It’s an artisan bakery with a dual mission: producing high-quality breads and pastries -- and creating jobs. WKSU’s Vivian Goodman has the story in today’s Quick Bite.
Bloom Bakery merges a compassionate social mission with an ambitious business model.
It’s an offshoot of Towards Employment, an agency that’s been working in Greater Cleveland for 40 years to help disadvantaged people find and keep jobs. Now the non-profit has actually created jobs for its trainees by opening a brand new business for them.
Consultant with credentials
The agency saw an opportunity for the venture with so few bakeries located downtown. And they found Maurice Chaplais, an internationally renowned baker, to get it started.
“I’m a bakery consultant; I also have my own bakeries myself. But when I’m not working in my own bakeries, I’m helping people set up bakeries.”
He’s set them up in the U.S., the U.K., Bahrain, Grenada, India, Mexico, Dominica, Malta, Bangkok and Bangladesh, and now Cleveland.
“I enjoy doing it, and there’s a real dearth of artisan instructors. It’s very difficult to find places where you can learn retro, artisan baking. I taught myself because I couldn’t find anywhere to learn.
"I learned by making mistakes and creating all my own recipes, because I don’t like the recipes necessarily that are out there so I make my own.”
Towards Employment’s Adaora Schmiedl says Chaplais’ high standards are now Bloom Bakery’s.
“These are his recipes, his way of doing things. It’s sort of like his sourdough. He’s given us his starter.”
Chaplais has an almost religious dedication to principles he’s held for more than 30 years.
“I like everything to be done the old-fashioned way, but with the highest quality ingredients, no shortcuts. That is somewhat rare these days.”
Adaora Schmiedl says Towards Employment was lucky to find the master baker.
“We actually got on the internet and found that Maurice had started a bakery in Milwaukee, and then went
down to Milwaukee, tasted the product and brought it back, and everyone loved it. So then we started talking via SKYPE.”
Here for the launch
Towards Employment brought Chaplais to Cleveland a year ago to scout locations, develop the menu and source ingredients, and brought him back this spring for the bakery’s launch.
Bloom Bakery Café opened in March on Public Square, and a second retail outlet opened this week near Cleveland State University. It's next to the actual bakery.
We find Maurice Chaplais in the kitchen, whipping things into shape. “Meringues at the moment for our key lime tarts.”
Karla Seese is worried. Her egg whites are slow to stiffen. “Maurice what do you think is wrong?” she asks.
“Well it’s coming along now, “ Chaplais reassures her. “I think it’s almost ready.”
Seese has worked in restaurants before, but baking’s something new. “I love what I’m doing,” she says.
Breaking down barriers
And she’s grateful to be working at all. “My main barrier to employment is that I just got out of incarceration.”
Criminal records have held back most people working here. But Towards Employment builds skills and confidence, in a four-week job readiness program.
“And then, “says Executive Head Baker Saidah Farrell, “they interview with us for a position at Bloom.”
Right now, Farrell’s helping her crew bake scones. “We’re going to make some parmesan tomato-basil scones with paprika, Colman’s mustard powder and some parmesan. And we use yogurt as well for texture.”
Not for everyone
Farrell says not every graduate of Towards Employment’s readiness program qualifies to work at the bakery.
“We start really with personality. You know it’s nice to have the skills, the culinary background. But we are looking for people who are willing to learn and grow with Bloom.”
Some, says Maurice Chaplais, he just won’t be able to help.
“Not everybody’s suited to baking. You have to have a certain tactile ability and actually a passion, because it’s very hard work. There are much easier ways to earn a living than baking.”
It takes discipline and attention to detail.
“We weigh things down to fractions of grams,” says Chaplais. “We have micro-scales. Temperatures are very precise. We take temperatures of the dough with thermometers. We always carry a thermometer on us all the time. So it’s very, very precise and very regimented.”
Learning something new
You have to get up very early in the morning, and meeting Chaplais’ exacting standards can be challenging. But so far, Christie Feaster likes it.
“I’m learning to bake, something I never really did, only out of a box, so it’s different.”
She’s making chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies. “They are really good. I’m getting ready to mix them together and then I’ll weigh them out, scale them, and form them, and then we bake them.
“In this bowl I’ve got the cranberries, the pecan nuts, and I’ve got my chocolate chips around here somewhere.”
A better start
Feaster moved to Cleveland last year but couldn’t find work. “I have a felony on my record so this gave me an opportunity to, you know, for a better start, another start.”
Getting the bakery crew started every morning is part of Executive Head Baker Saidah Farrell’s job. She has them making eight different breads.
“The new one today is made with Great Lakes beer. It’s our beer-and-oat bread, and we have a house white sourdough baguette, seeded bread, and a whole wheat bread.”
Chaplais is well-pleased with the Great Lakes beer bread.
“In the U.K., I’d be using Guinness probably to make this, but the beer here is excellent so why not?”
He prefers to use local ingredients, but won’t compromise on quality. “We need a special very high- fat content butter. So if there’s a local butter, which is good enough then we’ll use it. But we wouldn’t use it just because it’s local. It’s got to be local and good enough.”
Stickler for quality
Chaplais imports his sugar from Mauritius and his chocolate from Belgium.
“We don’t use any chocolate compound which most regular bakeries use. Ours is all high-quality chocolate. Our vanilla is not vanillin. We use vanilla that costs over $100 a bottle. It is pure vanilla, nothing else, whereas vanillin is all made in a test-tube, and that’s what most places use. We don’t necessarily shout all this from the rooftops, but it is evident when you eat the products.”
Saidah Farrell’s especially pleased with the pastries. Bloom Bakery delivers free to downtown locations.
“Danishes in the morning. There’s muffins, pecan brownies, regular brownies, cookies, a carrot cake that’s coming out today.”
For everything he bakes, Maurice Chaplais uses only wild yeast harvested from the skin of Indian Alphonso mangoes.
It costs more than factory-made yeast and as a raising agent it takes a lot more time, but he insists on it.
“Factory-made bread takes 3 hours from the flour bag to the shop shelf. That’s basically how long a loaf of bread takes to make. Ours takes three days.”
Artisan bread isn’t cheap
He says that’s why it has to be priced at a premium. A loaf of sour dough costs $5.95. For challah, you’ll pay $4.95.
“If you followed me around for three days,” says Chaplais, “you would see why a loaf has to be $5, not $1. Almost no mechanical intervention, it’s all done manually because the dough is so delicate it has to be done by hand.”
He says artisan bread is not a rip-off, though, because consumers have a choice.
“They can go to a supermarket. But if you want bread done the correct way with a great flavor, a great texture, then you have to pay for it I’m afraid.”
A chance to prove himself
Brand new baker Vernon Berry says it’s worth the price. He suggests his favorite, a seeded loaf. “I think there’s five or six different seeds in it. You have sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, anise seeds, flax seeds.”
Berry started working at Bloom Bakery in January. “It’s like a new, a new beginning on life. Gives me a chance to prove myself. It’s just a great opportunity to have coming from where I come from.”
He’s coming from prison and joblessness.
“My criminal conviction that’s what held me back, and Bloom Bakery got me through it, so. It’s a little challenging sometimes but it’s worth it. I enjoy it.”
His teacher is moving on to help disadvantaged would-be bakers in other parts of the world.
“From here I’m going straight on to India to set up a bakery in Hyderabad, “says Chaplais. “That’ll be for about a month and then I’m going straight from there to Bangkok.”
He must go, but he hopes the standard he’s set at Bloom Bakery will remain.
“Otherwise I’ve wasted my time. I mean you can’t make a baker in three months. That’s for sure. But you can certainly build the blocks, and they get better as time goes on.”