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?
 
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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.
 
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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?
 
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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 ]
 
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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.
 
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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.
 

nicko

Founder of Cheftalk.com
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This topic is being move to a more appropriate forum (The baking forum).
 
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I can clearly see how Bakers Valley association could be helpful. If set up right it no ones toes would be stepped on. How did you find out about them Snakelady1?

I can also understand how hard it would be for several people to agree on so many issues and decisions that need to be made frequently. Over and over you hear people warn about partnerships, that they never work over time. Maybe that would be o.k. for businesses to go on, or grow on I should say.

Why do you say monpetitechoux that it would need to cover all bases? I don't think I can or probably should try to compete with big business. Just the opposite I'm thinking more along the lines of a top of the line pastry co. that does wildly creative work, shipping it anywhere. I have my things I'm strong at, so and so has theirs (and so on) could you have seperate businesses under one roof so to speak. 1 stop shopping creating one invoice.

N.Y. has some big name cake decorators, I can't figure out who that is in Chicago? Is there someone that dominates that market?
 
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It does sound like an interesting idea ---but I'm kinda a control freak so I don't know if it would work for me. I really have to think more about it, but my brain isn't working quite well at the moment in lieu of the curent events.
 
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Wendy, I am so glad that you brought this subject up. To answer your question, it is for the exact reason that you stated: So that we would not compete with big business. My whole point is that in diversifying a business, we can reach a larger market and ensure that there is always income. Say a potential customer doesn't like what I do but someone else in our group can accomodate her wishes. Then she would still be our customer. But there isn't really anything firm that I am making this statement on since I do not and have never had a business. In short, I don't really know what I am talking about. But I have thought about and constructed several models for fine pastries and desserts coopertive enterprises in my head.

I am very interested in this discussion and hope that it will go one for some time. I am in a part of the country where a cooperative would actually be supported by a pastry eating public. So it is a real possibility for me to explore.

I think we can propel this discussion further if we each thought of an answer to Momoreg's question about goals.

But right now, I've got to go to sleep. Tomorrow starts my work week and I haven't had much rest worrying about my family in New York City. If I fall asleep right now, I'll only get about 5 hours. I probably won't get a chance to come back on until my day off next Tuesday. So it may be a while before you hear from me again. Looking forward to coming back to this discussion.
 
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Montpetitchoux,

It's ALWAYS nice to hear or in this case read a meaningful discourse. I look forward to your future posts.

:)
 
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My personal goal thru this idea is self-employement in a pastry position where the situation is suportive and exciting in it's goals to make and sell fine pastry work.

I think this concept could work fine for baked goods given the nature of the product that it's not as spontaneous as cooking.

If I opened my own bakery tomarrow:

One of the first problems I'd run into is staffing. Although I can devote a great deal of time to a venture I also desire to have a personal life when the need arises. That's something I've never found in a job....you could never request to have 1 holiday off. I've missed vertually every personal event in my family members lifes and my friends. Including the last days of my grandmother
life. I long for a controlable/plannable schedule.

I wouldn't be able to afford highly skilled people if I only had a small bakery. If there were several skilled people as principals we could subdivide the tasks and possibly rotate them periodicly. For instance, one person would be in charge of wholesale contacts, retail contact, book keeping (just over seeing a paid non owner professional), purchasing and so on... like department heads. You would need to have a weekly or daily formal meeting to show your work and have peer review so no one could take advantage or neglect their position.

Another obsticle in a small bakery, getting prices to be competitive on the wholesale level. Which requires producing volume and a much bigger investment in equipment.

Perhaps I'm just saying the obvious.


Anyway as far as diverifcation, these are my first thoughts. Having gone thru years of catering in a small upscale all scratch baking and cooking business I saw that approach as flawed in relation to profit. We did anything the customer wanted which sent us scrambling and subdividing our skills and attention. We had enourmous waste, little profit and little suport because we were each working in different dirrections.

I think the only way to succeed is to limit your product line and focus on mass quantities so you have very little waste in product and effort. For instance Cindy Ousterhouse's business I saw on foodtv (I mentioned her earilier). She only does wrapped sugar cookies with decorated with royal frosting. She makes UP TO 3,000. cookies aday retailing from $3.00 to $6.00 (but average #'s ?). It looked like she had 6 spanish women making and decorating her product. She does her product design and all the business aspects. She's now a business person first and foremost. Which is a wall I ran into when I was selling my fine art retail and wholesale. That can be very rewarding running a business. But it takes time and effort to keep up dating your product line so you have something new to sell to your vendors plus produce and sell it. I found it impossible and frustrating to keep switching hats and never focusing long enough to follow through on each problem.

How about pooling together to hire a professional sale person to sell your products. Go together on one retail location and each keep our own wholesale locations. A network of independant bakeries....?
 
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Wendy, Valley Bakers Association has been around for many years(guessing at least 20). It is a co op for ingredients and bakery products only. So less cost for the independant bakery or pastry shop also for the larger commercial bakeries. I realize now that this isn't quite what you are looking at, but it may be a place to start look at their home page and maybe you could ask for more information on how they organized. I don't know how to put a link on here but if you search for Valley Bakers Association I am sure you will find the link.
Good Luck,
Sandy
 
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Wendy,
It looks like you have 3 different ideas:

1. Be part of a co-op of equally talented pros.

2. Be a product designer with a limited inventory, and hire inexpensive help to execute the production.

3. A partnership, where each of the partners has a different area of expertise.

The idea doesn't seem specific enough. If you are thinking of a co-op, and not the other 2, perhaps you can contact some local pastry chefs and brainstorm with them.

As far as a co-op is concerned, I foresee possible profit issues, i.e. too many chiefs/not enough Indians. But if you can work around that, so that it doesn't become a problem, it could be a great concept!
 
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Well I don't know (obviously) none of the ways seem workable over time. Just crasping at straws I guess. Tired of the same old... I want to get back to work baking but I'm so turned off at the realitys of the same lack of understanding and comunication between hot and pastry. Changing jobs every couple years stinks.
 
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my train of thought as to a co-op would be to start something like a buyers club. Then evolve from there to to something which is a reversal of a buyers co-op, i.e. sellers club - perhaps the person who sources the commodities for the buyers club can also act as a supplier.

I guess the biggest quandary would be the sales sides of things. However, tackle that issue and then the buyers club could then source perhaps a marketing consultant.

The thing with the buyers market, is that it would attract potential bakery staff.

Combine the buyers co-op with a supply arm/marketing co-op, and it obviously has its advantages. Try not to think too small.
 
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The upside is never the reason businesses fail, so the downside ?
ego's.
I would also consider limiting suiters by gender to be an indication of something lacking in a potential partner in anything.
Rather than run away from the fear of a partner, its probably better to just find the right person ,open a business and get on with it.
Three's definately a crowd.!
 

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