I Can’t Believe I Have a Bakery

The fact that I actually opened my own bakery last week is still very bizarre. It makes me think back to my previous career as a teacher. After volunteering in classrooms in college, and working as an assistant while getting my teaching certificate in grad school, I was always under someone else’s purview. As much free reign as I might be given, as much independence I may have earned, it was still always someone else’s classroom. When I finally became a real, honest-to-goodness teacher and had my very first class, it was unreal. “I’m the one the students go to first when they need something?” “I get to make all the decisions?” It took some getting used to.

Fast forward seventeen years, and there’s very little difference. I went to pastry school. I worked as a newbie in a bakery. I worked as a slightly more experienced baker at the next job, where I was given more respect and latitude. I got my first recipe on the menu (just like teaching my first lesson as an assistant). Eventually I even got to be part of the opening of a bakery, hiring staff, designing the schedule (just like student teaching). And now…now!…I actually have opened the doors of a bakery I created myself – although with plenty of input and assistance from others – and I still don’t quite believe it.

But before we get to the opening, there’s some other stuff to catch up on! The last full week before I opened was a busy one, as you’d imagine. I was trying to get as many of the little things taken care, which wasn’t always easy without a car. However, while having coffee with a friend one morning in the courtyard of his office, I saw that another business appeared to stock plates and dishes. I went inside and found some great small platters to use in the display case. I placed an order, and was told they’d arrive in Antigua that Friday. Perfect!

Meanwhile, Rache had flown up to Las Vegas for work and met up with Sarah and Lincoln, who had recently arrived there from Antigua. As I’ve mentioned before, my conversation with Lincoln back in April laid the groundwork for much of the path I took with launching Canela Antigua. And he – and his family – were fans of my baking. So Rache was organized enough to plan ahead and have me put together a box of treats for her to take on her visit.

Lincoln and his family enjoy some special-delivery cookies.

It was such a treat to receive the photos above and below from Sarah, of everyone together and enjoying the cookies. Of course, it made me wish I was with them…but it still was fun for them to connect me to what they were doing. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only known them for a few months, because we connect with each other so well!

Sarah, Lincoln and Rache – sending along their wishes from Vegas.

Meanwhile, I was troubleshooting my bread. There were a few little things that I felt I could do better, and was fortunate that a senior bread baker, Nick, from one of my former jobs was willing to help out. We emailed back and forth about my process, and he requested some pictures so that he could see what things needed improvement. You can tell a lot just by looking at bread dough, and Nick was able to share some great advice. My bread is already better!

Bread dough right after the pre-shape.

Bread dough ready(ish) for the final shaping.

One of the last days selling via Facebook.

I let people know, as they came by to buy things, that it was the final week of selling quietly via Facebook. Starting the next week – on Wednesday – I would be open, just like any other bakery. Regular days, regular hours, no need to call ahead and see if I was there!

Official promo for the special weekend.

Meanwhile, we were getting ready for the launch of the test weekend of the Glacy/Canela Antigua ice cream sandwich promo. I’d delivered 120 cookies to Felipe’s ice cream factory on Monday and he and his staff were preparing everything for the weekend. I was very excited to see how it would go!

Thursday afternoon, getting ready for the next day’s launch.

Felipe loads the freezer at Glacy.

Whatever time I wasn’t devoting to getting ready for Saturday’s Caoba market, I spent getting organized for the bakery’s opening. I ordered more business cards, got full-color stickers printed for affixing to bread bags and bakery boxes, and more. I was disappointed to find out, however, that the platters for the display case wouldn’t arrive in Antigua on Friday, and instead would show up the following Friday. I fortunately had enough stuff to get by until then. It wouldn’t all perfectly match, but I was not going to stop the opening for it!

Cinnamon rolls and scones at my final Caoba market before the big opening.

For weeks, I’d had a little sign on my table, announcing the impending opening. I updated it for the final Saturday to announce Wednesday as the big day. As well, in order to try to drive people to shop, I printed up little coupons in both English and Spanish:

These are only valid for my opening week, so I hoped it would bring some attention to my location and let people know where to find me! And overall, it was my second best Caoba market ever, despite another slow start. It was a good way to go out. And, of course, I could always return if I needed or wanted to. But one of the key reasons I wasn’t going to continue, in addition to driving traffic to my store, was because if I worked at Caoba on Saturday, I couldn’t produce bread for Sunday. And I was expecting that Sundays at the shop could be very profitable. Time would tell.

As Sunday began, the entire focus was on gearing up for the opening week. I had a variety of things to make or prepare, and also tried to come up with a game plan for the opening menu.

Sheet of hardened caramel, right before breaking up and placing on top of the blondie batter.

Between prepping things at home and running errands in town, the final 72 hours before the opening were hectic. But things came together nicely, as almost everything I was waiting for (except those darn platters) materialized as needed. I even started having PriceSmart (Costco’s cousin) delivering directly to me, which will now save me from expensive trips into the city as well as from lugging sacks of sugar across town.

Picking up the new business cards.

When the bread dough for Wednesday was finished on Tuesday morning, and placed into the fridge for its final, overnight proof, I attempted a dry run at opening morning. I tested out a few configurations of the tables, before deciding on the one shown below. Once I’m ready to allow outdoor seating (which will probably accompany the addition of lunch, as well as the purchase of more tables and chairs), I’ll unblock the door outside let the main room open up a bit.

Tables are set.

Display case is prepped.

Coffeemaker and grinder were both tested and are ready to go.

I tested out a batch of coffee based on the instruction manual’s recommendation, but thought it was too weak. Since I’m selling De la Gente Coffee, I figured I might as well ask them what they recommend for a percolator device, and got a much better – and more precise – response. (For those curious – it’s a 16:1 ratio of water to coffee, by weight.)

Brand-new Ecofiltro water dispenser is looking sharp.

I worked through the afternoon and night, prepping the menu, display tags and more. I could have kept going, but decided to step away from things and head to the Londoner for Tuesday night’s pub quiz. I was glad I did, because it allowed me to decompress for a little while. Once again, we came in second, losing by ONE POINT! Grr…

But I went to bed with plenty on my mind, and hoping to get a good night’s sleep before the big day. And I probably would have, had there not been a near 7.0 earthquake at 1:30 in the morning. That not only woke me up, but it freaked me out. By the time I went downstairs to make sure nothing had fallen or broken, I was wide awake. In retrospect, maybe I should have just stayed up and continued my prep. Instead, I fell back asleep and got in a few more hours of rest.

Finally, at 5 am, I was up and ready for opening day! I fired up the oven for the bread, and got busy organizing everything else. Despite thinking I had everything planned out well, I was still scrambling to get everything together by 8 am. I had already showered but was sweating as I raced around. As opening time came, I opened the doors, hung the sign, and continued to work.

Display case just before opening on Day One.

The first customers – right at 8 am!

Even though I was frantically running around, and wanted the doors opened on time, I didn’t actually expect anyone to be there at 8 am on a cloudy Wednesday morning. But, the family above – Jessica and her two sons – were there on their way to school! They had bought from me on Saturday at Caoba and received one of the Free Cookie cards, and her older son, N, was eager to cash it in. I also ran into them at Bodegona the day before, when I doing more last-minute shopping.

After they left, I had a little bit of time alone and could finish up the last few things. The day featured regular visits from previous customers, people I knew, and people who’d been waiting for me to open. It was a fun day, for sure, but an exhausting one. It was a little tricky to work on the next day’s bread dough with the relatively constant stream of people coming in. Plus, I had to fire up the oven again and bake more cookies midday, because I was already running low!

When 3 pm finally, mercifully came, I was spent. But I was also nearly completely sold out! So that was exciting. In fact, it turned out to be a hair above my best day at Caoba. So no complaints there. However, because I’d been so busy during the day, there was still more to do – the next day’s cinnamon rolls, plus all the cleaning from the bakery. The platters, the display cases, the floor, the coffeepot. I not only knew that I needed someone to help me during the day, but I also needed someone to clean every afternoon when I closed. It’s worth a little extra money going out the door to a cleaning person so that I can focus on getting the baked goods ready for the next day.

I don’t remember what time I was finally done with everything, but I know it was quickly followed by a shower and a short walk to the bedroom. Having learned from day one, I felt like day two would go a bit smoother…

…and it did! I wasn’t frantic in the morning, getting the coffee ground and brewing a little earlier. The bread was out early enough for the cookies and scones and cinnamon rolls to go in, but still be cool enough to serve when I opened.

Alfombra and decorations for Corpus Christi celebrations.

Thursday was less busy than Wednesday, but still fairly active. Some people came in, and sat with their pastries and coffee. Most bought and left. Everyone seemed happy and in a good mood. Outside, it was even more festive, as bombas and firecrackers were going off constantly. At one point, it was so loud and there was so much smoke from the firecrackers, that I had to temporarily close my doors and window.

A highlight of the day was a visit from Ann, a woman I know from my Chicago days, who was in town to support a local non-profit she’s been involved in. She spent a few hours at the shop, which was a lot of fun for me. It also allowed me to get things done (unlike the day before) but also have someone minding the store.

After a more efficient round of cleaning upon closing, I headed (through the rain) to the south end of town where Ann and I were meeting some mutual friends who live in Antigua for drinks. It was nice to sit back, have a glass of wine, and relax. I unfortunately couldn’t stay very long, as I had to head off to the farewell dinner for Lincoln and Sarah, accompanied by Rache and Kurt (who were kind enough to give me a ride).

Due to the heavy rain, we skipped the Caoba Farms Thursday night event, and went instead to Izakaya, a Japanese place that I’d walked by many times but never been to. And I learned quickly that I was missing out. The Spoors went there a lot, it seemed, and Kurt knew the menu well too. Miso fish, braised eggplant, and so many other delicious items. I’m not sure we left anything on the menu un-ordered. It was the biggest and most delicious meal I’d had in quite some time. We ordered a ton, we ate a ton, we drank a ton (the place is BYO and the Spoors were emptying their wine cellar – lucky us!).

Sashimi at Izakaya.

While I’ve only known Lincoln and Sarah a short period of time, we got to know each other well and I was honored to be included in their final night in Antigua. They’re heading back to the States and we’ll all miss them. By the end of the meal, I was getting sleepy (the wine didn’t help) and the Spoors needed to finish packing before their early morning flight. There were hugs all around and we promised to see each other whenever we could. I’ll certainly aim to meet up with them when I’m back in the US.

Friday morning’s bread.

Saturday’s bread rises in the bannetons before sleeping overnight.

I was getting into a rhythm with how to best set up my days. I started the bread dough early enough so that the hands-on time was usually done by 11 am or so. That left most of the open time at the bakery free to be with customers or otherwise get ahead on the next day(s). And Friday was very very slow. The rain certainly didn’t help, and I didn’t sell much. That was disappointing, but after two good days, I figured this might happen.

Leftover spare ribs from Izakaya made a handy and easy lunch.

Eating lunch had been a challenge (or, rather, non-existent) the first two days, but with leftovers from the night before, that made it easy. I plan for the next week to have more food prepared ahead of time so that I can just grab something out of the fridge when I have a spare moment.

Friday night, it was time for another Shabbat gathering, this time at Rache and Kurt’s. Jay and Jill picked me up for the ride in San Pedro El Alto, which was greatly appreciated. (I brought them some extra cookies as “hors d’oeuvres.”) The evening was lovely, filled with old and new Antigua friends. And the main courses were all from Pappy’s BBQ in Antigua. Their smoked brisket was AMAZING. Oh my. I wished I could have have more, but I’d been getting full on the challah I made and brought, as well as some of the other appetizers.

Pappy’s brisket

Pappy’s pork ribs (for Shabbat!)

Now, it was time for the weekend, and I wondered whether I’d regret skipping the Caoba market. Saturday started slowly, for sure, but business picked up nicely and was a vast improvement over the dreary Friday. It didn’t match any of the Caoba days in terms of sales, but was still pretty decent. And I was excited about Sunday, in which I wouldn’t have to make bread dough during the day! It would make for a more relaxing work day.

Biscuits for Mama Jojo’s Sunday special.

The new scone: Cranberry Oat.

Ann came back to the bakery on Sunday to hang out some more.

Sunday ended up being a great day, when all was said and done. In terms of the opening week, it trailed only opening day. And with the bakery closing for two days, I was eager to see as much product sold as possible. By the end of the day, almost everything was gone, and I was a happy camper.

Another plus was that my Sunday apprentice, Stefani, was going to start helping out regularly. We kicked things off with a bunch of cookie dough preparation, and worked out a schedule for the coming week. As well, I found a cleaning woman to help out every day after closing, so I felt like week two was going to be a much calmer one behind the scenes!

Overall, though, while I was so happy and excited for 3 pm Sunday to arrive, it was an amazing week. I got to talk to some amazing customers, including one (Enrique) who not only brought me a great opening-day gift, but visited three out of the first five days.  (On Sunday, he bought up all the scones in one fell swoop.) Locals, tourists, expats…it was a lot of fun. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to have a lazy Monday. But in the meantime, I basked in the glory that was my bakery and its first week of business. Onward and upward!

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14 thoughts on “I Can’t Believe I Have a Bakery

  1. Wow – you did have an exciting week – I am happy everything is going well and that you are loving life in Antigua – pictures are great – gives me a great sense of place!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David your bakery is a reality!!! I’m so glad your opening week was a success but I think I need a nap now – just reading about your hectic schedule made me tired…seriously, congratulations! I hope to make it down to visit you one of these days. Antigua looks heavenly.

    Liked by 1 person

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