September 22, 2013
We held our opening meeting, the beginning of Bread Furst. Everyone called it “our kickoff.“ I didn’t because I dislike sports metaphors.
We spent nearly two hours in the building, 4434 Connecticut Avenue, that in about six months will be our store, walking around and exploring, talking, raising questions, and making tentative decisions.
Jack Revelle who is going to be our pastry chef was there and so was Brad Ireland who is helping us with graphics. Gary Sullivan and Jim Wyble, engineers, came and Chris Huebner, our food-service designer, and Mike Mason the project manager for Hapstak-Demetriou, our architects. Peter Hapstak himself was there as were three others from that firm each of whom will become well known by you as time passes.
It made me a bit nervous, I confess, because we were already relying on the good will of Joseph Whelan, who owns of the building, to tolerate our trespass, our invasion of what wouldn’t belong to us until the lease begins this week.
I was even more nervous when I saw that someone had punched neat round holes all along the north wall inside the building and littered the previously clean floor with ceiling tiles.
But from these desecrations we learned a lot about the building and got some surprises too. Although we don’t yet know the condition of the tin ceiling (it is the original Piggly Wiggly ceiling), the architects uncovered a skylight in it and they found that we can gain an additional six inches of space along the wall of the building in which they poked those holes. They didn’t reveal how much of the original flooring remains but we did confirm that there is terrazzo on at least some of the floor.
This is the beginning of a process in which the biggest learner is going to be me.
You might think that after all the stores I have opened, I would have little left to learn about opening a bakery, but that’s not true.
When in 1990 I started the first Marvelous Market store I was so consumed just with learning how to bake and develop a menu, find a staff that could learn to bake, and raise the money necessary to do it all, that I left the construction of the store to the professionals.
They did a pretty good job too.
When I opened the second store of Marvelous Market at Dupont Circle I was already working on the central bakery in Silver Spring that turned out to be a project that exceeded my management skills. Then I went on to open all those other Marvelous Market stores, devoting all my attention just to survival. (I failed to accomplish that.)
And when, after losing Marvelous Market to the bank and the company’s creditors, I was able to open The BreadLine, the beneficent Oliver Carr company that made it possible for me to do so prudently managed the construction of the restaurant.
Bread Furst is my last project and I want to do it well, so I am in the odd position of opening my ninth place while at the same time learning how to do it properly.
We have to decide whether to keep one of the old air conditioning units on the roof of 4434 until it dies or replace it now. I have to sign off on electrical and gas upgrades, choose whether to heat water with a big tank or instantaneous units, calculate how to deal with the special cooling needs of a pastry kitchen that must be satisfied at the same time the bread oven is putting out all that heat and humidity from 120 loaves of 400 degree bread.
We talked and speculated. We borrowed a ladder from a maintenance worker in the apartment building next door so that we could go up on the roof to look at the air conditioning units. We agreed on next steps and then ended the meeting. But just before we left, I said this to everyone:
It always annoys me when stores change hands and the new occupants renovating those stores, put on the front windows signs that say, “Belgian Chocolates Opening Here.” Then nothing happens for a long, long time.
Sometimes the signs predict the opening date, “Opening Fall 2013,” and then fall comes and goes, and there’s still nothing to look at except brown paper covering the windows.
Why don’t they give more information, I always wonder, tell us about their progress, reveal the obstacles, revise the opening date as it slips by.
So I asked everyone to think about how we might do that.
We can be pretty sure that the same neighbors will pass our location, walking to the Metro or getting their cars washed. How can we be more generous with our information than others are with theirs.Perhaps, I suggested, we can put a drawing of a big beaker in the window and show it filling gradually as we meet milestones like filing our plans with the DC government, doing our interior demolition, and finishing our electrical upgrades.
Someone suggested that instead of a beaker we show the drawing of a baguette rising from the ground.
Opening Bread Furst will take six months and I don’t want to leave passers-by in silence all that time.
Perhaps someone reading this has a good idea.