Breakfast For Our Neighbors

We are doing all that we can think of doing, within the limits imposed by our young age and modest experience, to make Bread Furst a place with which the neighborhood can be pleased. We have been embraced far more quickly and tightly than I expected.

Since we opened in May, customers have said to me a thousand times: “Welcome back to the neighborhood.”

“I was the first in line at Marvelous Market.” (My first bakery that used to be up the street from Bread Furst.)

“This is just what our neighborhood wanted.”

“This is such an addition.”

All that is very gratifying and it is really wonderful to see as we do the same customers all the time. But some things have not turned out quite as I expected. As welcomed as we have been, we still have a lot of work to do.

I was pretty confident before we opened that the neighborhood would want breakfast foods and we focused on breakfast in our planning. When we opened we offered biscuits and scones, muffins, croissants, Danish, and so on.

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Having spent many cold mornings in this space during the months of construction, I had seen the long lines of customers walking down Connecticut Avenue from Nebraska to Van Ness and the Metro stop. I had luxuriated in the closing of the sidewalk on the east side of the street for a construction that would last a year. I looked forward to the hundreds of people walking by, many of them hungry for our breakfast treats.

I was wrong.

People don’t stop. Perhaps you don’t want to board the Metro where eating is prohibited with food in your hands. Perhaps you don’t want to carry food from Bread Furst to your offices downtown. So relatively few of you stop.

But we make good breakfast foods better than most one can get downtown.

So on Tuesday we’ll try to make those foods more accessible. We will begin Break Furst, breakfast on the sidewalk, the smart idea of my son Francois.   We’ll have a long table just in front of the store and on it will be six breakfast foods including a breakfast banh mi.

 

Purchases will be in cash only, even dollars and no coins required, and you will be able to slap your money on the table and take a breakfast treat practically without breaking stride.

So we’ll see if that makes breakfast more convenient for our neighbors in a rush.

We have tried to be neighborly in other ways more fully under our control and we have had a lot of help from the neighborhood.

 

 

Marjorie Share lives up the block and adopted us months before we opened. She has as much as anyone added to the aesthetic of Bread Furst.

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She conceived the outside patio, bought the pots, selected the foliage and did the plantings. She did it as a loving volunteer who wanted to make Bread Furst more attractive for the neighborhood.

 

I wrote several months ago about neighbor Dipa Mehta’s fight to help us get our gas turned on. (“Dipa Did It,” April 20, 2014) That was the beginning of her career at Bread Furst.

 

Dipa is Bread Furst’s advisor, critic, and emissary to the world who manages to get done by skill and persistence tasks, like managing the process to get a liquor license, something that would have taken us – who knows how long to complete?

 

 

 

She even allows her children from time to time to help behind the counter.

 

I insisted several months ago on paying Dipa for the time she devotes to Bread Furst and so she now bills us at an hourly rate 4.5 percent of what her rate was at her former law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton.

 

My most passionately held objective in opening Bread Furst, was to create something that would become immersed in this neighborhood and would become a contribution to it that might last. We’ve started.

 

The Arrogance of Taste

A customer accosted me on the stairs a couple of weeks ago. “Why do you put butter on everything,” she asked.

“What do you mean,” I asked her.

“The sandwiches,” she said, “You put butter on the sandwiches.”

“We put it on the ham and cheese. We don’t put it on the grilled vegetable sandwich. We don’t put it on the tomato sandwich. Just on the ham and cheese.”

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“Why do you have to put it on the ham sandwich,” she asked to which I replied: “If you want a ham sandwich without butter, ask for it. We’ll make it.”

“But why do you have to put butter on it in the first place?”

“It is called a jambon beurre – ham and butter.”

Some days later someone said to me that the breads we make are too dark. “They are almost burned,” she said.

“No they’re not,” I said, “They are dark and caramelized. They aren’t burnt and they don’t taste burned.”

 

I wrote in this space some time ago that criticism is very important and I like getting it and learn from it. But I realize that at the same time, I am somewhat impervious to it. We make food that I like. I like my own taste. I am arrogant.

I told Hadj Osmani the other day that I wanted to change our egg salad. “What’s the matter with it,” he asked. “It doesn’t have flavor,” I told him.

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He looked at me incredulously and this from a man who has worked in kitchens with me for 20 years and ought to know better than to say as he did: “We are using 90 eggs a day,” he said, “We are selling 90 eggs. The customers love the egg salad.”

I made a face. He knew why. That the customers love something is not for me a standard for what we do.

That’s arrogant – I know it.

I remember recoiling often when my sister Carla, the founder/owner of Politics and Prose, would say to a customer standing at the checkout counter, “Don’t buy that; you’ll hate it. At least you ought to hate it.”

Perhaps this runs in the family?

Small business is very difficult. It’s difficult to start a business and difficult to run one. We can’t pay people what larger businesses can and we don’t do enough volume of business to allow a lot of mistakes. (No failures like an F-35 fighter plane are possible.) So one has to be really committed to do this kind of work.

The commitment for me comes not from being nice to people – I am not that, god knows – but from being obsessed with the breads, pastries, and foods we make.

I do care about many other things – local, organic, seasonal, about tradition and originality. I care about changing Bread Furst physically to correct the customer flow mistakes we have made and tremendously about how Bread Furst looks and how clean we are.

But above all I care about the flavor of the food. The egg salad must taste like something. The peanut butter cookie must be baked enough. The bread crust must be deeply caramelized.

I think – I hope that’s a reason customers trust us. You come in and you buy something you’ve not tasted before – a quinoa salad or a simple slab of peach tart. I think you believe someone has been tasting the salad to see if it has enough flavor and the tart to see if the crust is good.

That’s my job and I like it; but being the taster puts me into a position of arrogance

Someone has to make decisions about food. Someone has to decide that Fox’s U-Bet, the Original Chocolate Flavored Syrup made since 1895, made with vanillin, artificial flavor and lots of corn syrup, is not going to be in our bakery even though it has been made for 119 years.

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Certainly it is a balance between my taste and the customers’. If you don’t like what we do you won’t come and shouldn’t so I do pay attention to what is said to me by customers . But to tell you the truth Hadj was right. You were buying enthusiastically the egg salad that I thought wasn’t good enough and no one complains about our cookies.

So why bother? I don’t know how to get on and when to get off the slope of allowing customers to make decisions about our foods. If I cede to you the power to decide how things are to made and cooked and taste, I lose myself. Besides, to tell you the naked truth, I think I have higher standards than you do.

As we make what we made, I know that could do just fine by getting by. We could use cheaper ingredients. We don’t have to make our own mayonnaise. I don’t have to buy mozzarella from Di Pasquale’s, a little store in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood. We don’t have to shop at Yas Supermarket and Yekta, Persian stores in our suburbs.

But I think about how many customers buy from us something that we’ve not made before and they’ve not tasted before; and I know that you are doing that because you trust us.   That trust may be the most precious asset of Bread Furst and we’d better be worthy of it.

The Art of Pastry

I had dinner last week in an expensive restaurant.   As I read the menu my eye was drawn to a dessert:

PISTACHIO IN OLIVES cake is made with the oil from castelvetrano olives, layered with pistachio cream, sorbet is the juice and flesh of cara cara oranges, crispy pomegranate, kumquats preserved in blood orange juice and moscato

            What a luscious-sounding dish! Olive cake with the crunch of pistachios, cream, orange sorbet, pomegranate, moscato. Everything goes together pretty well; everything sounds so good. Whatever I order for the dinner, I thought, I am going to have that.

And I did.

P1100829-3        What arrived was not the slender slice of cake I expected but a tiny rectangle. On top was a small oblong of sorbet and the rest was presented in dots and smears and dribbles and crumbs. It was one of those austere pastry paintings, something done for the pleasure of the pastry chefs and having nothing to do with my dream dessert.

Restaurants make their most enduring impressions with what they serve first and what they serve last and both of those are baked goods.

Because they know that, most good restaurants buy bread from wholesale bakeries even though they would like nothing more than to serve their own and stop bearing the costs of good bread. They buy their bread from bakeries because good bread is expensive to make, requires an expertise not generally shared by their staffs, and because they can’t justify investment in the expensive equipment required.

But good restaurants do not buy their desserts from a bakery because they want to make money on their desserts and want to make “a statement about who they are.”

I don’t write that to demean them. Dessert is the last memory of dinner and it’s important. It is a shot of sugar and leaves sweetness in the mouth.

As this is the era of overeating, it is particularly important that desserts be more than just another reason for eating sugar of which we have far too many reasons already. Dessert ought to be sweet, yes, but not too sweet. It ought to be a little rich perhaps, an indulgence.   And it ought to be small.

I acknowledge – and I have said this before — that I prefer under sweetened desserts and simplicity. I love dark chocolate because it’s bitter. I dislike white chocolate because it’s pointless.

Especially at this time of year – the season of peaches and raspberries – restaurants and bakeries have such abundant opportunities to make simple desserts. The pastry people at Bread Furst had already begun making a peach cake when I asked them to make in addition what we used to call Bobalie’s peach pie.

Bobalie was a great character in my life – in the life of my family. She was an immensely talented woman, ferocious in appearance and angry a good deal of the time. She started working for my grandparents at the age of 15 – lying about her age – and she worked for my grandparents for 60 years.

She was a brilliant cook and her great talent was simplicity.   Her peach “pie” was a rectangle of exceptional piecrust with peaches arranged on top, a sprinkle of sugar and a few drop of lemon juice. It was served with whipped cream or ice cream but was just fine on its own – especially sneaked out of the still warm pan.

 

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I was so excited when the test tart was presented me the other day and Chris was a little incredulous. “You like me to be honest with you: It would be improved by a little pastry cream (vanilla custard) underneath.”

Pastry chefs can’t give up complicating things.

I always wonder, however, just how much the pastry chefs who make artful desserts really like the pastries they make.   Their smears and dots they put on plates are never big enough to convey flavor and I think flavor is what customers really appreciate.

I consulted Alex Levin, pastry chef at Osteria Morini who is smart, talented and artistic

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            A dessert that I make has to taste great. Or else, I might as well pack up my stuff and go home…Some of my desserts take a more traditional route – like my weekend specials of cobblers with fresh peaches and berries, oat streusel and gelato right on top of the hot dish, or the chocolate cake with espresso gelato.

Others are quite deconstructed, like my Goat Cheese and Lavender-Scented Peaches dessert. The elements though each play a role, and then I enjoy arranging them in a way that is visually interesting. Every sauce, cake, mousse, meringue, fruit, gelato, etc. plays a particular role in terms of look, taste, texture, temperature and contribute to the overall experience.

 I started thinking about desserts in this way at my CIA student internship at Jean Georges. There, the goal was to wow the guest with the most delicious desserts that were equally as artistic and unusual looking.

Jean Georges. It’s those French again. I can understand why restaurant might want to wow its customers with artistry and looks but this is not high on my list of objectives (and in a retail setting not really achievable).

I want to make sweets that, like our chocolate cookie for example, simply makes a customer think, “This is really good.”  I want to make desserts that evoke nostalgia because we love them as children and they can for a moment bring back those child-like feelings.

I want to make desserts about which customers say, “This reminds me of summers in Maine.”

 

 

Rhythms of Nature

One of my treasured neighborhood advisors keeps telling me to “advertise” our commitment to ingredients grown on local farms.  We are making pickles with local cucumbers and buying blueberries and beets from small farms.  Indeed, we are buying whatever we can get from farms around us.  Our doors are open to them when at the end of the farmers’ markets that bring them to Washington, they have leftovers to sell to us.

I have been reluctant to say much about this because I don’t want to be seen as one of those dogmatics who write on their in-store signs the precise number of miles traveled by the carrots and kale.  I am not one of them.

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My commitment to local ingredients comes less from a concern about their carbon costs although I know that is very important.   It comes less from a commitment even to the prosperity of small farms that surround Washington although that too is very important.

I believe in local ingredients most of all because of they taste better, because if tomatoes are left to ripen on the vine as they should they are incomparably better than those picked and packed before they are ripe.  That’s why I want tomatoes from Virginia, not Florida.

One can’t be too rigid about this.  Pineapples and artichokes don’t grow here and canned tomatoes have their place.  But fresh tomatoes are an entirely different thing from the canned ones and that is why in short order you are going to see Bread Furst’s food tilt heavily toward them.  It will stay tilted that way until October when local tomatoes disappear altogether until next July.

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I am less a locavore than I am a season-obsessive.  I believe in eating with the seasons.  I love the rediscovery of asparagus in the spring and apples in the fall, of corn, melons, and peaches in July and pears and pumpkins in October.  I love it when I receive from a local produce fellow as I did a day ago an email that says:

Hello Everyone,

 Sweet corn is now available, these are not your typical silver queen varieties, these are actually awesome!

Following Mother Nature gives me rediscovery through every season of every year.  And of course I get the flavor bonuses of eating foods when they ripen on vine, bush, and tree.

I suspect I got started early in life on this course by a grandmother and a fish.  My grandmother whom we used to call “the last of the Edwardian ladies,” made at her table a celebration when in late February shad became available in Baltimore, a city that always loved shad as much as it loved oysters and crabs.

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Whole unboned shad, asparagus, and new potatoes steamed with butter was our best  early spring dinner.  Followed a month later by lamb and peas.

That is a habit which has persisted.  My mother stopped driving her car at the age of 94 but before then she took some delight in buying the first shad of the season for my sister and me.

These days, as everyone knows, everything is available all through the year.  Strawberries for Christmas?  Why not?  They’re being grown somewhere and are in the Chevy Chase Safeway.

I know it is a trick of my psychology that I lose my appetite for foods out of season.  Who wants to eat an apple when blueberries are available?  Why bother with oranges if apricots are in season?

So although I wish I could claim to you that when we make blueberry pies as we do right now we are doing it to reduce our carbon footprint.  But the truth is we replaced lime meringue pies with strawberry cobbler and then cherry pie and now blueberry because limes are out season, strawberries and cherries came and went, and blueberries are now here.

This is one of those principles I cherish at Bread Furst.

 

Lesson from Palermo

A decade or so ago, I visited Sicily. Eager to avoid eating like a tourist, I asked during my first afternoon over coffee in a little Palermo café where I could find a real Sicilian dinner.

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A few hours later I was walking around the Teatro Massimo to a restaurant whose name I now forget.

It turned out to be huge, perhaps 100 tables, not very promising, I thought. I was seated right away and was told what the fish of the day was and what it would be served with. I was given a bottle of house wine, uncorked, and invited to visit the antipasto area.

No plates of veal or pasta could be seen on any table. Everyone was eating either a whole fried fish or a variety of antipasti as an entrée to the meal.

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I walked to the front of the restaurant to the antipasto area and found there the variety missing from the diners’ tables: Sticks of fried eggplant, octopus salad, carrots and greens, olives, caponata, grilled red peppers, cheeses, salumi, fish, tomatoes, arancini, and I don’t remember what else.

The foods looked fresh and in such numbers and diversity that to have sampled each one was out of the question – and so I took bits of some – and could easily have made a dinner—and wanted to. The importance of a main course, the fish had receded (although the fish too turned out to be simple and wonderful).

 

I have been thinking about the food of Bread Furst. During the past six weeks we have served as evening take-away food Moroccan chicken one week, blue catfish the next, jerk chicken, couscous, chili relenos, spring green vegetables, roasted beets, potatoes and artichokes, vegetable soup, avocado soup. We are making good food with good ingredients and I can’t describe to you what we are doing.

Perhaps I am trying too hard to be consistent, a characteristic I am not known generally to possess, but this seems awfully disjointed and theme less.

When over the many months I was planning to open Bread Furst I knew I wanted in our take-away food assertive spicing, multi-cultural food, local ingredients.

I imagined three or four sandwiches for lunch, one soup, and three salads; and for dinner adding to those salads two or three take-away dishes.

I find now after two months we put on the menu as carryout foods dishes we like and often you like them too. Two of our sandwiches are so popular that I can’t change them. You buy our salads and evening foods but I must be able to understand and explain what we are doing.

I can do that with our bread: We make traditional breads, a line of whole grains, a line of ancient grains, and soon a line of flatbreads – all traditional.

bread oven           I can describe our pastry – enough French pastries to satisfy our Francophilac pastry chefs and the rest traditional American desserts.

Why can’t I describe our food?

I can talk about food values: Rooted, tradition-based, seasonal, multi-cultural. I can talk about my own style – leaning toward the Mediterranean, heavy on vegetables and grains, foods that are bitter, spicy, sweet/sour.   But apart from the pickling program on which we have embarked and our own jams, we haven’t really found yet a food repertoire to which I feel committed.

I think about my style of cooking and what I like to eat on a summer evening — salads with a few grains and herbs and crunchy seeds and nuts, flavors of the grill, pickled herring, cheese, beets.

 

I keep thinking about that Palermo antipasto bar and particularly at this time of year when fresh, local vegetables are coming to market.

Suppose instead of doing three or four foods each day, we did 20. Suppose instead of making chicken curry, Swedish meatballs, and ratatouille we made half a dozen salads from seasonal ingredients, some grainy combinations, our own tuna confit (tuna-fish), artichoke hearts, bacalao, three-bean salad.

We could set those up each day on the front counter and let you choose from the diversity of our preparations; and we could change those preparations seasonally. It would be an antipasto bar. You would be able to find all the time a few dishes that really interest you.

This week our large and heretofore unfunctioning large case is finally going to function; and this week you will find in that case a range of spreads – hummus, eggplant, pimento cheese and others.  We’ll add to those next week and put into the case foods that give you a lot of seasonal choices.

And as summer continues we’ll experiment with the antipasto bar. I trust you’ll comment liberally.

 

 

The Jenkins Prescription

I didn’t get as many ideas from Steve Jenkins as I had hoped. Zanne Stewart, the former food editor of Gourmet Magazine and one of my favorite people, wrote, “

I’ll be eager to learn what Steve has to say. He’s one of my favorites and, possibly, the most entertaining of all…”

 Me too.

We didn’t have to wait long: Steve wrote that it is obvious what we ought to do:

            “You absolutely MUST offer a half-dozen or so early-harvest monocultivar olive oils. Preferably all in dark bottles so as to protect them from the doubtless harsh shop’s light.

            “Early-harvest monocultivar olive oils are the ones that offer that fabulous adult bitterness and pungency. ‘Fruity’ olive oils (late-harvest) are unworthy of anyone’s attention; they offer no pungency or bitterness, an indication of low polyphenol levels. High polyphenol levels are the raison d’etre of olive oil.

            “I would also offer the best line of fruit preserves you can muster… Jams and olive oils. Nothing else.”

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            But I don’t think that’s right. We have so much shelving and I want to make use of it. Olive oils to be sure. Jam, yes indeed, and we have begun to make our own.

We are also making crackers, croutons, lavash, crisps, and four-packs of our English muffins. Caramels and brittle and soon bags of wonderful shortbread. And now that summer is upon us we are making pickled vegetables.   They too will be on the shelves starting this week.

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And next week finally the huge refrigerated case we imprudently ordered from Italy, the one that arrived not working, will finally be made to work. And then we’ll be able to offer soups and salads and a great diversity of spreads for bread (hummos, pimento cheese, olive tapenade, and the like) all of which I have been thinking about.

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We’ll follow Steve’s advice although I am dubious about Washington’s appetite for monocultivar olive oils.

So then what? I haven’t gotten enough guidance about the uses of our shelving.

Bread Furst is a bakery but I am learning yet again that appetites here for breads and pastry are not great enough to make us prosper so I am groping for the answers to other foods customers might want us to sell.

We don’t have the answers yet.

Going to the Guru

This, my first essay in some time, is an open letter to Steve Jenkins.

You may not know his name but food people do as he really invented artisan cheese in America.  Well, that is to say he was the first person I know about who began to import really good cheeses from Europe and market them effectively to people who then became cheese-eaters.  He did that with other specialty foods too and has been for more than 30 years a champion of good food.

So I wrote to Steve this morning:

Dear Steve:

Bread Furst has been open for six weeks now.

We have beautiful shelving on the wall facing our service line.  Old reclaimed wood, thick boards mounted against a white brick wall and as you can see we are doing very little with those shelves.  A few jams, honey, some Italian Nutella, mustard, the usual but hardly up to the creative standards of Steve Jenkins.
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This is a bakery, a neighborhood bakery.  We make food of course because I have a butterfly mind and the neighborhood likes us to make food.  Sandwiches and salads and starting this week some dinner dishes for people to take home.  We have a bit of charcuterie and a nice little selection of cheeses.

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We have a huge reach-in refrigerator that arrived weeks ago from Italy new but needing repairs.  When it is repaired we will produce more foods for take-home, a wide selection of spreads for breads that in the past customers have liked a lot — and I do too.

We’ve also started our pickling and canning program and all summer long we’ll make jams from local fruits and pickle vegetables.

But this is a bakery, a neighborhood bakery and I don’t want to lose the character of a bakery and become a food store with breads and pastries.  So the question I raise with you is what shall we do with all that shelving, the shelving behind the line, the shelving in the customer area.  Some of it will get occupied by our pickles and jams but not all of it.

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I could go to New York for the fancy food show at the end of the month to look for other people’s foods but I know I will be overwhelmed by jams and mustards and candies and crackers and will be even more uncertain, if not nauseated.   I’d rather hear what you have to say.

Second question:  What do you think we should do with that deli case, the one pictured above.  Philippe (my son) thinks we should fill it with pastries so that customers have time to linger over them as they wait to order.  That means our charcuterie and cheese would be consigned to a little display case at the front and/or to the reach-in — when it is functioning.

“So what?” Philippe says, “You’re a bakery.  Why bother with that stuff anyway.  You’re not selling very much of it.”

So I appeal to you, Steve.

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You know more about display (among other things) than anyone else and you are not known to be shy with opinions, even wrong-headed political ones.
What should we do?

 

 

Please Complain

            We are now into our second week; and I find that during the first week, even though I was about as gracious as I am capable of being, I thanked customers far less than they thanked me:

            “Thank you for doing this.”

            “Welcome back to the neighborhood.”

            “We’re all so happy that you are here.”

            Hundreds of people have thanked me.  It’s a reversal of nature.  I am supposed to be thanking them for coming into our new bakery.

            It was Mothers Day last Sunday and customers stood in a long line through the morning to buy all 200 bagels and 100 English muffins we had been able to make.  And the bread – and the muffins, cookies, brioche and all else we had produced.

            We were less than competent in serving people but ran out of nearly everything we made while our customers put up with the slow-moving line.

            We’ll get better.  We are learning to produce more.  We have plenty of bagels and English muffins now.  We are adding additional bakery foods.  We’ve already started selling our croissants and Danish and I am going to be making a sourdough waffle on Saturday.

            But we’ll have problems anyway.  Having been through this before, I know that it takes a bit of time to figure out how to serve people well – how to manage a customer line and make it possible for customers to get help quickly.

            So I thought I ought to say:

            Not so long ago, I ran into someone who had shopped two times at Little Red Fox, the nice little market up the street.  She told me that she had waited so long to be served that she wouldn’t go back there.  I asked whether she had said that to the owners but she hadn’t.

            I told her that it was a mistake to withhold.  A customer who doesn’t complain deprives a retailer of information and opportunity.  Just going away doesn’t help a business improve.

            I know that we were irritating customers last weekend.   I could see the looks of exasperation.  But I do not know how many of those we irritated we lost as potential customers.

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            It would be a great kindness if customers had said to me, “You know:  You’re not doing this very well.”  I could then have said I knew it and promised we’ll get better.  When customers don’t complain we don’t know as much as we want to know.

            A complaint is a lot easier to deal with than a lost customer.  That woman who complained to me about Little Red Fox promised that she’d go back there.  I hope she did.  The store then gets another opportunity to win her as a customer.

            All of us want a second chance.

Baking is an Old Man’s Game

The question I have been asked most frequently over the last months is, as I have said here, “When will you open?” I can answer that now:

Today at 7 am.

We are open and crowded and didn’t make nearly enough bagels, English muffins, and morning pastry.

The second question I have been asked over many more months is more complicated: “Why are you doing this?” Why would I take on a project demanding for people half my age?

In 2005 I sold The BreadLine and had no thought about opening another business.   Consulting to others was the right life for a man nearing his seventies.

But one day in 2008 I had lunch at the home of a lifelong friend in Chevy Chase D.C. The bread he served looked “dark” but was in fact made with white flour darkened with a coloring and with some rye flakes sprinkled symbolically on the crust, a fake pumpernickel.

Murry apologized for the bread and asked, “Where does one go to get good bread in Washington.”

I was hearing that question often. There was no neighborhood bakery making good bread. Why, 20 years after I opened Marvelous Market, a real neighborhood bakery, had others not opened in other neighborhoods? How could it have become so hard again to find good bread?

I began to think about opening a bakery.  It seemed like a silly thing for a man of my age to do.  And it seemed risky too; so at first and for a long time I thought about a bakery with another business attached – perhaps a deli curing pastrami and corning beef – or a breakfast restaurant, perhaps.

But then in 2010 my sister died.

CohenCarlaLike many others, Carla was a career-changer. A city planner turned out of HUD by the 1980 Presidential election, Carla, not knowing what she wanted to do but certainly not one to be idle, formed a support group she called “Work-seekers,” composed of other unemployed Democrats.

After a while she decided to indulge her lifelong love of reading by opening a bookstore.

Carla knew exactly what kind of place she wanted, a neighborhood place. She started it in 1984, and in 1989, she moved it to a larger space on the same block with neighbors carrying books across Connecticut Avenue, the police helping as if we were all ducks in the Boston Public Garden.

Then she enlarged it and then a bit more, always resisting pleas made to her to open branches of it in other places, understanding the value of uniqueness.

Carla had created something really wonderful for Washington. Three years later with new owners, it is even more wonderful.

In 2011, a few months before Carla died, a young couple opened a bakery in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. I had helped them a little during their planning and just as they opened for business, that very day, their baker quit. They called me and I drove up to New York to help them and lived in their apartment for the first days of Bien Cuit.

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Once again I was waking long before dawn after a few hours of sleep, arriving at the bakery to find others already at work, mixing doughs, smelling the smells, feeling tired and energized.

I stood at the door in the early mornings looking out on the urban ugliness of Smith Street. At first people passed not noticing the bakery. We put a sign on the sidewalk. A few passers-by poked their heads in. A few walked around the little store. A few bought something.

We took the unsold breads off the shelves each night feeling the uncertainty, feeling the fear. And then I returned to Washington and keep in touch with the Golpers by telephone.

Of course Bien Cuit was a huge success.

Last spring I was shown 4434 Connecticut and all seemed serendipitous. It is my old neighborhood, half a mile from Politics and Prose and the storefront in which I began Marvelous Market.

Today Bread Furst opened in that space.   Here we are going to do all that we can to enrich the food life in this neighborhood as Carla enriched its intellectual life. Here we will try to create a neighborhood place, hospitable and traditional.

That it is across the street from the arcade now gone in which I had my first job in Washington, down the street from the first house I bought and from Marvelous Market that disappears as we begin makes this seem like a very good idea.

 

And Carla would have loved it.

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Furst Look

On Friday, we hung our photographs and the marble countertops and tables were installed.  Bruce Flippens of the D.C. Health Department returned to see whether we had done what he asked us to do and he then he approved our opening.

And so we will open on Tuesday morning.

This bakery is beautiful.  It’s like a dream bakery.

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The road just taken hasn’t been without its potholes – fewer than many of our streets, however – and I hope you will agree when you see us that it was worth the troubles and delays.

It has been an expensive construction and we spent much of the money on improvements to the building.  Most of the rest we spent on equipment and you will see how extensive the equipment is.

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Very little really was spent on décor.  Nevertheless the bakery looks really good and it looks exactly as I wanted it to.

When we began last summer, I decided to work with Peter Hapstak and his team.  Hapstak is very experienced and we had worked together once before to create The BreadLine downtown.

I believe that Peter really wanted to design this bakery; he understood that it would be unique in Washington.  More important, he understood what I imagined for it.  That is to say:

First, I wanted it not to look like The BreadLine.

The industrial look is very popular.  Some people call it “industrial chic,” others “industrial grunge.”

You know what it looks like – exposed pipes and brick walls, very stylish in Brooklyn and here too.  One reason it’s so stylish is that it’s cheaper to construct than a finished interior.

But I didn’t want that.  I wanted to build an attractive place and I wanted it not to be noticed.  I wanted something clean and simple, a décor that would practically disappear so that as you enter, you’ll see only the bread and pastries and foods.

Most of all I wanted this to be a bakery, not a restaurant, but a retail bakery and food store.  I wanted bread-making to be the first thing customers see and finished pastry the second.

I think we did it.  A wooden floor and white walls, every part of the bakery exposed to customer view, reclaimed timber shelving and a marble countertop.   Subway tile and schoolhouse lights.   Shivani’s corner where children can sit and color.

 

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You’ll see it and I hope it will make you feel comfortable.  I hope it will seem familiar to you.  And of course I hope it will become familiar to you.