Nationally the U.S. is still losing small bakeries. Independents make up approximately 1%-3% of the overall market, and the Independent Bakers Association in Washington, D.C., counts only 400 members.
Not only is the market vastly tilted toward non-local and non-organic, but the U.S. has a large and growing trade deficit in commercial bakery products, importing more from Europe and Canada than we export abroad. Even gluten sensitivity, and the increased awareness it has brought to the dangers of commercial flour, appears to have made little impact so far on the soberingly corporate national baking landscape.
Here in Madison, much of the recent entrepreneurial growth has been dependent on good locations and enlightened landlords.
Scott Spilger and Evan Dannells from 4 & 20 Bakery and Café cite their building's owner as helping make their business successful. Mary White's short-lived brick-and-mortar storefront on Atwood, Honey Bee, was also the result of a friendly agreement. And Karin Huelsman at Baker's Window calls her landlord Harold Langhammer "the Gandalf of State Street." Langhammer has been so supportive that when Huelsman and husband Brian Martinez needed a laminator for croissants, he drove to buy and pick it up for them.
Growth has also been the result of sheer hard work. And a baker's work is not for everyone.
"Don't," warns Biggie Lemke frankly, "unless you have to, and if you have to then you'll know. You'll be drawn to this, and no matter what you won't be able to stop. Otherwise, trust me. Don't."
"Baking is a way of life," adds White of the job's positive side, "it is a craft, but it is also a deeply artistic endeavor."
Long days, nocturnal hours and loads of backbreaking work - what is it that continues to draw bakers to their trade and keeps them at it?
Mostly, it is the same thing that draws us in as customers: something warm, something made, the results of a labor of love. It's all for that moment when we select our goods, we take a bite, and we swoon. It is the transformation of hard work into pleasure and happiness.
Says White: "Whether it is gushing ladies at the farmers' market or in a little storefront, I think we all get something out of someone taking a bite and smiling."
At Baker's Window, Huelsman instructs her helpers as to when it's a good time to "lay good vibes" into the dough. "It's different for each recipe. For instance with the lemon lavender tarts, when we're emulsifying lavender butter into the cream, that's a really good time to add the good feelings."
"We've been at war for over 10 years," adds Martinez. "It's a battle between war and love.
"This bread," he says, pointing to the loaf, "is the result of everyone laying love into it at every stage."