The good thing that Gary and his partner, Rich Josephson, have created is a fine natural foods bakery, Staff of Life, inSanta Cruz,California.
“It’s like we created something good, and it’s such a good thing we can’t let it go”, says Gary Bascou.
“To be able to do a business trip and something of social value at the same time is rewarding,” Rich states. “The bakery was an ongoing business when we bought it, although it had already changed hands three times because of disorganization. We paid $1,500 for the entire operation which included a retail store, storage space, and a bakery that covered only 750 square feet altogether.”
This Is How You Start a Bakery:
Neither Rich nor Gary, who both have degrees in anthropology, had any previous experience in the baking field. Armed with their strong belief that people should eat only nutritious fare instead of chemical-laden non-foods such as white bread, they began their business.
“We tasted foods that were supposed to be healthful, but they were dry and bland,”Gary explains. “So we slanted our whole business toward making an honest product that not only was totally nourishing but tasted good too,”
Staff of Life now produces over sixteen different kinds of bread. Some of the most intriguing are sourdough buckwheat rye, mixed sprouted bean, sesame whole wheat challah (egg bread), and vegetable herb. The basic flour for all the blends Is freshly stone ground from organic whole wheat and no sugar, no white flour, no hydrogenated fats, no preservatives, and no artificial food coloring is used.
Gary and Rich’s apple bread, for instance, contains the following ingredients: freshly stone ground, organic whole wheat flour; organic apple juice, pulp, and pieces; filtered water; pure honey; expeller pressed crude safflower oil; organic date pieces; sunflower seeds; yeast; naturally dried sea salt; and cinnamon. With all these, it’s not surprising that a loaf of apple bread weighs one and a half pounds!
In the beginning, none of the people at Staff of Life had any knowledge of large-quantity baking techniques. “A number of the pastry girls were excellent home cooks. – – and they picked up the mass skills as they went along,” Rich explains. “Mostly they just scaled up small tasty recipes to larger proportions. First they fried the ingredients at ten times the original recipe, then twenty times, and so on. The final product was tested at each level to see if it tasted right. With bread, for instance, the thing that’s most important is that the texture be the same whether you’re making one loaf or a hundred.”
The pastries which developed from this technique were many: carob brownies, dream bars, mock pecan pie, maple butter cookies, eggless sunflower cookies, seven kinds of macaroons, and a variety of fruit cobblers.
The bakery’s popular orange walnut cookies wholesale for 12 cents each and have the foil owing ingredients: organic whole wheat flour, honey, malt syrup, date syrup, fertile eggs, organic oranges, walnuts, pure vanilla extract, Royal Baking Powder, and naturally dried sea salt.
“It’s impossible,” Rich explains, “to buy all organic ingredients. When we started out, for instance, natural oil was unobtainable. Now, finally, we’re able to get natural safflower oil. We filter all our water to take out the impurities. In place of sugar we use date syrup and raisin syrup (which we get from Henrietta Ranch in Fresno, California), Red Star Maple Syrup, unsulfured Grandma’s Molasses, and honey from a private supplier. The molasses is the most nutritional of all the sugar substitutes.”
“When we can’t find what we need in an organic form we at least use unrefined ingredients,”Gary explains. “On the other hand, sometimes an organic ingredient is available but at a prohibitive price, which means we have to go with something of lesser quality so as not to pass the high cost on to the consumer.”
Rich and Gary try to aim their products toward the new-type, funky, natural food stores. But how do they get into these stores to begin with, and how do they sell $5,000 worth of Staff of Life products each week? The two partners simply visit the stores themselves with a sample box containing three kinds of bread, some granola, and some pastry. “Every thing we make is tasty,” says Rich. “We take a loaf of bread, the store owner opens it, samples it . . . and the product sells itself.”
Gary points out that bread is most easily used for comparison. That is, there is a tremendous difference between a good loaf and a bad one. “We get a lot of older folks who come in to buy our bakery products and say, ‘I haven’t had bread like this since I came from Europe.’”
Fifteen percent of Staff of Life’s business is done in retail sales right from the bakery, and 85% of the operation’s turnover is wholesale. Other than being listed in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book, Gary and Rich have never used any advertising. However, Staff of Life products do make it up and down the highways from Mann County to Carmel, California. San Francisco is the biggest sales area of all, with Berkeley and Carmel running second and third.
Rich tells of a friend who recently “developed two excellent routes for the bakery. He gets twenty percent off and does his own trucking. The guy now services about thirty stores along with some colleges and universities that’d begun carrying our products in cafeterias and snack bars.”
Each delivery route is serviced once a week. Bread will keep a minimum of seven days on the shelf, and some types will last up to two weeks. “But we cannot live by bread alone,” Rich points out. “If that was all we tried to sell, we’d go out of business in a hurry. Bread is a foot in the door to get you inside, but you can’t survive on it. Pastry makes more of a profit because the unit you sell it in is so much smaller in proportion to what you sell it for. It’s more of a luxury item,” explains Rich. “Prices for pastry and breads vary according to the ingredients. Most pastries wholesale for from I 2 to 17 cents each while our breads usually wholesale for from SO to 65 cents.”
“In the baking trade you should get three times the cost of the products in your wholesale price.” That, explains Gary, is the baker’s rule of thumb. One-third of the cost should be for ingredients, one-third for payroll, and one-third for distribution and profit or loss (because of spoilage of products).
Gary and Rich like to sell to the consumer in bulk since individual packaging is often just as expensive (or more so) than the ingredients for their products. The two bakers distribute their pastries in cake boxes but, of course, do individually label and cellophane wrap their bread. The Food and Drug Administration closely inspects those labels to make sure they’re accurate and meet FDA requirements.
Regular inspections come also from the County Health Department, although Josephson is quick to point out that the officials involved have never hassled the bakery. “Health inspectors haven’t come down on us for who we are,” states Rich. “And they’ve never asked us to do anything that was unreasonable. They give us enough time to take care of things.”
Before opening the doors, a bakery must first pass sanitary requirements. Then a business license may be issued. The cost of this varies according to area. Staff of Life paid $30.00 for theirs.
Another necessary business-type need that had to be filled was insurance, product liability, accident, workmen’s compensation, and fire and auto coverage.
Gary takes care of the bookkeeping, but he and Rich use a Certified Public Accountant for the taxes and accounting. “I would advise a CPA for any new business,” Rich says. “It’s worth it. In the beginning we were selling cookies for 13 cents apiece, and they were costing us more than that to make. We were into creative baking and weren’t doing much with the business aspect of it. Our CPA made us realize that we had a problem. He took a look at the books and told me, ‘Hey man, your ratios are off. You’ll be in the red in about two months.’ We were. We realized then that we had to analyze our costs and adjust our prices.”
None of the employees are union workers, and the bakery uses alternative trucking as opposed to union carriers. Rich defines that aspect of the operation as, “Hip people who have trucks and use them to supply natural food stores with merchandise.”
After two and a half years of owning Staff of Life, Rich and Gary are able to meet all their bills and pay themselves each a salary of $75.00 a week. “We’re not into making a lot of money,” says Gary, “but we do want to make a living.” They pay their twenty-four employees anywhere from S1.85 to S3.00 an hour. The top wage goes to an engineer who keeps everything running: electricity, gas, refrigeration. “If he doesn’t know how to fix it, he reads a book and learns how,” Rich says.
“Four or five people walk into the bakery every day and ask for work,” according to Gary, “and we hire only those who have good energy and good vibrations. If you employ a dud, it drags you down. When hiring, we’ll talk to a person for half an hour and try to pick up vibrations. We want someone who has a feeling of what we’re frying to do. He must want more than just a job.”
Every few months the folks at Staff of Life have a general meeting. . . basically a potluck dinner with wine and a rap session. “The people can get out any bad feelings, criticisms, or comments they need to make. We get everything out in the open and cleared up that way,” says Rich.
Rich and Gary are both so enthusiastic about their successful effort to create ‘lust good food” that they intend to stay with it awhile. “We’re so totally involved in the undertaking that it’s impossible to put a time limit on our activities. I might want to do this for the next twenty years,” says Rich. Consumers who have tasted Staff of Life products think that’s a good idea!:
A RECIPE: 🙂
For your very own down-home cooking enjoyment you can try this “just good food” Staff of Life recipe.
EGGLESS SUNFLOWER SEED COOKIES
1/2 cup safflower oil
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup whole wheat flour
Mix first five ingredients well. Add 1 cup whole wheat flour and mix until just blended. Dip out by teaspoon onto waxed baking sheet and flatten into rounds. Wet hands with water as necessary. Bake at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown.