How did you start your retail business?
I was in the shared commercial space for about a year. Then my good friend Chris Beerman started using the kitchen for Bento 415, his lunch takeout business. He was just planning on doing delivery, but the kitchen had this random storage area with frontage, and we thought, let's see if the landlord will rent us this space to sell Chris's lunch boxes and my baked goods. We ran that from November 2009 to May 2010. It was awesome ― both of our businesses blew up.
Then after six months, the landlord [Ed. note: they were
subleasing from the commercial kitchen owner] got the boot. We had 20
days to find a new location. Chris and I have been friends for 10 years,
and we said, let's make this a real partnership. We found a spot for
both the bakery and the restaurant on Folsom, and I bought the equipment
off the landlord. The bakery opened right after we got the boot ― I
didn't want to lose all my accounts to Acme ― and we opened Citizen's
Band a few months later.
Since we have 24-hour access to the
kitchen now ― before, it was 10 hours ― it opened up the possibility of
doing custom cakes. I have way more employees and space. We're doing
more breakfast pastries, trying different things.
Let me run a thought by you. Do you think this new wave of pastry
shops opening up is because fewer restaurants are hiring full-time
I do think opportunities for pastry chefs are drying up. When restaurants need to trim the fat, the first to go is the pastry chef. Pastries don't make money ― they're there for convenience and delight. If you break it down in terms of food costs, desserts lose money, so the restaurant depends on the volume of guests and wine sales to make a profit.
That wasn't the reason I went on my own, however. I felt like I had learned the most that I cared to learn working under other people. When you feel capped out like that, it's time to work for yourself. Restaurant culture treats the pastry department badly. All that macho stuff. The line cooks will always steal your mise en place, steal your pans, eat your cookies ― and we get paid least of everyone.
I know my stuff's good, and so I figured I'm going to sell it to the public, gosh darnit. So for me, I guess going on my own was partially because I have a problem with authority (laughs), and partly because I wanted to make my own stuff.