Bakery Co-op, can it work?

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Joined Mar 6, 2001
Unforunately the name of the restaurant I'm thinking about eludes me at the moment....but I'll describe it, most of you know the place I'm mentioning. There's a restuarant in CA that's famous not only for it's chefs but how it works, kind like a co-op for a group of chefs. They've published a few books too.

Anyway I'm entering this question here instead of the baking area to bring more minds to think about my question in search of an answer, if there is one.?

An aritcle on Foodtv sparked my thoughts. Although Breadster planted these seeds in my head under Professional baking, the thread labeled "sharing a space with a pastry chef". The show about "the best" (on foodtv)highlighted a women who's work I'm familar with, but I don't know her personally. Anyway I can guess what some of her obsticles are in growing her company, they're the same ones most bakeries run into. Although I don't know whether she'll over come them or not and grow into something much bigger...

Anyway, my point (and personal frustration) is seeing several other women in my aprox. age group all very artistic and all in professional baking. They all have small businesses (I don't yet, but I'm heading that way) that have potential. I can't help but thinking together these talented women would be amazing!

Apart I see the stuggles I face if I open my own pastry business and feel for what they already do face and wonder how I might be able to help them.

Could you ever tie these businesses together and make it profitable, helpful and sucessful so each women could work off each others strengths. Together they could lower their costs, possibly. Together I see endless possiblitys.

Could a bakery exist as a co-op like the before mentioned place? Or is this a silly idea dreaming of how they could work together? Obviously everything depends on their reactions and desires but what do you all think, how silly is this thought?

Figuring out how to network them together would be a first step. But since I don't have a place of my own (yet) I feel rather odd contacting people and suggesting such a thought.

Any thoughts, advise and opinions?
Joined Mar 4, 2000
Are you referring to an actual physical co-op, i.e. a biulding where they all work together to produce a common product? Or do you mean a collaborative, sort of like Women Chefs and Restaurateurs? I think either can work, but I'm not sure which way you want to go with it.

There's a warehouse in NYC called Chelsea Market, where a bunch of food vendors have set up shops together. They each sell something different, but it's like a food mall. I suppose something like that with just baked goods would be a bit redundant. And of course, if it was just a big business run by all chiefs, that wouldn't work either. But an organization run by a group of bakers and pastry chefs could work.

I'm interested in knowing what sort of goal you're driving at. How much involvement would each of these chefs have with each other, with the money end of things, with the creative aspect, etc.
Joined Mar 6, 2001
I don't know exactly where I want to go with this idea. The goal, is helping each other. How exactly, I'm not certain, at all. I see some similarity with a few other professional women that I don't see in any other business venture I might step into. It's something about connecting.?.

I find it very helpful learning from people who share my interests and exciting to have peers as the talk gets more involved. I would think that getting together a group of women with similar talents and abilities might help each of them. And in return they give back to each other. Knowledge, recipes, pricing, contacts, maybe sharing expensive equipment (how I don't know), sharing experiences to save someone from a mistake...

How: Maybe buying raw product in much larger bulk. Maybe working out of a central location would attract more attention, hense more $? I see business spill over happen in restaurants...why not baking? Having someone to share a booth at a fancy food show together. Maybe having someone there to "watch the store" so you can take a week off here and there.

I don't know exactly what could be put together, I suppose something that's a serious step beyond a coffee group. Where you can gain help and not loose your individuality.

Is there any model out there already?
Joined Jul 18, 2000
i would assume that you would have to amalgamate this interest and take it further. Probably a good step prior to launching a co-op would be to sit everyone down and canvas the idea.

Then from there, you could generate the interest and hold a brain-storming session as to how you would approach this.

By doing this you have a good opportunity to work out what direction everyone is going in and to take note of strengths and weaknesses. It could then maybe take shape in the form of a purchases co-operative all the way up to the first formation of a multinational corporation.

If there is no model set up your own. Remember, before McDonald's, there was no McDonald's

[ September 11, 2001: Message edited by: Nick.Shu ]
Joined Apr 24, 2001
There was a documentary on PBS the Labor Day before this past one in the Bay Area focusing on three establishments that are profit-sharing. This documentary had me glued to the tv because I had been thinking about the possibility of a starting or joining a co-op of pastry chefs. The three Bay Area businesses are the CheeseBoard in Berkeley?, Rainbow market in San Francisco and Arizmendi's (an artisan bread shop) in Oakland. Each set up a different model. Arizmendi's members all rotate responsibilities. Rainbow's employees have designated responsibilities (don't remember how they deal with issues of hierarchy) but each own a share of the business. Can't remember much about the CheeseBoard except that they helped Arizmendi's get off the ground. There is a bakery called Nabalom in Berkeley that is a co-op. Not very fancy products but they have a strong and loyal customer base.

I would love to see women pastry chefs empowered through cooperative enterprising. I think the most difficult thing to work out are the finances if we all profit shared. But, Wendy, what I think you are thinking about lies more along the lines of a business incubator, where hatchling businesses are located in the same physical site but share office space, machinery, etc. to cut down on overhead costs. The shared expenses amongst pastry chefs would be rent, electricity, gas, ovens, refrigerators, etc. But of course, if we pooled together resources, we could get better equipment like a surgelator, or better quality products (group healthcare, 401-(k), etc.) at a lower price to each of us.

I am sure there are a few restaurants out here are cooperative enterprises. The one that comes to mind is The Swallow in Berkeley, where Ruth Reichl was for a few years. It's mentioned in her books. And they have had a few cookbook, but I am not sure if they are still in business.

There are also a lot of pitfalls to be wary of in such enterprises. Very often, co-ops are torn apart by petty arguments over money. I think that's what the people in the documentaries lamented the most. Also, shared management is of big issue. There are also a lot of emotional issues.

In my original vision, I saw a very ambitious undertaking. I figured it would have to be very ambitious because fine pastries is already a tight market, particuarly here in the Bay Area. Most co-ops start small, but I really don't think that would work for us. I figured that we must be inclusive of all levels of pastries (stuff that we laugh at like supermarket birthday cakes) to haute patissiere ($20,000 wedding cakes). Why? Simply because we need to cover all bases. If we pigeoned holed, the risk for loss is greater. If we are big, then there is business always coming in at some level. But of course, the more people you have, the harder it is to reach concensus, the harder it is to move the business forward and the greater risk for failure. I haven't thought about this in a long while as I've been mostly pre-occupied with work. But I would love to dream with you on this one.
Joined Mar 7, 2001
In Neenah Wisconsin there is a co op called Valley Bakers Association I am joining when I open my doors to my bakery. There is a fee for joining $500. They have an extensive inventory of bakery ingredients. This is a very large co op but I believe they started with a few bakers who worked together to buy ingredients at a lower price. At the end of the year based on your purchases there is a check sent out so the more you spend the more you save.


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This topic is being move to a more appropriate forum (The baking forum).
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