Saturday, August 29, 2009

Daddy Mac and Jarred Tomato Sauce

I knew when I was looking for a retail space and writing my business plan that when I opened my bakery there would be sacrifices. One would be taking a risk and investing our life savings, two would be working long hours and three would be the toll it would take on family life at least in the beginning.

Risking our money obviously still makes me nervous but I'm too focused on being successful to give it too much thought. The long hour are grueling but I love cooking/baking so much that I can handle 90 hour work weeks (hopefully not for too much longer). The strain comes from the little time I have with my wife Jill and especially with my son Jack, the original Little Buddy.

I've been with Jack every day since he was born. I took him to all of his doctor visits, on play dates and birthday parties (I think I missed 2 out of 20 plus), picked him up from school and summer camps, and every other important early childhood step. The reason I wound up in this business was because I was a new chef and stay at home dad that wanted to spend time with his toddler son, yet wanted something to do while spending time with him. I never could have imagined I would someday own a bakery.

There is no doubt that this has been a tough summer on all of us. Jill and I haven't had a day off in so long I can't remember what we did when we had one. But the impact has been great on Jack, or at least I think it has. He was used to certain routines, like me picking him up from either school or camp, going to the playground together, going home and he'd watch tv while I made dinner (I miss my own dinners as now I have no time to cook or even go food shopping).

His world changing has come out in odd ways. Last Friday night I got home at 7:00 pm and Jill had spent a couple of hours with Jack and our neighbor Carmen doing art projects with Bendaroos. So neither of had time to make dinner or energy left to do so. So I suggested we go out to SideCar which is around the corner and a restaurant we all like. They have great cocktails, burgers, veggie tacos, club sandwiches and for Jack grill cheese and fries. Jack seemed disappointed and asked if I would make Daddy Mac, mac and cheese from a NY Times recipe. It takes a long time to make/bake and rest Daddy Mac, so I told him that it would have to be another night. He started to cry about it and I realized that it wasn't the mac and cheese he was upset about but the fact that we haven't been spending enough time together and our routines were gone. It made me feel sad too.

Funny thing about this is I've been reading blogs and hearing comments about the store and reading people's complaints about the fact we aren't open late enough or on Sunday's. What people don't realize is that at this point in the business I have to be there every hour the store is open because number 1. I'm the only one at the moment that has a NYC food handling license (soon one of my employees Tim will have one) and number 2. I'm the only one who can make all the food that we sell. That will change at some point but it might take a while.

Even though we are closed on Sunday's I've been working every Sunday running errand for the store I can't do during the week, fixing things that are broken, getting recipes ready for the week, and a long list of other things.

Anyway my original plan for our store hours were that we could always add hours or change them as we add employees, as the need dictates, and to match the season (think fall holidays). It's easier to add hours to make people happy then it is to take them away if you think you can't fulfill the schedule.

Bottom line is I can't wait for school to start because I think Jack is going to be happy to be back at PS 10 and maybe we can find a new routine that suits us both and the business too.

Epilogue: The Sunday after Jack cried about Daddy Mac, after spending the day going to Jetro (for ingredients and supplies), Ikea (for assorted things for the store) and working 4 hours at the store I managed to make dinner that night for us and I made Daddy Mac for Monday night's dinner too. Jack (and me and Jill too) really enjoyed his Daddy Mac. But what is up with the jarred tomato sauce you might ask? Well the first thing I learned to cook when I first lived on my own at the age of 19 was "all day sauce" (with meatballs, sausage and neck bones). I also can make a great marinara too. Jill recently told me that with our current schedule I should relent and buy jarred sauce. I shuddered at the suggestion so she went ahead and bought 2 jars. Guess what? I made dinner on Thursday with the sauce she bought and added fake veggie sausage (another great concession), realizing it wasn't the worst thing in the world, considering I had been on my feet for 14 straight hours baking for the neighborhood and it was better than nothing.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

No Rainy Day Blues

When I got into work today at 5:00 am it was raining and looked as though it would do so all day. I was bummed because I had lots of special baked goods to sell and we needed a good day to balance the slow hot dog days of August we suffered through all week.

I was excited because I finally was caught up enough to put out food that I had been thinking of doing for a long time. I prepped the morning breakfast pastries and couldn't wait to see how my special weekend breakfast treat would come out. It's a French pastry called Bostock which was invented to use day old brioche loaves. You slice the loaf and put almond cream on it with sliced almonds and bake it in the oven. It's kind of like a cross between almond croissant and french toast. I had made brioche earlier in the week and sliced it hot out of the oven and put plum preserves on it and was hoping to save a loaf for Bostock but a neighbor of mine bought the whole loaf to bring to Boston so I had to make a new batch. Well it turned out to be a big hit as we sold through two loaves real quickly. One customer came back after buying it just to tell us how much he liked it.

We also had out a tray of crumb buns, a childhood favorite of mine. It's a rich yeasted bun with a crunchy sweet streusel topping. We sold the whole tray of that too. All of our muffins sold out before 11 am so I guess on Saturdays I'll have to up the quantity, a good problem to have. Thankfully the weather was just nice enough to afford us foot traffic all day long so we had our best day to date. My cousin Anne surprised me and stopped buy early and bought boxes of goodies to take to work with her on Monday. She gave us an early morning boost and thankfully things heated up from there.

Here is what our menu was for the day:

Breakfast Pastries:

Muffins: Blueberry, Raspberry Ginger, Lemon Poppy, and Pumpkin Spice (vegan)
Scones: Oatmeal Scone with Currants and Cherry and Almond Scones
Savory: Cheddar Biscuits with Chives and Roasted Pepper and Feta Muffins
Brioche baked with Almond Cream and Almond Slices
Crumb Buns
Banana Bread

Big Buddy Cookies (big chewy cookies): Chocolate Chunk, Maple Cranberry Oat with Pecan, Peanut Butter and Peanut Butter with Chocolate Chunks, Orange Coconut with Cardamom, Currants and Macadamia, Deep Chocolate with Ground Chile and Spice, Double Chocolate Almond Cherry, Almond Oat with Banana, Coconut and Dates (vegan) and Chewy Oatmeal with Currants

Buddy Bites (butter cookies); Molasses, Cherry, Chocolate Ginger, Chocolate and Cherry Pinwheel plus 2 sandwich cookies (one customer bought almost all of them at once): Vanilla with Ganache (chocolate) center, and Molasses with Lemon Cream center.

Bars: Classic Chocolate Brownies, Lemon Bars and Pecan Bars

Cakes: Cinnamon Layer cake with Chocolate Chile Buttercream, Flourless Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream and Fresh Berries and Mini Cocoa Spice Bundt Cakes with Nutella Glaze (great suggestion by my staff member Kris)

Cupcakes: Double Chocolate with Ganache or with Vanilla Frosting and Yellow Cakes with Vanilla or Chocolate Frosting

And of course Jane's (spectacular) Ice Cream from the Hudson Valley and don't forget our great coffee and tea selections. Great day that is a glimpse of what we hope for in September.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chef Pete's 10 Day Weight Loss Plan

How do you lose about 8 pounds in 10 day? Open a bakery and work 90 hours a week. Good thing too since I have no time to get to the gym, I need to freeze my Harbor Fitness membership. With all the new product I'm making which means taste testing, I move around enough to work it all off. I admit I like the taste testing part, pecan bars, cheddar cheese and chive biscuits, and today hopefully pineapple upside down cake. But my favorite might be the experiment with extra brownie batter. I put the extra batter in two small cake molds, swirled in globs of peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips. Me and the staff scarfed down one of them and reluctantly sold the other to the first customer who saw it in the showcase. It's a keeper in the rotation.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Okay, So I Can Make Biscuits (not the cookie kind)

We at Little Buddy Biscuit Company have made it through our first week and we are off to a great start. The feedback has been awesome as everyone seems to like the way the store looks (thanks to Jill, Paul and Vinny and myself) the food of course and my terrific staff. Lot's of my friends and neighbors have supported the store (thanks to all of you who've have made a visit ) and plenty of people just walking past. It seems that the neighborhood was ready for a Little Buddy store.

I've been making cookies for over 4 years and rarely did anyone question the name. Every since we've had the storefront people have been popping in and asking if we do biscuits, you know like the southern variety not meaning cookies in the European sense. So last Thursday I tested a recipe for Cheddar and Black Pepper Biscuits and the first customer to buy one called me ten minutes later to ask me to set aside 2 more for her way home. It turns out that Park Slope was also craving a good savory biscuit. The has been chatter on yelp and chowhound about the search for a good biscuit. I hope we fill the need.

As I am currently the only baker and running the show it's been a made rush to get out all the product but I'm slowly adding new things to the menu. Today I got out a Orange and Cardamom Bundt Cake with White Chocolate Coconut Rum Glaze. Tomorrow all be selling my first crumb bun and I can't hardly wait as I think this will be something people will go out of there way for. Thursday I hope to get out a Devil's Food Layer Cake with Nutetlla Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I'm Little Buddy, I'm Little Buddy

I think Jack is going to take to being the son of a bakery owner real well. The last few days of getting the store ready people would pop in to ask us when we were going to open. Jack would proudly yell out "I'm Little Buddy, I'm Little Buddy". For those people walking buy looking in the window he'd do a little dance on the bench in the front window and yell through the glass the same. It made me laugh and made me real happy to hear him say that with so much gusto.

Of course it hasn't been all great for him. Jill and I have been working around the clock the past few months, which sometimes has left him to have to find things to do on his own. We haven't had a day off since the summer started which means no family vacation either. I think he has handled it pretty well and I can't wait for things to settle down enough for us to grab some more time together.

We all have sacrificed to take the business to a new level. Jack was a year and half old when I started the business so he's been there every step of the way. Even back then there were days when I had to work and take care of him at the same time and it wasn't always pretty. We'd both lose our cool in our own way at times. It is a tough decision when both parents either decide to work or have no choice. I didn't anticipate how much work this would take from the very beginning, thinking it would be easier than it was being a stay at home dad and building a business.

But Jack is learning a powerful life lesson, that if you pursue a passion in life and put your all into it in the end you will succeed. I don't just mean financially, I certainly hope we make lots of money at the store. I mean that just the act of working hard and putting your time and energy into what you like to do is success in it's own right. He has witnessed Jill and I take a concept and find ways to make it special and work together to accomplish our goal. I think it's working as he already has decided he has his own jobs in the store like putting the Izze sparkling fruit juice in the show case and spraying Windex on the front windows or enthusiastically greeting customers as they come in. Maybe some day he'll manage his own Little Buddy Biscuit Company store.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Big Week Finally Here: Store Opens On Wednesday 8/5/09

Well it looks like we have finally made the home stretch. We will open the doors to the new Little Buddy Biscuit Company retail bakery at 635 5th Avenue in Brooklyn (between 17th and 18th) on Wednesday, August 5th at 7:00 am. For now the hours will be from 7:00 am-5:30ish pm Monday-Friday and 8:00am-6:00pm on Saturday. We will add more hours during the busy seasons or as needed, but for now that's our starting point.

The store looks great, we are really excited and judging from all the people who have popped in to inquire about what we are doing it seems the neighborhood is eager for us to open too. Of course we will have our popular Big Buddy cookies, brownies, and cupcakes but now I'll have the chance to bake more treats like butter cookies, lemon or pecan bars, layer cakes, muffins and scones, coffee cakes and other surprises. In addition we'll have fair trade organic coffee (Equal Exchange) and organic fair trade teas (Serendipitea) plus other beverages. Plus, Jane's Ice Cream, a small batch ice cream from the Hudson Valley that uses local dairy, high quality ingredients (organic when possible) and just awesome flavors. Amy and Bob gave us a lesson on how to scoop yesterday and of course we had to eat our practice scoops. Boy is it great ice cream, I think I might gain a pound or two.

Many thanks to V & G Custom Builders. Owner Vinny Sallustro is a great contractor and made the renovation smooth sailing. He is professional, reliable, knowledgeable, conscientious, and great to work with. If you need a good contractor I would recommend Vincent in a blink. My friend Paul Marotta made beatiful cabinets for the store and I'll be grateful to look at his work every day.

Thanks also to Vincent (a longtime successful baker in his own right) and his son Nat our landlord's who are really fair guys and behind what we are doing and helped us through the process to make things go smooth and easy. I think we will carry the bakery tradition Vincent established at 635 many years ago in style. We had lot's of help and support from so many people, it was truly a community undertaking and Jill Jack and I are really appreciate it. I can't wait to open the doors. Please stop by and buy a cookie, coffee or other treat and meet Joy, Kris, Tim, Mr. Bisky and the Little Buddy family.