Paul and I have been together for over 35 years. For most of that time, we have been self-employed. After both of us losing our jobs, one week before Christmas, 1988, with a new house, new car and baby on the way, we vowed to never rely on anyone else, ever again. We started a graphics company. Specs Industrial Graphics & Design. We started off doing small jobs and worked our way up to working for some pretty big clients. Paul airbrushed illustrations for the back of the MagLite packaging. We designed and maintained 3 secure websites for General Motors and American Isuzu Motors.
We started our business in Southern California and when the recession hit in 1991 we decided to downsize our business. We moved to Northwestern Pennsylvania where the cost of living is more than reasonable and we were able to keep our LA clients and pick up some great accounts in Erie.
Our life was crazy in a fun way. By the end of the 90s, we were well into homeschooling our 3 girls and had acquired a few milking goats, two sheep, 50 chickens, and a horse. We were remodeling an old farm house, doing the math on the kitchen table, teaching ourselves how to make cheese, goat milk soap and of course lots of bread. We mastered the homestead arts and were ready to move on to selling what we made. While still doing the graphic arts business we decided to start a craft business as well. A great way to teach the girls about business. From raw ingredients to making, packaging and selling our goods. I went crazy! Herbal Tea soaps, lotions, body butters, lip balms, fragrance sprays and a very effective all natural insect spray. (Which, by the way, is illegal to sell. We found that out the hard way!)
Paul designed all the packaging and an amazing Point Of Purchase website. All of us went to craft fairs. One of the places we took our goods was to the Farmers Market in Erie. It was the only farmers market we had ever been to that didn't have any baked goods. So, of course, we decided to take a few loaves of our bread. On our last day at the farmers market in Erie, we sold 150 loafs of bread in 1-1/2 hours and 2 bars of soap.
We made the bread. We got paid for the bread. We got praised for the bread. OR... We create a brochure. We would wait months to get paid for the brochure. We get criticized for a type-o in the brochure that 20 people proofed.
A bakery is born!
The transition from running a graphic arts business to operating a full-service bakery was not a smooth one. Specs Industrial Graphics had very few requirements beyond our knowledge of the business. A computer, scanner, art table, phone, fax machine, printer and a lot of blank CDs. You can have a graphics business in a closet.
Not so when it comes to a bakery. Buying and storing50-pound bags of flour takes up a huge amount of space. This knowledge is all in hindsight though. When we first started our bakery, we thought we could just convert our kitchen and start a bakery business.
We got our food license in June of 05. By August 1st we were looking for a bigger place. On September 1st we signed a lease to move our bakery 35 miles away into a corner of the historic Meadville Market House. In October we moved into our new house close to our new bakery. One year later we began looking for more space.
(A very good friend of ours took all our animals. They went to a great home.)
A developer had started to renovate a building located next to the Market House. A 5 unit condominium. Three store fronts and 2 upstairs living spaces. We thought it would be nice but when we looked at one of the gutted storefronts decided, with our knowledge of all the space our bakery really needed, that one of these storefronts was just too small. The developer was excited about the idea of his new project being a bakery. He drew up plans to combine 2 of the store fronts. Pretty nice, but still 'not big enough'.
"Let's look at the basement space," he says. We walked over to take a look. Dark, dirty and damp. "This guy must be nuts"!! was all we could think.
"Built to suit!"
He had just finished the first store front. We took a very close look. The dark, dirty, damp basement was bright, clean and dry.
"Let's do it"!
We looked up styles of bakeries on the internet and found one we really liked and asked if he could make it look like the picture.
"No problem!" He could do anything. And you know what? He did. The following March we were moving our equipment from the Market House into our new 2,000 sq. ft. facility. Complete with an 8' x 12' walk-in refrigerator.
In the Market House, we could mix, bake, prep and wait on customers, all at the same time. The new space was very different. Prep and mixing in the basement of one unit, customers and sales counter above the prep area and ovens and pizza production located upstairs in the other unit. We were all over the place and one of us had to man the counter at all times now. It took us a while to figure all this out. Four years later and we have it nailed. Of course, it took having employees! This is both a blessing and a curse. We have extra hands but they are not us. None of them see the BIG picture. The work that is needed over the course of 24 hours. And, they are not us. By now, the five of us could just look at each other and grunt to communicate our needs but with employees, it is so much harder. One change, like setting up a system for using and washing knives for sandwich making turns into a two-week ordeal. Where are all the knives? Downstairs in the dirty dish rack. No, they need to be washed upstairs, dipped, dried and put back in the sandwich area. Where are all the knives? Where are all the knives? A silly little change like that and the whole place is up in arms over who is not doing it the new way. How do we get this fixed? Then finally it all works smoothly until we hire a new person that decides that the knives we are using are not the right size and uses the bread slicing knife instead and leaves it sitting there waiting for the next sandwich order. Sitting there covered with hummus and turkey bits. AHHHH!
On that day we sold 150 loaves of bread in 1-1/2 hours we could have never imagined what our life would be like now. We are so very proud of our daughters for what they have accomplished and amazed with ourselves that we have been able to pull this off.
We are still learning and growing!
We are even able to get enough sleep, on most days.