Small food business have a lot of challenges these days, considering the bummer that is the Big Ol’ Recession. But with the recent upsurge of awesomeness in the Oakland food craft scene, it’s clear lack of cash isn’t stopping people from actualizing their dreams.
Like, oh, let’s say, Starter Bakery – the flaky, chewy, crunchy, oh-so-impossibly-buttery love child between Jamie Hansen and Brian Wood (you can find them at our Craft Marketplace with other small, local food crafters at the upcoming Eat Real Oakland). In a move that might seem a little crazy, or brave, or just crazy-brave, Jamie left her successful high-tech job in the midst of, as we’ve all heard ad nauseum, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression for the food biz life. Selling pastries satisfies the soul a tad more than million-dollar software packages, it would seem.
So how does Starter Bakery stay small and still remain successful? Creative resourcing and a willingness to adapt.
Originally intending to be a retail bakery, the reality of dream-shatteringly-expensive real estate had Stater Bakery floundering. As Jamie says, “Three-dollar pastries just don’t add up to a $300,000 loan.” Knowing this, and that they wanted to stay in Oakland “because while it embraces food culture, it’s not about the next fad,” they began to hunt for another space that would wouldn’t put them in the red.
When they came across the old Blue Bottle Coffee roastery in West Oakland, barren except for gas and electricity and set up for wholesale only, the dream changed – to a wholesale bakery that would sell in farmers markets and to local cafes and restaurants. All tools and equipment were bought second-hand off of Craigslist, and a handful of volunteers and apprentices were enlisted to help the business grow. To stay solvent and pay her own salary Jamie still does tech consulting on the side, which allows Brian, an ex-San Francisco Baking Institute chef, to focuses on the product side.
But for a small company that has no intention on becoming a big producer, modest growth, a little at time, makes sense. It turns out that there’s a real niche for small producers that make handmade, really handmade - like hands actual touching dough - product. And for right now, Jamie and Brian are perfectly tickled with their on-the-ground business at farmers markets and with wholesale customers.
As Jamie confides, “You don’t go into food to make a million dollars. You want to see the people that you’re serving. We’re happy to be a part of Eat Real because it attracts so many people. It’s an extension of this whole food community. And we’re lucky that this community is in our own backyard.”
Can’t wait for Eat Real Oakland this September 23-25? You can find Starter Bakery at these locations.