they have an established gourmet reputation they trade off of.

In all honesty, I think it is a lot harder to make a go of it in artisan bread baking than cakes/pastry. I think the key is probably building a restaurant supply business on the side. since the retail consumer demand for artisan bread is pretty low.

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The commercial bakery that we work for where we sell at Farmer's Markets also has a website and corporate accounts. They do very well taking orders from their website and with their corporate accounts.

Your belief that people don't order from the internet is wrong. The website I offered where the person sold their goods on Etsey actually got so many orders for her baked goods that it became to large for her to supply within a year and she closed her on-line business.

I'm not trying to be flip or blow you off but I've read this entire thread and no one's suggests are to your liking. You seem to shoot down or discount anyone's advice offered. Perhaps you need to ask yourself... Why is that?

Best of luck to you and I hope you can succeed in getting into baking.

(And yes, I can tell that you are easily discouraged.)

Edited by Isabelle Prescott (log)
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I'm unsure as to what the extent of your experience in baking is. I know you say you've been baking all your life, but I'd been baking all my life before I started to consider it a possible profession, and I didn't really know anything to speak of. So there's that.

But to address the issue of apprenticeships first. I understand where you're coming from. When I first started thinking about getting into baking, I really hankered after finding a place that might take me on as an apprentice. Like you, I didn't have money for culinary school and I didn't want to take on debt, and, like you, I had a husband who could afford to support us both no matter what I decided to do.

My own interest was artisan bread baking, and so while I wondered how to get started, I got busy working on my own. That meant reading everything I could get my hands on about bread baking, and it also meant that I baked bread. A lot of bread. Essentially, I put myself through my own course on bread baking, and frankly by now I think I did a better job at it than if I'd gone to culinary school.

We don't have apprenticeships in this country like the ones you're looking for. And though I lamented that for a long time, I also understand why people are reluctant to take on a baking apprentice. Or any apprentice really. Because people who come into a work place with next to no real knowledge about how a profession works and with no experience are pretty much dead weight. It means they have to be taken care of, "shown the ropes" at somebody else's expense. And when you think about that logically, it means somebody else is educating you for no pay. Essentially, you're asking for an education you don't have to pay for.

On the face of it, it might not sound like a huge inconvenience to be allowed to come in and learn with no pay, but it is an inconvenience. It means somebody has to accommodate you in some way. Someone has to take time to even think about what to do with you. How to fit you in. How to show you how you can help. And that takes time. It takes time away from the actual work done by the people doing the work. And truly if you think about it, you're asking someone to give you something for nothing, instead of the other way around. If someone wants to train someone who'll stay for years, then that's one thing. But it rarely works out that way. Especially not in this country.

So to ask how long you can expect to work for free as an apprentice before you know you're being taken advantage of, as you put it, is putting your cart way ahead of the horse here. Because in actuality, you're taking advantage of the person who would be allowing you to learn everything they have to teach you without you paying them for it. It's far more complicated than you realize.

I get requests all the time from folks wanting to apprentice, and even though I was in their shoes once, I know now that to take on an apprentice in an environment like bread baking or in the restaurant industry would a major inconvenience and a drain on my time and my energy and my patience. Because they are essentially asking me to teach them for nothing. And so, ironically, they're asking me to work for them for no pay.

As an aside, and truly no disrespect to anybody here, but no, don't walk into any small bakery or anywhere else, especially without a resume and not a lick of experience, and refer to your desire to work for free as "staging." I can only imagine the look on someone's face in response to that.

If you want experience, you're probably going to have to take whatever anybody's willing to give you. So yes, I think that might mean taking a job at Wegman's or a supermarket bakery, and as gfron noted, it would be worth it for the experience you'd get in working with large equipment and working in a real-world work environment. I tried to get a job working in a donut shop in the small town we moved to for that reason alone and was disappointed when they never called me back.

If you think that learning decorating skills will get you a foot in a door, then get the tapes out and start practicing. Just because a thing is pretty doesn't mean it doesn't taste good. Beautifully decorated cakes is a skill and an art. Just look up Wendy Kromer, Toba Garrett, Sylvia Weinstock. And although I don't know it for a fact, I suspect their cakes taste just fine as well.

If your interest is artisan breads, then start baking. And start giving your bread away to anybody who'll eat it, your friends, your neighbors, your husband's co-workers. If you're lucky, you might have a product worth selling by the time the Farmer's markets open. If you don't need the money from a paying job, then why not consider a farmer's market? At least you'd have some income some portion of the year, and who knows what it might lead to.

Edited by devlin (log)
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A few cents....

You don't need a whole lot of experience to work in your average bakery, there are a lot of baking jobs that are pretty much entry level. Still, someone with some experience is probably going to get the job over someone with zero. To prove your skill level, consider dropping off some samples of your bread/pastries along with your resume. Also, a portfolio of pictures of what you have made at home can be a good way to show your skill.

I too have seen entirely too many people who think it would be fun to be a baker, their kids love their cookies, blah blah blah, but are not prepared for the amount of work, can't multi-task, don't have a high gear, can't follow directions, or otherwise aren't prepared for kitchen reality. I think pastry attracts these people more than savory food, people seem to think that pastry is easier. In ways it is, but the professional environment is still very very different from baking at home.

If you really want to do bread, it seems like a waste of everybody's time for you to try to learn cake decorating, get a decorating job, then leave after not that long because it is not your passion. It sounds like you need to focus a little, unfortunately it might take a little 'staging' here and there to find out what feels good. There are still some chefs who appreciate free labor, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months would be reasonable. Letters and phone calls about how much you love their food and want to learn from them help. This is probably more likely to work in a restaurant than a retail bakery.

I'd say most restaurants buy their bread wholesale, and of those who bake in house it is a duty of the pastry chef/staff, not a separate position - unless the place is huge and busy. I remember applying for a job at a touristy place once where the entire job was making focaccia all day. Booo-ring, did not inquire further.

As for room for advancement, again that kind of depends on where you eventually decide your focus will be. In a bakery, you might hope to get promoted to a position with more creative input or managerial duties, but a lot of bakeries never change their menus, so it's a lot of the same thing every day, maybe something special for valentine's/mothers' day/Christmas/etc. Think of the artisan bakeries in your area - how often do their product choices rotate? You haven't mentioned how strong your creative side is, so that may or may not be important. Do you want to be the manager? Owner? What is your ultimate goal?

I started working at a bakery in college making muffins (boss was a creep, that was short lived) then again after college got a job in a coffee shop that made all of their muffins/scones/pies/etc in-house. After a few years of coffee shop baking, I got bored with pies and cookies and took a class on plated desserts at CIA Greystone. I think the chef who hired me for my first restaurant job may have thought that said class was longer than five days, but it gave me the confidence to start putting together my own desserts (the memory of some still make me cringe - there is a learning curve with being self-taught) and get me into the restaurant biz. It's been ten years now and I'm working at a luxury hotel with a staff of 10. So there are ways to grow.

And good luck finding a $20/hr job. If you are the bakery manager or pastry chef, maybe, otherwise you're looking at the lower end of the spectrum.

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I was involved with the bakery industry in Australia and New Zealand and I can answer some of your questions

Some questions, if you've read this far:

1) Is this really the way to go about getting a job, given my lack of professional experience and training?

Well I would rather do it with the support of industry associations and other guild.

2) Will I gain anything, besides a small income, by working in a supermarket bakery, even a Wegman's?

I do not know the bakery scene in you country that well but plants are the largest employers of bakers.

3) If I'm primarily interested in breads, but enjoy all types of baking, should I try working in a place whose focus is bread, or does it matter?

Bread baking is the has been considered to be the easiest form of baking however there has been a growing trend in other forms of bread baking practices by independent bakers but they are the minority the majority are large plants where the bread baking is largely mechanised and structured.

4) Do I ask to become a baker's apprentice for no pay, shoot higher and only settle for a non-paying job if I have to, or take any kind of job I can get and hope they'll eventually let me pitch in with the baking?

5) If I do manage to become an unpaid apprentice, approximately how long should I expect to work for free before I know I'm being taken advantage of?

Bakeries are always short of people willing to work and comply with punctuality and hard work. In short I would not offer myself as volunteer because bakeries are just one of the few business not affected by recessions nor depressions. However they are affected by supply and demand of the ingredients they use. Besides bakeries must strictly comply with industrial relations and accident prevention acts

6) Will those three guys in the back of the bread bakery try to kill me if I volunteer to work there for free, potentially displacing one of them?

Yes! here in Oz you may have a hard time and just quit

7) Assuming I'm not hired by the shop in which I volunteer my time, will other bakeries consider this free work valuable experience and be more inclined to hire me for pay?

No don't think so unless they want to advantage of you. So if you were to do so try to offer yourself via some employment agency or industry association that contact owner bakers. Most have come from lower ranks or apprentices themselves unless they have bought a franchised business.

8) Is a bakery the only game in town or are there other opportunities I am ignoring, such as restaurants?

Cheffing is different and even more unreliable trade but perhaps more formalised in some countries thanks to TV personalities

9) Related to question #8, do bakers basically bake in bakeries for their entire careers, or is there some higher baking goal to be met?

Most apprentices dream of becoming owners of a bakery or chain of bakeries however there is a proposal in Australia to formalise a study close to Master Baker at universities degree. That includes human resources management, best practise, finance and accounting, industrial relations, health and safety, nutrition, energy and environmental studies.

Where or by whom they are hired is by plants by far the largest employers in the business or by franchises, supermarkets or independent largely owned bakeries

To become a baker an apprentice is expected to go through stages for about four years the progress into a professional mixer and or branch off into areas like pastry cook and master pastry cook. One thing though keep safety in mind at all times bakeries because industrial accidents do often happen and this is what detracts bakers from hiring voluntary staff because liability is the same

10) One day, long into the future, will lending institutions be more inclined to help finance my own bakery with a few years of professional experience under my belt, or am I just kidding myself?

Yes but you would still depend of your business plan skills including cost accounting, human resources or people management, inventory management, marketing and presentation skills of you and your plans to financial institutions. Better learn benchmarking or whatever your bakers call it over there.

I'll be happy to assist you more if I can help you further

Any help/advice you can give would be great, and much appreciated.

Edited by piazzola (log)
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This is all really great feedback! Thanks so much, everyone, for taking the time. I may do a wonderful job of seeming as if I'm not listening, but I most certainly am. I will respond one at a time as it's easier that way.

abooja, take the M & P if you can get it.  Experience is what you want, and you will get it.  Granted, it won't be artisinal, but it still is experience.  There are on-line bakery courses, short 1 and 2 day ourses at local schools, and many, many books to read

Please forgive my ignorance, but what is the M & P? I tried googling it, but got nowhere.

Edited for grammatical oversight.

Edited by abooja (log)
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Zingerman's in Michigan does have a huge mailorder business, but they have an established gourmet reputation they trade off of.

This was exactly my concern with the concept of an ebusiness. If I were Zabar's or another established retail outlet, it would be less of a concern. As a complete unknown in this industry, however, I think people would be loathe to purchase perishables from me without having at least met me first or seen my product in person. That is just my assumption. I'm sure there are folks who do this successfully, but it would likely not be the road I would be inclined to take.

In all honesty, I think it is a lot harder to make a go of it in artisan bread baking than cakes/pastry. I think the key is probably building a restaurant supply business on the side. since the retail consumer demand for artisan bread is pretty low.

This is very interesting. I had always assumed that, because I am interested in artisan breads and have read so many lively discussions about the subject on eGullet, that consumers were equally interested. This would explain why supermarket bread is sufficient for most people. While I certainly still want to learn to make them in a professional environment, I can understand that focusing solely on artisan breads in some sort of future business might be more fraught with obstacles than if I diversified.

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I'm not trying to be flip or blow you off but I've read this entire thread and no one's suggests are to your liking.  You seem to shoot down or discount anyone's advice offered.  Perhaps you need to ask yourself... Why is that?

Best of luck to you and I hope you can succeed in getting into baking.

I sincerely apologize for reacting negatively to some of your very helpful ideas yesterday. As it happened, my husband had just told me about some unpleasant conversation he had with his newish boss. That, coupled with learning of the harsh realities of the modern baking business, had me wondering if I should be less self-indulgent about fulfilling my dreams at this time and work harder at getting a 9-5 job to help alleviate some of the financial burden. I'm still not certain that this will ever work out for me, but I'm not giving up on the concept just yet. However, if some corporate job finally does roll around, I will likely take it and try to pursue this on the sidelines. As much as I hate it, I must be practical.

Thank you for you good wishes.

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I'm unsure as to what the extent of your experience in baking is. I know you say you've been baking all your life, but I'd been baking all my life before I started to consider it a possible profession, and I didn't really know anything to speak of. So there's that.

Like many of you, I have been baking (and cooking) since I was a young child and always excelled at it. In recent years, I have stepped up the frequency of my baking to where nary a week goes by that I am not baking some sort of bread or dessert, primarily for me and my husband. I give away lots and lots of stuff -- to his colleagues, to family, neighbors, etc, but I understand that this experience is nothing like what goes on in a professional kitchen. I do not expect to walk into an established business and simply get hired, much less take over. I am willing to start at the very bottom. I am not the sort of person who has ever BS'd her way through life, as so many others I know can and do. Even baking, about which I know considerably more than, say, forensic accounting, I would never claim to know squat about compared to the average bakery employee. I do think I would learn quickly, however.

Because people who come into a work place with next to no real knowledge about how a profession works and with no experience are pretty much dead weight. It means they have to be taken care of, "shown the ropes" at somebody else's expense. And when you think about that logically, it means somebody else is educating you for no pay. Essentially, you're asking for an education you don't have to pay for.

I completely agree. Over the course of the many years I have considered this, I wondered how I might ever get a foot in the door without at least having some culinary education under my belt. I had all but dismissed the idea, until I read (quite recently) about this apprenticing concept. Having breezed through a book on the bakery business a while back, I wondered about the insurance problem as well. And the whole asking for free training while providing no guarantees that you'll work out thing. That's one of the many reasons why I started this thread. The answers to these questions were never especially clear.

As an aside, and truly no disrespect to anybody here, but no, don't walk into any small bakery or anywhere else, especially without a resume and not a lick of experience, and refer to your desire to work for free as "staging." I can only imagine the look on someone's face in response to that.

Even if the majority opinion said that this was an appropriate way to phrase the question, I just could not physically see myself saying that to anyone. I imagine my approach would be more like the inexperienced kid looking for part time work than anything else.

If you want experience, you're probably going to have to take whatever anybody's willing to give you. So yes, I think that might mean taking a job at Wegman's or a supermarket bakery, and as gfron noted, it would be worth it for the experience you'd get in working with large equipment and working in a real-world work environment. I tried to get a job working in a donut shop in the small town we moved to for that reason alone and was disappointed when they never called me back.

Believe it or not, I am very realistic in my expectations. As of last week, I thought I'd be lucky to even get that job at Wegman's, especially considering their recently publicized Fortune rating as #5 best employer in the U.S. I think I may have to start out at a lesser supermarket, or in a less desirable role in Wegman's before I can get anywhere near their bakery. I am happy to do that, especially the latter option, if I thought it would work. I don't think I want to take a cashier's job as a launching pad to my baking career, but if someone with more supermarket experience tells me this is a common or potentially useful career path, I would consider it.

If you think that learning decorating skills will get you a foot in a door, then get the tapes out and start practicing. Just because a thing is pretty doesn't mean it doesn't taste good. Beautifully decorated cakes is a skill and an art. J

I, of course, agree that this is an important skill, and that beautifully decorated cakes can taste divine, but I don't know that I can ever compete on that level. While I do have artistic ability outside of the kitchen (I sketch and have studied art in the past), I have never been drawn to cake decorating. I've always been more concerned with the way a thing tastes. By the time I've cooked a meal, and the accompanying dessert(s), it's all I can do to get the food on the table without troubling myself terribly much with presentation. Once again, knowing little about the business side of baking prior to this discussion, I just assumed these tasks were divvied up among the baking staff, depending, of course, on the size of the operation. Given my current skill set, I figured I would leave that stuff to the folks who do it best and have a genuine interest in decorating. If that's not the case, then I will most certainly practice. I still don't think I'll be great at it, as I'd rather bake than decorate. (Note: this is not me being negative, just realistic.)

If your interest is artisan breads, then start baking. And start giving your bread away to anybody who'll eat it, your friends, your neighbors, your husband's co-workers. If you're lucky, you might have a product worth selling by the time the Farmer's markets open. If you don't need the money from a paying job, then why not consider a farmer's market? At least you'd have some income some portion of the year, and who knows what it might lead to.

I do, and I will continue to do so. When this most recent, and strongest, pang to break into the business hit me a few weeks ago, I thought I would do just that -- step up the pace of what most people I know already consider an inordinate amount of baking. But my husband is diabetic (horrible irony) and his blood sugar numbers have been terrible lately, so I felt guilty about doing that. Last week, I baked three kinds of bread. Two of them went half-eaten, and the other (some naan) were frozen. I have lots and lots of baked goods in our freezer with little room for more. I suppose I should just give it all away, and I will. I have to, or I will kill us both!

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You don't need a whole lot of experience to work in your average bakery, there are a lot of baking jobs that are pretty much entry level.  Still, someone with some experience is probably going to get the job over someone with zero.  To prove your skill level, consider dropping off some samples of your bread/pastries along with your resume.  Also, a portfolio of pictures of what you have made at home can be a good way to show your skill.

I do take photos of much of what I bake. At least, I used to. And I have read where others have gotten that first job based, in part, on such photos. If I didn't think I would be laughed right out of the bakery, I would totally bring them. Ditto to bringing in something I've made. Friends and family used to advise me to do that, but I always blew them off. Of course, their expectations of what that tactic would gain for me were a lot less realistic than an entry-level job in a bakery.

I too have seen entirely too many people who think it would be fun to be a baker, their kids love their cookies, blah blah blah, but are not prepared for the amount of work, can't multi-task, don't have a high gear, can't follow directions, or otherwise aren't prepared for kitchen reality.  I think pastry attracts these people more than savory food, people seem to think that pastry is easier.  In ways it is, but the professional environment is still very very different from baking at home.

I might be wrong, but I think that my passion for baking is far more pronounced than your average soccer mom who loves to bake brownies and cookies. I am completely consumed by it. I own and read lots of cookbooks on the subject (though, likely not as many as some eGulleters). I discuss things like oven spring and hydration levels with my husband, who smiles as his eyes glaze over at the dinner table. I also have a great deal of energy where cooking and baking are concerned. I can otherwise be exhausted (as I get frequently, thanks to Hashimoto's thyroiditis), but can still spend 24+ hours on my feet in the kitchen, baking nearly a thousand Christmas cookies, as I did a month back. Sure, it's yet to be proven that I can cut it in a professional kitchen, but I like the odds.

If you really want to do bread, it seems like a waste of everybody's time for you to try to learn cake decorating, get a decorating job, then leave after not that long because it is not your passion.  It sounds like you need to focus a little, unfortunately it might take a little 'staging' here and there to find out what feels good.

I'm beginning to lean this way, as opposed to focusing solely on breads. Hell, I think I would enjoy baking just about anything, and would certainly learn something wherever I went. I was just thinking long term about a specialty, if I were forced to choose one. 99% of the bakeries in my area seem to focus on cakes. I figured, they had it covered. More realistically, however, I should have considered that few businesses around here will hire me to bake bread if their focus is cake. If I managed to land a job at one of the handful of places that specialize in bread, I would be limiting myself, would I not?

There are still some chefs who appreciate free labor, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months would be reasonable.  Letters and phone calls about how much you love their food and want to learn from them help.  This is probably more likely to work in a restaurant than a retail bakery.

If only we went out to restaurants or even frequented bakeries. I know enough, however, not to go in cold, having never visited a particular business before applying for a job, so I've begun that process.

You haven't mentioned how strong your creative side is, so that may or may not be important.  Do you want to be the manager?  Owner?  What is your ultimate goal?

I think I'm very creative (albeit, without the desire to decorate cakes) and would like to own my own business someday. I love the idea of the entire creative process -- not just planning and executing the menu, but determining the layout of the operation, painting, decorating, naming the place, determining my target clientele, locating the business thusly, and getting my very brilliant business-oriented husband to work the financial end. He comes from a line of entrepreneurs (his parents owned a thriving jewelry business, his uncle, a bakery and an ice cream shop) and has always wanted to follow in their footsteps. But we both know this is for another time. I'm just trying to get a foot in the door.

And good luck finding a $20/hr job.  If you are the bakery manager or pastry chef, maybe, otherwise you're looking at the lower end of the spectrum

I meant that as the most I could ever expect in this profession, other than as an owner. I am most assuredly not in this for the money.

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Bakeries are always short of people willing to work and comply with punctuality and hard work. In short I would not offer myself as volunteer because bakeries are just one of the few business not affected by recessions nor depressions.

Is this actually true? Are there fewer and fewer bakeries in my part of the country because of the economy, or because demand for premium products has diminished, or both? :unsure:

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I worked at entry-level at a couple of M&Ps when I was in my early 20's with essentially no experience, and earning minimum wage. I gave it up for better pay in middle-management in other industries.

Later on, 2005-2007, I decided to take the plunge and attend culinary school. So, I got myself the Patisserie & Baking degree (with honors) at Scottsdale Culinary Institute: a Cordon Bleu USA school. My favorite classes were artisan breads, showpieces and advanced cake decorating.

I wound up doing my externship at the supermarket, as a decorator, which was pretty horrible, but I learned all of their secrets and developed lightning fast decorating skills. The baker at my location quit at one point, so I was lucky enough to learn his position along the way. Pay was minimum wage, with an offer to rise to $7.50/hour in six months, so, I did not stay. A local high-end grocer starts bakery employees at $11.

I landed a job as the general manager (with pay in middle/average for a small restaurant/retail manager) of a wine bar where the owner had plans to start an in-house line of cold case cheeses, snacks and possible meals that I was in charge of developing -and it was great, while it lasted. The economy went bad, especially for realtors who were our primary customers. So, as they stopped wining and dining clients at the end of 2007, the owner blamed my management skills and decided to run the place herself and let me go.

I've been doing a series of contract jobs with caterers, taking advanced classes (World Pastry Forum, ACF events), and looking for work ever since. As far as I can tell, the experience and 2 culinary diplomas are doing me no good at all. Oh yeah, I am an ACF certified chef, and a member of the BBGA.

I can't really see having a bread bakery in Phoenix, where I live. There are several really good ones here and they are struggling. (I do not want to wind up as a sandwich place, like Panera, Atlanta Bread, etc. -although that is one path to success.) Rent here is way too high to support a general bakery where people would buy pastries. Ideally, based on a couple of years of research, I'd like to have a specialty cake bakery in the more well-to-do part of town, and make fancy cupcakes, figural cakes and bonbons. But, right now, I would need to find an investor who believes in me and is willing to part with a couple hundred thousand dollars. (If anyone knows such a person, PM me!)

Sometimes, I dream of moving away to a small, cheap-rent town, and opening an artisan pizza place. Then, I come back to earth and realize that I probably wouldn't have any customers....

For the most part, general bakery work (especially bread) is hard labor for low pay.

If you really want to have your own place, I'd look long and hard to find the sort of place you are thinking about and talk to them. See how and why they are successful when in general, the supermarkets have gutted the industry. There are some great places, generally in big cities, where the clientele can taste the difference and seeks them out.

It kills me to say this, but the average american accepts really crappy versions of pastries and breads as 'normal' nowadays, and simply won't make an extra stop or pay more to get the real stuff. I stayed in Japan for two weeks last year and I was amazed at how much good pastry was all over the place, even in convenience stores.

You can learn cake decorating basics fairly quickly and easily. Call your local Micheal's store. Many of them have classes; if that particular one doesn't they will know which does. Each class is one night a week for a few weeks, and you get good materials to work with and some one-on-one help. I realize that decorating isn't your main interest, but having the skill may help you in job hunting, and you'll meet professionals (and aspiring ones) along the way.

The main benefit for me in belonging to the BBGA has been the classes, although the formula books they offer are also interesting.

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