What I Learned Working in an Artisan Bakery

How working in foodservice changed my perspective, inspired creativity, and instilled gratitude.

Photo was taken from Liv Breads Instagram account

When I came back from being abroad my junior year in college, it was the end of November. I knew I would not be returning to school until late January and the prospect of sitting at home waiting to move back into my dorm drove me crazy. I had just traveled the world and craved more experiences and learning.

I knew about a new bakery that had just opened in my hometown over the summer called Liv Breads. When it first opened I went in to enjoy a coffee and a plethora of samples they offered, tasting their delicious sourdough breads and chocolate babka. I had always thought that it would be an amazing place to work and that thought never left my mind. The bakery was beautiful, with an open floor plan that allowed customers to see the bakers toss giant loaves into the oven, and the owners were always warm and friendly, not being shy to get behind the register and help customers out themselves.

Having remembered the bakery, I decided to go in one day with my resume and simply ask the owners if they needed any help during the busy holiday season. I was extremely nervous walking into Liv but knew that the worst thing that could happen would be that they said they were not hiring. My impromptu “interview” with the owners was quick, as they asked me about my customer service experience- which consisted of a summer working at a pizzeria on an island and my work at the college library front desk- and my culinary skills- which amounted to countless cooking classes and experimentation in my own kitchen. We exchanged numbers and, low and behold, I was offered a job working at the bakery!

When I arrived on my first day, I was handed an apron and placed at a work station in the kitchen. Thinking they would have me work the cash register, I thought to myself:

“Am I actually working in the kitchen here? Am I even qualified to do this?”

After a quick panic, I was shown probably close to 100 cauliflowers and was instructed on how to cut them. I spent close to all morning cutting the cauliflowers while I sipped on a coffee that one of the friendly baristas made for me. (Thanks Dylan!)

While working in the kitchen, I learned invaluable culinary skills, like how to make food in large batches- egg salad, tuna salad, quiches, roasted vegetables, and various dressings- the proper technique of how to cut all different types of vegetables, and how to taste and adjust recipes. I learned how the produce ordering was managed and how the ingredients were purchased. But, I also learned about true grit and hard work. Almost every day for the month and a half of my winter break, I came to the bakery at 6 am to prepare for opening and sometimes stayed until closing, helping to tidy up the front and back-of-house. When the dishwasher could not come in, I helped to wash the greasy pans and used dishes. When the customers came in huge waves, I worked overtime to make sure we had enough cut roasted vegetables, sandwiches, and salads to last until the end of the day. Despite some hard hours and grueling days, I would not change a thing about this experience.

From working at Liv, I tasted halva and pure tahini for the first time. I learned how to make delicious soups, quiches, salads, and savory focaccia from family recipes. I was introduced to Jewish culinary traditions and learned about the dietary laws within Judaism, such as pareve. I became friends with amazing, hard-working people and learned about their journeys in becoming bakers, baristas, dishwashers, and cooks in their own ways. I learned what amazing management looks like and how, if you work hard and are motivated by kindness, you can run a successful business. When I spilled close to a gallon of olive oil on the kitchen floor- which did in fact happen- or accidentally made pesto with sugar instead of salt- which also happened- I was never criticized or made to feel bad about my mistakes. Instead, I was encouraged to problem solve and learn how to fix them. I was asked to try all of my food and to suggest new ideas. I was pushed to be inspired in the kitchen, despite being a novice, and motivated to want to come to work every day to be and do my best.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was how hard people in the foodservice industry work. When I worked at the bakery alongside my co-workers, we spent hours on our feet whether we were working in the kitchen, in the bread baking department, or taking orders at the front of the bakery. It was a surprisingly physical job, which required endurance for making food, consistently sanitizing every surface and piece of equipment, and lifting heavy containers all day. I definitely slept well that winter break!

Since my employment at Liv, whenever I visit a local restaurant or cafe I think about how many actors there are behind the scenes of food production, something I had never considered before. There is so much work that is being undertaken out of the sight of the consumer, it is easy to take advantage of the opportunity to walk into a coffee shop and simply order a coffee. Now I know just how much hard work goes into making small food businesses operate and thrive. Working in food service taught me not to be afraid to get my hands dirty and instilled in me gratitude toward those who work in the industry. I would have never discovered all of this had it not been for some extra time, an idea, some incredible employers, and a chance worth taking.

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Photo was taken from Liv Breads Instagram account

Check out Liv Breads on their website and order a chocolate babka (they ship nationally and trust me you won’t regret it).