When I began this blog, I intended for it to be a place where I could write a bit about my experiences running a bakery in South Bend, Indiana (yes, within viewing distance of touchdown Jesus, if not the actual Dome), because, frankly, I think it could become a fabulous memoir. But I’ve sort of procrastinated on this part of the plan because I haven’t known when or how to start. Today, that ends.
To understand these posts, it helps to know a couple of broad strokes about the whole experience, namely that:
a) it was really wonderful
b) when it wasn’t really awful.
The sheer number of things that went wrong are almost too great to count, many of them so fantastical that what I write will seem like fiction. It’s not.
But I’m not starting with what went wrong or why or how, fascinating though that may be. I’m starting with a deep mystery, namely why some things just work.
Some time after the Bakery was open, and I don’t remember exactly when, I was traveling to Minneapolis/St. Paul, for reasons wholly unrelated to work. My bakery was part of a chain of bakeries, and several other bakeries in the chain were in the Twin Cities area, so of course, I had to check the others out. I was propelled not just by curiosity, but also by the fact that these were some of the highest grossing stores in the franchise, and clearly they had to be doing something terribly right.
St. Paul is covered in snow for easily 5 months out of the year, and when I was there it was about 10 degrees out, snow and slush piled up along the roads and sidewalks. There was almost no parking near the store and I had to circle around a bit on some pretty high traffic roads to find anything nearby. When I got to the store, feet wet, fingertips cold, and tense from the trip, I found a crazy line, and saw that not even half the bread had hit the shelves. The bakers were working in their lovely choreographed way in the back, rapidly loading dough into and out of the ovens, but their job was maybe only half done, and most of what was for sale was still too hot to slice.
I stood back a bit just to watch, because it was so amazing. There was zero parking, half the items they advertised as available hadn’t even been made yet, nothing in the store could be cut up for sandwich bread, and yet people were streaming in buying whatever was available, not complaining about a thing. I couldn’t even imagine where all the customers were coming from, but there was a steady line 6 people deep the whole time I was there.
When I chose the location for my store, it was a complex process. We analyzed traffic patterns, made sure to choose a place with ample parking, located the bakery near the University and the most popular grocery store. The weather was generally much more mild than anything seen in St. Paul, I always had a full compliment of breads ready to go by 7am, and offered basically exactly the same items that were for sale in St. Paul at slightly better prices. By rights, I ought to have had more customers, and yet I saw a fraction of the traffic that St. Paul had every day.
I wish I could say that as I stood there in the doorway, slowly thawing from the ridiculous cold, I understood the greater truth of the situation, but I’m afraid that I didn’t. I was mentally calculating what else I could do with new products or promotions to get a greater volume of traffic into my own store. What I missed was this: sometimes, for no good or discernible reason, things just work.
Later I learned that the opposite was just as true.