A Simple Dream is Still A Dream

Fall is without a doubt my favorite season. Flip flops and shorts give way to jeans and boots, t-shirts becomes hoodie and scarves, and the world makes it clear that it’s getting close to time to wind down.

For everyone who’s not running a pie shop, that is.

As soon as summer ends, it’s the signal for my pie shop to shift into high gear. We’ve pulled out of farmer’s markets for the remainder of the year to focus everything on production. A frustrating and confusing decision for sure- fall is prime farmer’s market business- but in the context of a tight team, it makes more sense. The time between Halloween and New Years Eve is our Super Bowl. I have been trying to train my team and stock us up on supplies for the entire year, because we are about to make fully 30% of our income for the year in 8 weeks.

It’s “go time.” We’ll be ready, though. It’s what I’ve trained for, in the career I was born for. As pie after pie flies out the door into waiting hands, though, it’s easy to forget why I love being a baker. I’m no longer the adrenaline junkie I was when I started in this field, despite what my caffeine addiction might say about it.

Pie after pie after pie into one set of hands after another, it’s easy to forget that these customers are people- that our pie is going to be enjoyed by their families, and that it will make their various holiday dinners that much more enjoyable.

It’s important to do business well, but you can never forget why you chose to go into business or join an industy like this. For me, no matter how many pies I sell or books I write, I have one small and simple dream.

I want to be Matt the Baker.

Farmers markets took a lot of my time this summer, and the sales weren’t always the best- but they felt closer to my dream than anything I’ve done.

“Do what you love” is the best and worst advice you can ever give someone. Given a choice, few people would ever willingly spend eight hours a day doing something they despise, but figuring out how- or more often, what it is that you “love”- is a tall order. Even when you do, you have to figure out exactly how you’ll love to do it and what to do if that changes.

There’s lots of ways to be a “baker” or “pastry chef,” and the job itself can vary wildly. More time in the kitchen or less? Small operation, or a cog in a corporate machine? Fine dining or simple cafe? Year-round or seasonal? It takes a while to figure out what you like to do, and you can waste a lot of time chasing what you think you’re “supposed” to want or like doing.

So who would I be as “Matt the Baker,” and what would I do?

I would be Matt the Baker, and Matt the Baker would be me. I’d be a part of my community- The Baker. I’d make pies, cookies and pastries all day, everyday. I’d sell them and know each and everyone of my customers by name and face. I want to remember their birthdays and anniversaries, and make sure I have their favorite flavors on hand.

I want to have regulars. I want people who make my pie part of their routine, and I want to see their kids grow up eating my pie. I want to hire the ones that are curious, teach them to bake, and send them off to culinary school to learn to do more and better.

I have no interest in wholesale or catering. I want to pick and change my menu based on what is available near me and what my customers love. I don’t want any middleman between me that the people who eat my work. I know that will make my work more seasonal and give me less wiggle room- wholesale and events do offer a certain amount of financial security for all the effort that goes into making a retailer or organization happy- but it will never be worth the frustration and irritation to me.

My business will start. It will grow as far as I care for it to, and when- if- I’m ready to move on and not be Matt the Baker anymore, I will sell or leave it others and move on knowing I spent my life and time building something simple and beautiful, and needed for its time.

Plenty of people in this world will make a lot more money and be more “successful” without being able to say that.

I want to leave behind happy people, a lot of stories, and plenty of good memories. It may not happen as “Chef Matt”- but it will happen the closer I get and stay to just being “Matt the Baker.”

Stay Classy,

The BHB's Top Hat Logo Signature

Where Does the Wanderlust Come From?

Portland is enjoying a smoky Indian Summer, and it’s a situation in which I truly wouldn’t mind being caught in the rain on my way home.

I’ve ducked out of the heat in the Side Street Bar- not-quite-dive off of Belmont. I’d intended to drop copies of my books off with a local secondhand bookstore. Apparently my knack for salesmanship doesn’t extended farther than pastry, so I figured by handing a few autographed copies over bookstores I could at least get a little marketing done for the cost of the books. This is Portland, after all- we love “local” everything, including authors.

Hiding from the sun isn’t my thing, even on a sweaty Sunday. As busy as the bake shop has been, I find myself “working for the weekend” and trying to get as much low-pressure living into 48 hours as possible. Sometimes that means going afield and exploring a new part of the city- sometimes it means going down the street to a pub where no one knows me, having a couple beers, and putting down a couple words.

Sometimes peace of mind looks like mountain-top retreats and hammocks on beaches, and sometimes it a couple cold pints in a bar playing classic blues on a hot day. It’s a matter of personality and perspective really.

I used to say that I got truly restless when I lost weight and suddenly had a lot more energy. I couldn’t just crash out on the couch all day- I HAD to go out. I had to see, to do, to walk, move and find. I also used to blame it on being a fan of Anthony Bourdain, but the time line doesn’t quite jive. Tony made me want to try, talk, travel, and tell stories- but I can’t blame him for my inability to just sit at home on a dull day anymore.

Where does the urge to go out and wander around come from? From the need to feel free, and the knowledge you can.

“Master, I go hunting.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea
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Ex-Pats, Food Trucks, and The Portland Culinary Zeitgeist

If you had asked a lot of Portland small businesspeople back in 2019 about the future of Portland’s lauded, Wild-West food scene, they would have told you that food carts and food pods were on their way out.

“How could they justify such a stance?” I wondered. Portlands’ Weird ™️, eclectic, and pioneering attitude toward food business put it on the national map. The entrepreneurial, low barrier-to-entry, “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” attitude embodied by the food truck and food pod (outdoor food courts comprised of several carts on the same property) has led to an absolute blossoming of fine food in the city for all cultures and classes.

Alas, they say, the laws and fees required by the city to maintain such a business (some seemingly to protect brick-and-mortar businesses, others just nickel and dimeing,) as well as rising property values encouraging landowners to kick out food pods in favor of development had made running a food cart involve a bit more investment, anxiety, and heartache than a lot of prospective entrepreneurs were prepared for. The rise of delivery services- accommodating of which is sometimes overwhelming for the small team of a common food truck- have also deprived newer food carts of the all-important foot traffic exposure they get from people coming into a pod to visit more-established neighbors.

Then COVID-19 came to town, and food carts were the best and safest way to do business.

A working lunch at Lady Latke, a food truck the the Eastport pod built around potato pancakes.
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What Does Winning Look Like?

Back when I was a Scout, I learned one of life’s most important lessons by way of a story from dated, semi-racist book that exuded the “Noble Savage” trope. The book was “Gospel of the Redman” by Ernest Thompson Seton (who was himself a former Chief Scout of the BSA,) and the story taught me that we all define happiness and success for ourselves. It was about a man selling onions.

A wicker basket on a wooden table full of produce, with red onions in front and carrots in the back.
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Bailing Out- Reasons for High Kitchen Turnover that AREN’T a Bigger Paycheck

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I have long since accepted that the only folks who can really appreciate the difference between kitchen work and other careers (or even other service industry careers) is people who have worked them.

There are a number of factors at work in a professional kitchen setting that “traditional” career advice simply does not apply easily to.

Advice like:

  • “If this job isn’t working out, why don’t you just quit?”
  • Why can’t you move to another part of the kitchen?”
  • “[Staffing problem] isn’t your concern- don’t worry about it.”

In addition, the rate of turnover in service industry jobs is historically higher. Whereas an ordinary white-collar position can expect a shelf-life of about two years on a given employee, kitchens regularly see a given position get filled again after anywhere between 6 and 18 months.

Depending on your goals in the industry, a series of short stints can either be seen as expected or career suicide- no one wants to hire someone with an admitted track-record of being a short-timer. In the kitchen, a series of two-year stints is nearly “Unicorn” level of rare and desirable.

This being said, if someone quits a position in the kitchen, they aren’t doing it randomly. ESPECIALLY if only after a few months.

Animated reaction Gif of an octopus scuttling across the sea floor going "nope nope nope"
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