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There isn’t one inch of unused space in the production area
of your shop and all the improvised gadgets are fascinating.
It seems like you really enjoy logistics and rigging things
together as much as you do baking. How do you squeeze more
equipment into non-existent space?
We are big fans of any equipment or hand tools that will save us
time. We just bought an egg separator. We are making so many
macarons, we must do them more efficiently. This egg separator
was $100. If you look at it for what it can do – invaluable. Same
with our muffin depositor, or the pumpkin pie pump you
mentioned. The pie pump you saw we purchased. I know it has
a very “Inspector gadget” look to it, but a friend of mine makes
them. The one we had before that was homemade. The pump
we bought was very pricey, but when I see one of our less talented
production guys filling pumpkin pies with it, again I must say
it is priceless. It takes seconds to fill a pie and they are all the
same. The same friend sells streusel-processing machines. We
have one, keep it in the basement; we use it every other week.
We mix the streusel in our spiral mixer, and run it thru our sifter.
We can sift 200 pounds in less than 20 minutes.
You travel extensively for work and pleasure. How does
everything run smoothly in your absence?
I get away quite a bit. My father and my son are here in the
bakery. We have seven, key production people, and one all
around maintenance/computer guy. These key people have
been here a long time, 32, 21, 20, 19, 19, 18 & 15 years. They
know better than I do, what needs to be done on a daily basis.
We have one CMB (Certified Master Baker) other than myself
and two CJB’s (Certified Journeyman Baker). Shockingly, all
but one of them has never worked in another bakery. They
were all trained here.
Do all staff members work on everything, or is some of your
staff dedicated to artisan products and others dedicated to
other products such as soft rolls, donuts, etc.?
We do not segregate the work by any means. Is a banana crème
pie, produced using a shell that is half butter, filled with pastry
crème, made from whole milk, egg yolks, butter,
imported custard powder, organic vanilla extract
and organic vanilla bean, filled with properly ripened
bananas, topped with pure, whipped, sweetened
heavy crème, flavored with the same vanilla, any less
“Artisanal” than a long fermented sourdough
baguette? Don’t think so.
Can you tell us a little about working with your
father?
My dad is 87, still comes here three days a week. That
is why he’s 87. Not uncommon to chase him down
off a ladder or catch him carry a bag of sugar up the
stairs. If I never earned a penny in this business, it
would be still worth every ounce of effort I put into
this, because I get to spend my days with both my
father and my son. Same with my mother until she
died. I spent every day with her. The only
disagreement my dad and I have is allegiance to
Chicago baseball. He cheers for the wrong team.
32 Pastry & Baking
North America
Bakery in Focus
Do you make products that were made in the original
Bennison’s? If so, please list and describe.
There are four products still made using original Bennison
formulas. Our Devil’s food cake, fudge icing, pumpkin pie and
brownies. Our Devil’s food is still made with locally processed
cocoa, and liquid buttermilk. Our pumpkin pie is made with
fresh broken eggs, real, local honey, and evaporated milk. We
always try to mix it the day before we are planning to bake; bakes
much nicer after it sets overnight. Both our fudge icing and our
brownies are made with straight, bitter chocolate. It gives these
two products unbeatable flavor.
You have become very active in the Chicago Green Market
and other open markets. Other than the financial incentive,
what drives you to do this?
Difficult to answer, because “financial incentive” is why we
operate the bakery. What I enjoy about being a part of superior,
quality minded, sustainable farmer’s markets, is the way customers
perceive our bakery. I really didn’t know what I was getting into,
looking back. I found the guild, tasted a real baguette for the
first time and I was hooked. We bought an oven, started baking
and selling at the GCM, when it was in its infancy as well. We
have grown with the market and a few other similar markets
have started, and we now sell there as well. We have secured a
source for local organic flours and seeds, and my guys know
how to use them. It has been a real snowball effect.
What are the logistics of setting up at the markets – product
selection, delivery, staffing, production? More than one
market on the same day?
Every Monday (market season) we post a sheet with the markets
listed that we will participate in that week. We offer baguettes,
ciabatta, a dried fruit sourdough, a wholegrain sourdough, miche,
croissants, brioche and Danish pastries at each market.We rotate
three or four different varieties of filled croissants and variety
breads each market week. The varieties remain constant for the
week. If we offer strawberry/rhubarb brioche at one market it
will be offered at the other markets that week as well.