Balls in the Air

December 8, 2013

By writing these little essays, I am trying to keep you informed of our progress in this process of opening Bread Furst.  But it’s a bit much to ask that you keep up as it’s hard for me, working on this all the time, every day, to juggle all the balls in the air.  So I am now going to give you a little summary.

We’re hoping to open by the end of January.  When I said that to Ashok Bajaj, this (more or less) was the way he looked at me:

AshokBajajThe incredulous Ashok Bajaj

Where We Are Right Now

We have started construction and that means we have stripped from the space all remnants of previous incarnations – real estate office, plumbing showroom, plumbing warehouse.

The walls are down to the original brick and the ceiling is now open to the roof.  We have stopped working on the walls until we are able to deal with the leaks coming from the car wash next door.  We know what we’re going to do next but we can’t do very much before the D. C. government issues a building permit.

This is what the bakery looks like:Construction


Getting a Building Permit

It’s always a balancing act.  Getting a building permit requires the review and approval of our plans by the various departments that do that.  Electrical, Fire, Mechanical and Plumbing have approved.  The Health Department asked some questions that we answered.  We’re waiting for review of our answers.

Our application to Zoning is awaiting attention.  Then finally we’ll ask for Structural approval.

We go from department to department guided by a permit expeditor we hired, someone whose job is to help us get a building permit.

Once we have it we can speed ahead, laying drainage pipes and electrical conduit and later our extensive plumbing.  After putting in these basic systems, increasing electricity from 200 kilowatts to 800, cutting the roof so that we can install hoods for the oven and the kitchens, adding two air conditioning units to the roof with all their duct work into the building – after all of the heavy work  — we’ll add walls.


At the End of Construction

Bread Oven

In the first week of January, the bread oven that’s been built near Florence will arrive from Italy.   We have to be ready.

We’ll pour concrete for the oven’s foundation.  Then the bread mixer comes from France.  I haven’t bought the pastry oven; I am going to look on Tuesday at a used one now residing in Manassas.


The Menu and Store Systems

We have to make menu decisions and test recipes.  Our apprentice, Maiy, is going to coordinate that.  As I write this, a test “levain,” a sourdough country bread is rising in my kitchen.  It’s going to be one of our daily breads.

I am working on a line of ancient grain and whole grain breads.  Jack, Raul, and Chris, our pastry staff, is working on the desserts.  I am thinking about the soup menu, the sandwiches and portable breakfasts.  We are trying to make decisions about the coffee and espresso we’ll serve and what vendors to use for fruits and vegetables, not to mention flours and nuts and all the rest.

We’re staffing now too.  Apart from the five apprentices who are doing a lot of work, we had a first staff meeting and now have enough people to fill our opening positions in bread and pastry.  But we don’t have salespeople and cleaners, prep people, and most important we don’t yet have a general manager.

We are forging ahead on systems anyway – accounting, data processing, money handling, payroll, cash register and the other unseen insides of a small business.

And all the while I think about money on hand and committed.  Do we have enough?  Should I try to raise more?  How?

Should I set up a pre-purchase system so that neighbors can lend money on highly favorable terms?

Should I sell stock to someone who will add to our cash reserves?

Are there other friends from whom I can borrow?

How quickly will the bank set up our loan?

What am going to do about the huge amount I will have to spend on display cases, custom-made tables, and all of the smallwares?

I have a meeting about that on Monday.

Where I Am

And I think about how to divide my time.  I have been asked to go to the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley for the conference it holds every January with the Harvard School of Public Health.  I’ve always gone to cook and bake and teach at that meeting.

Can I go this year?  It’s at the end of January.  They want me to stay an extra day to teach school food managers how to make a healthful pizza that tastes good.

Shouldn’t I be back here for Joan Nathan’s reception to which a thousand people will come on behalf of the D.C. Central Kitchen.  It’s great exposure, she points out.

Here is what I often think at times like this:

I remember how it felt at Marvelous Market in 1990, at the age of 52, to bake olive bread at 3 am.

When I baked through the night I would think from time to time about Jack Welsh, the celebrated president of General Electric with its 300,000 employees.  Did he have to make decisions as I do, that is without immense staff-work done by hundreds of experts relying on dozens of consultant studies?  Did he work harder than I do.

Did he even have to change a light bulb?

I didn’t envy him in 1990 and don’t now.   A lot of people have come forward to help open Bread Furst.  The apprentices are doing great work.

I am not going to retire from Bread Furst as Mr. Welsh left GE.  When age forces me to leave I won’t get an apartment in Manhattan and private planes at my disposal; I won’t get a severance payment of $417 million and have a net worth of $702 million. Still I will have done something nice for the neighborhood and city.

Why am I even having such thoughts?  First we have to open.

  1. Annie Binder says:

    Just so you know, some of us who work in Van Ness are counting the hours until you open. The neighborhood/area is completely devoid of good food, not to mention a proper bakery. I look forward to becoming a regular customer ASAP. I’m grateful for your hard work.

  2. brandywine neighbor says:

    I am getting so excited! I live on Brandywine and run past the site every other morning. I can’t wait to stop at the end of my run to get fresh bread or rolls for breakfast!

  3. That levain smells good – I wish I could apprentice with you.

    And Ashok has given me that look, too! Don’t take it personally. 😉

  4. Mary Ann says:

    If I were in traveling distance,(and had two functioning hands”) I would love to help you making bread. Maybe there is something to the idea of genetic memory. My grandfather would be pleased! Mary Ann

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