Monday, March 01, 2004

Investigative Trip 

We travelled without mishap to the Dallas Fort Worth part of Texas to check out a few bakeries. Scouting the competition, as it were.

We started with the intention of visiting 5 bakeries: Zaguan's, LaDuni, Empire Baking Company, Breadwinners, and Breadworks.

Let's take them in order:

Zaguan's came the closest to what we expected a bakery to look like and be. It still was more than half restaruant. It was housed in 6,000 square feet, with 2,000 of that for customers: seating and the order counter. The decor was plain - solid tile floors, inexpensive tables and chairs, the usual dry bakery display cabinets,with one cold case, white walls, exposed cables and conduits in the ceiling with industrial ceiling fans. The counters were up high enough that short people were practically invisible. The baked items were scarce, only a few left of each, and by the time we arrived there at 10:00 AM, they were cleaning up the bakery part, done with baking for the day. Through the back doors, we could see holding trays stacked with baked goods, but they weren't out front. The counter help seemd more interested in cleaning than in taking our order (of course we had to sample things), a downer in an otherwise good bakery.

LaDuni's was incredible, and not in a pleasant way. The first thing that struck us was that the only available parking was valet parking - $3.00 per car. For a bakery. The second thing that struck us was the fact that when we entered, it didn't look anything like a bakery, and much more like a really upscale restaurant. We didn't stay to evaluate it as a bakery because it clearly wasn't one. It might be a mighty fine restaurant, but it ranked as the worst "bakery" we visited.

Empire Baking Company and Breadworks both moved, and we couldn't find their new locations. No evaluation is available for them.

Breadwinners has a teensy tinsy bakery squashed into one corner of a busy restaurant. They are also not too careful of the quality for their baked goods - the strawberry cream cheese bread we purchased from them had rotten strawberries. And the service was incredibly slow. There was one person ahead of us in line, and it took over 30 minutes for us to reach the cash register and pay for our selections. There were a lot of employees, but most of them seemed more interested in standing behind the cold case joking with one another than with serving any customers. There were 9 people behind the counter, a hostess at the door to seat people, and 5 other employees that we saw. 15 empoyees to wait on a total of 12 customers, and we still had to wait half an hour to pay for a loaf of bread and a loaf of strawberry cream cheese bread which had rotten fruit in it (we couldn't tell the loaf was bad because there was no mold or obvious sign of it when we bought it), and a single cinnamon roll. Breadwinners stays in business because it is also a hot and trendy bar, and apparently the bulk of their business comes from the bar and restaurant side, and not the bakery side. I recommend they just forget about the bakery and concentrate on what they apparently do best - the bar.

Those five out of the way, we decided to drive around and just randomly visit any bakeries we spotted.

The first one we saw was The Red Oven. This came much closer to the types of bakeries I knew as a child: breads, cinnamon rolls, pastries, and such - updated for paranoid Americans. Everything was prewrapped. There were no piles of breads, no display counters with individual items. Cookies could only be bought by the package, same with rolls, and other small treats. They added on a full line of frozen dinners for singles or for families of 4. The decor was reminiscent of grocery store, and there was no seating. You went in, bought your goods and left. It was family run, and everything was made on packaged on the premises. Not the sort of bakery we wanted, but good for what they were. They looked popular, and they people inside were pleasant. One downer for us was the fact that practically everything had soy in it. I know soy is popular, but it limited what we could buy there.

The next bakery was The Corner Bakery. This is a franchise bakery very similar to Panera's Bread. The bulk of the business was dedicated to sandwiches and grilled meals. The bakery section was predominantly dessert with a few rolls and bagels for bread interest. The staff was extremely quick, pleasant and helpful - a welcome change from Breadwinners. The pastries we bought were acceptable, but we can do so much better. The lemon bar had only a hint of lemon, but the supporting undercrust was excellent. It could have used a lot more lemon, more powdered sugar on top, but the foundation was good. The cream cheese brownie had a decent brownie underneath, but the cheesecake was so bland it might as well not even have been there. It was dry and a little tough, and that may be because it sat out too long. It looked pretty. However, the little cherry gallete was very nice. We'd do it with more cherry and a touch of cinnamon, maybe offer some whipped cream to top it, but those are just individualizations. But, like verywhere else, it was first and foremost a restaurant, with a bakery added in almost as an afterthought.

The last bakery we visited was LaMadeleine's, another franchise. This one came the closest to what we were looking for, even down to the fireplace! The emphasis was mostly on coffees and pastries, with sandwiches and grilled meals. It was the first one we visited that made any attempt at real "bakery" style decor, and not restaurant style decor - there is a difference. The staff was pleasant and quick, handling the huge numbers of customers quickly. By the time we arrived (8:30 AM, Sunday), they'd already completed the day's baking. Their focus was on sandwiches, as it seemd most bakeries were doing in the area.

It was certainly an educational visit.

The Cracked Cauldron will certainly be something a little different, as our focus will be on the baking, with the food being soup, not sandwiches. We didn't find anything that was closer to what we were looking for, but we've only just started really looking.

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