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,

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“The World Has Enough of Us”- Why Not Everything You Love Needs To Be Monetized

I started making mead 9 years ago with a single jug, a beer fridge, and a jar of honey. It looked like a simple, fun, low-effort way to do science and get “free” booze out of it. It was a single gallon batch that I got ratio for from The Art of Fermentation. After about two weeks, I took a sip of my first mead- wildflower honey infused with some cinnamon sticks and a single split vanilla bean. It was cloyingly sweet but obviously had fermented slightly, so it was a win in my book.

The success of making a fizzy, slightly-alcoholic-but-drinkable beverage led to a years-long hobby. I’ve shared with friends, experimented, collected more books and (slightly) better equipment, and even won an award at the Oregon State Fair.

(To be clear, that award was a silver medal in a single subcategory. I came in second out of two entries in the “experimental” mead subgroup.)

A few weeks ago, I bottled my latest mead.

It was a version of one of my first metheglins (a.k.a. Mead with spices), but this time I wanted to Do It Properly. It wasn’t a “shake and pray” wild ferment. I’d made a 4 gallon batch using locally sourced honeys. I wrote down my sources, my water temperatures, the sources and amounts of the spices I used, and I used campden tablets and real cultured mead yeast to Make It Right. I didn’t know what “gravity” was for that first jug way back when. For this one, I factored time and temperature into recording the changes in gravity over five months.

The result was a spicy, warming mead that drank like a dry white wine. By any measure, it is my best mead yet- and I will never sell it to anyone. That’s because unlike baking and now writing, home brewing is something I want to keep mine.

“The Besamim Box”- A 12.7% ABV spice mead that drinks like a dry white wine. Made by me over five months, and absolutely NOT for sale.

The drive to Capitalize and Monetize everything we enjoy or may do well is thee double-edged sword of Damocles hanging over everyone’s head today. As soon as we realize we enjoy or have a knack for something, one of the first questions we are asked (or ask ourselves) is “how can I make money off of this?”

Why? Why is simply enjoying ourselves from the start not reason enough?

I remember the first time I realized I enjoyed making origami paper figures and that they made others happy. Within a day, I had set up a little table and chair on my nearly-empty sidewalk with a stack of square paper, trying to sell origami figures.

It wasn’t enough to just make me happy. Something told me I had to make it worthwhile- and that meant it had to make money. I dare anyone to tell me that my goofy 10 year old ass could have made a career out of selling origami figures on the sidewalk in Margate. At least the hobos selling wire-wrapped stones and pendants in Portland buy their own materials.

Baking and writing also make me happy, but I long ago decided I was willing to try making careers out of them. It’s either the best or worst thing you can do with a hobby you love. Often it’s both. I still love baking and creating in the kitchen, but when shit hits the fan and I need to stare down the barrel of a 60 hour week because all these pies need to be made, baking stops being a fun activity really damned quick.

It’s the same thing with writing. As much as I love writing, telling stories, and introducing people to worlds and ideas they may never have considered otherwise, when I’m not feeling it it is 1000% work.

For sources, look at roughly a third of this blog.

Meadmaking, though, is one hobby I insist on keeping a hobby. I may barter a bottle or two, but I will never sell it. I will never start a meadery (except as a joke. I’m on Untappd as “Le Chapeau Noir Meadery”) or go into the brewing business. No matter how good I might be or awards I might get.

Why? Because it’s mine.

We all need things at only have meaning to us that no one else cares about. The little things, activities, and moments that make us happy. We are absolutely inextricably connected and intertwined with each other, but we also need opportunities to explore and be ourselves. To understand ourselves a s a community of one.

For me, that means connecting with local beekeepers and honey vendors, finding new varieties, and bringing them mead made from their honey. It means giving bottles to friends as a gift, or just chilling down a bottle for my wife and I to enjoy on a summer night.

Mead is a thing I make that’s just for me to enjoy with those I love. No one and nothing else need interfere. There is no sin or failing in this- no “loss of potential” or waste simply because I’m not attaching a price tag to the result. The world has enough of us for so much of our waking lives- we can have some of ourselves TO ourselves.

What’s something you do that you refuse to monetize or share beyond yourself and choice others? Tell us about it in the comments!

Stay Classy,

The BHB's Top Hat Logo Signature

“I Do Not Dream of Labor”- The Difference Between Labor and Industry, and What It (Should) Mean to Work

I spend way too much time on social media. If it wasn’t the best engine for reaching out to my readers and sharing what I do with a global audience, I would have wiped my accounts ages ago for the sheer amount of half-assed “hot takes” people are encouraged to belch out about everything from Sudanese economics to Dr. Seuss. It really is the dark side of the democratization of knowledge that anyone with a keyboard thinks “I have an opinion and a way to express it, therefore it is just as valid and important as any expert.”

Yes, so says the pastry chef and food writer with a blog who is about to expound on the psychology and philosophy of labor, but stick with me for a minute.

As a guy who works for a living, is trying to create a work environment that his employees can thrive in, and is having difficulty finding qualified help, I think I have some insight into the whole “no one wants to work anymore,” “quiet-quitting/working to contract” kerfuffle fiasco mass whining discussionthat has been making the rounds lately.

This quote is actually tacked up over my desk at the bakery- just in case I ever forget why I do what I do.
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The Difficulty of Doing Nothing

When faced with the struggle of others, doing nothing can be the best- and hardest- thing to do.

The willingness and desire to help others is one of the most beautiful things I see in people. It doesn’t get a lot of (the right kind of) press, but our capacity for empathy truly is one of our strengths as a species. When it comes to helping others though, it’s hard to keep your desire to help from overriding whether or not you are helping.

I got a very object lesson in that in the last few weeks, and a dear friend of mine has reinforced it.

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Don’t Save Rest For a Rainy Day

“I’m not a mapmaker. I’m a traveller, making this trip just like and alongside you.”

– Brene Brown

The last few weeks have been more than a little frustrating and chaotic at the pie shop, and I’m having a little trouble “getting comfortable being uncomfortable.” Over the past two weeks and the one coming, just because of timing, I will simultaneously be:
1. Preparing the kitchen for me to not be there for a week while Emily and I finally enjoy a honeymoon in Ireland.
2. Filling wholesale orders- including brand new contracts- for the coming weeks,
3. Making sure catering orders are in a state that my team can manage them in my absence,
4. Retooling our entire production system to be geared toward retail and catering and away from large wholesale contracts as we look toward warmer weather and possibly returning to farmers markets.

It’s all more than a little overwhelming, and as someone who starts to get static in front of their eyes when they stare too long at a crowded spreadsheet, one of my more toxic coping mechanisms starts creeping out: “DO ALL THE THINGS.” As late as last week, my boss essentially had to collar me and drag me out of the kitchen saying “No, Matt- you CAN’T do all the things. We are going to sit down and plan and work this all out.”

All the same, old thought patterns are hard to break. Intellectually, I know that I am just one person. I am not a machine, I am a squishy human that has limitations and gets tired. Regardless, my thought patterns start to run in circles like this:

“Ok, I can do this. I always figure it out. I always get the job done. I’m the only one who can do it. I need to do it. If I don’t, everything is ruined. If I don’t, people will think I’m unreliable and a flake. I won’t belong in the kitchen anymore. I’ll be worthless. I need to be the strong one. I need to get the job done. I need to show I can handle it. I need to show I can hack it- that I still belong here.”

I am so tired, but I can’t rest yet. I need to get this all done. I’ll rest when I’m done. ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ Hahahahaha…”

Did any of that sound relatable? If so, I am so sorry… and we both need to admit when we need breaks and that not everything is going to, or NEEDS to, get done.

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