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Bread and Butter
1DIARY OF A NEW STORE OPENING: A QUICK LOOK AT THIS THING WE DOI'm at 35,000 feet and beginning to drop. The plane is hitting the clouds and rough air is making it difficult to keep my fingers on my laptop. I look like just another road warrior, but my clattering fingers hide a secret. I am not on my way to make a sales presentation to some great gaggle of expectant clients. I'm going to a barn-raising of sorts-helping Terri Winn and Brian Turner open their own Great Harvest Bread Co. in Lafayette, Indiana.Terri and BrianTerri's a fireball, maybe even a loose cannon. Meet her on a dark, starless night and you just know she'd glow. When Terri enters a room, the room's chemistry changes for the better. As buoyant as she is, you wonder whether the ropes that tether her to the ground are strong enough to hold, or whether her enthusiasm will just carry her away.Brian is the rope that keeps Terri grounded. You get the feeling if Terri didn't originally hail from a big city, she surely must have takento city life the day she discovered taxicabs and brightly displayed department stores. Tall and slender, Brian remains a quiet, steady country boy from Crawfordsville, Indiana. A good man, a loving father, he's the kind of person you'd want your kids to work for.Together they make an unbelievably strong team: Terri on the front counter, talking with each customer, making them feel at home, and Brian on the oven, making sure each loaf is a gift, perfect to the point of pride.I meet them in the bakery. Terri tells me about her background, starting with how she grew up in Franklin, Indiana. First she earned a degree as a medical technologist, then decided to become a dentist, and after a year in dental school, a pediatric dentist. Slamming through her classes and then her residency, she opened a practice in Crawfordsville. The customers just flocked in, not just for great dental care, but for Terri's attention and love.Brian joined the Navy out of high school, rising through the ranks to become a nuclear reactor operator on one of the fleet's newest subs. Then he returned home to Indiana, back to the land of pivots and Boilermaker basketball. One of his brothers was running the family farm, so Brian went back to school, enrolling in Purdue to get a degree in business.That's when the Brady Bunch thing happened. Terri, with three daughters from a first marriage, and Brian, with two kids of his own, fell in love at first sight. They bought a small farm in Crawfordsville and settled in.A few months before graduation, Brian started talking about opening his own business. It had worked so well for Terri, and frankly he just couldn't see himself a cog in some larger machine--he'd already done that in the Navy. Terri suggested starting their own Great Harvest bakery. While doing her residency in Louisville, she'd patronized the store there and had grown to be a fan. And here in Crawfordsville, she noticed how many of their neighbors talked about having to travel to Indianapolis to buy bread from the Great Harvest there.As time passed, the idea seemed like a good one, and so they applied to Great Harvest, the company that kept coming up during their dinner conversations.Opening Day CrazinessTim Peterson, the lead trainer for the Lafayette opening, arrives a couple days ahead to make sure the bakery is set to go. Hovering over every detail, Tim reminds me of a pit-stop boss checking out carburetor adjustments before the big race: all focused energy and attention to detail. We meet in my motel room and go over the plan: Wednesday, we'll train new employees--he in production and me on the counter. Thursday, we'll bake some bread and see who wanders in. Friday, we'll crank up to full speed with a grand opening. I am giddy, like a kid thinking about a first date. I always am at these openings. Good retail is performance art: pre-opening jitters are appropriate.Early opening day, as the sun crawls up over the oaks and low sturdy bungalows of East Lafayette, Tim is training the dough guy. You'd think mixing the ingredients to make bread would be a simple thing, but when you get ten or twelve batches of bread going all at the same time, mixing together the flour, water, salt, yeast, and honey, it becomes a ballet of multitasking. At 6:30 the doors open and pandemonium begins. Brian and Terri get what they're after-lots of customers--but it looks like they'll be put to the test. I show up at 7:00 ready to help out at the counter but never get there. With a green crew and bread flying out the door, I spend my morning kneading dough.At 10:00, the customers continue to come, a crowd of thirty expectant Lafayette citizens waiting hungrily for more bread to come out of the oven. In an ideal bakery, the cooling rack is the serving rack. It is in easy reach of the front counter so the counter crew can just turn around and grab the biggest, plumpest, best-designed loaf for the next customer. In this bakery, the cooling rack and the serving rackare separated by a good fifteen feet--something we later correct. Seeing Jake, the baker, pop his loaves out on the cooling rack and seeing those customers eyeing the distance, I remember how we literally used to throw hot loaves across the room in our little Dillon, Montana, bakery. I grab Lorie, one of our new kneaders, and we begin pitching the loaves from across the bakery to the ready counter staff. The potent mix of loud kinetic music, free samples of steaming hot slices slathered with butter and honey going out to the constant customers, and bread flying across the room gives the whole scene a pass-the-fire-bucket quality: good honest folks baking bread as fast as we can and getting it out to our neighbors.By 2:00 in the afternoon, a line out the door snakes around the newly poured sidewalk. It is the most fun I've had in a while: hot, loud, urgent, lots of people. The freshest bread on the planet.Why Terri and Brian Went Into Business for ThemselvesThat night we celebrate at the Other Bar, a publike place outside of Lafayette. I order a pint of Harps for Brian and a Maker's Mark with Diet Coke and two cherries for Terri. We laugh and recount the day, so full of hope and happiness that this thing they had conceived has been born so perfectly and full of life. Savoring our drinks, we are silly with success and begin talking about what drew Terri and Brian to Great Harvest in the first place.There were several elements to their dream. They wanted to create something that would make them proud and that earned decent money. But they also hoped to give the gift of their efforts to this community they so cared about. And to share something of themselves in the process.All of these answers come from deep within their hearts, but they have a familiar ring to me. When people like Brian and Terri apply toGreat Harvest for a bread store, we invite them to Dillon to check us out and to give us a chance to ask them some hard questions. One of the questions we ask is, Why? Why do this thing? Why give up the security of a profession or a prosperous company to open a small business? Often the money they'll make with a store is less than what they made before. The hours can be long, the problems far from globally important. Opening a small business is not the prudent next step up the corporate ladder. Our newer owners tell stories about how colleagues and parents freak out at the news that Jane and Bill or George and Sarah are about to chuck promising careers in law or marketing to open a small whole-wheat bread store.Interestingly, the answers we get back are remarkably similar. People want something back in their lives they feel has been taken from them. They want the freedom to design their own lives, to surround themselves with people they enjoy, to make a product (with their hands!) of which they are proud, to see their customers and know them by name, to work with their spouses, to create something in their own image, to be part of their community, to spend more time with their kids, to do less business travel, to take a shot at making some real money and to learn more about themselves. In other words, to love life--all of life--more.I wish you could sit in on these meetings with Debbie, Mary, Mike, Mark, Maria, and me (the management team here at Great Harvest), because it is as if we have a special window on what people these days are looking for. People want more. Their lives are good, but they are not lives they want to lead. Last year more than 6,000 people wrote and asked us for information about opening a franchise. This interest points to a certain dis-ease with the way we work today--huddled in groups, working on specialized tasks that don't give us a tangible feeling of accomplishment, driven by company cultures that emphasize too much time spent at work and on the road, and consumed by a culture that lures us into thinking that making $50,000, $90,000, or even $140,000 a year is not enough. Frustrated, our candidates see the chance to create a different kind of life.While the average return on investment compares favorably with other franchised businesses, the bottom line is not what draws our candidates. We don't compete (as a business opportunity) with sandwich franchises or lawn care outfits. Would-be Great Harvesters are usually thinking more radically: it's us or a homestead in Alaska--anything to rediscover life as they dream of it.A couple of years back, over beers at a little family restaurant called Papa T's in Dillon, I remember talking with Mark Bruskotter from our legal department. I'll admit we were feeling no pain having spent the day skiing and having already downed our first pint of Moose Drool--but the truth of Mark's words that day still sounds right. He said, "You know what? Great Harvest is not in the business of selling a how-to-make-a-lot-of-money opportunity; it's in the business of selling a life, a better life." And it's true. People come to us looking for something different, and in that business, we have very little competition. It's as if someone said, "Let's sell freedom. There ought to be a market for that." And it turns out there is.What a Great Crew!The next morning we get back to work. I see that the trainer, Tim, has successfully taught Brian and Terri that bread is only half the equation. The equally important other half is creating an experience in the store that is warm and friendly but fun and bright at the same time. I decide to test their efforts. Leaving the kneading table, I slip out the back door, circle round, walk in the front door, and drink in what I see and feel. Immediately the counterperson offers me a big thick slice of still-warm honey whole wheat bread, urging me to take as much butter as I want and to take good advantage of the little honey-filled bear that sits in front of the breadboard. As the counterperson smiles at me, I notice her head gently moves to the infectious music. I count six speakers on the walls and can see why Great Harvesttrainers tell new owners that music is critical to a store's success, that it is the heartbeat of the bakery. Slice in hand, I step back and take in the scene, struck by the whirlwind going on around me: four kids frenetically kneading two loaves at a time on a big butcher block table while two counter staff sweep hot loaves off a wire rack and pass them out to the customers almost as fast as they are being pulled from the oven. Behind them, the baker, a sixty-something rock of a man, stares at the huge oven in front of him, pulling out plump loaves just when they are ready. It is all there: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.It is as it should be. When people walk into a Great Harvest, they should be embraced by the sights and sounds of the bakery, but at the same time, feel like they've found an oasis from their harried world.The key, of course, to creating this warm but loose environment is the crew you hire. Yes, the building and the bread draw people in, but it is the people they meet who will bring them back. Bricks, mortar, heat, and dough all contribute, but we respond to human beings, their flesh, blood and energy. Brian's done a great job of hiring his crew, and they're all eager to learn, work, and contribute.The Beauty of Brian and Terri's StoreHuge barn beams stretch across the ceiling of the store. The first thing I thought when I looked up at them was, "How on earth did Brian get them up there?" Turns out he used scaffolding and a crane. The longest beam weighs more than 1600 pounds, or so said Brian. The beams all came from an old barn on Brian's mom's place. Brian and his first employee dismantled that barn over the course of three weeks, lovingly dropping the beams on the back of a flatbed truck and then resurrecting them in the store. I don't know which of Brian's relatives, now long dead, first hoisted those beams, but I know that forebearer wasthere to give Brian a hand the day he made them the centerpiece of his bakery. It is one of the things that makes the Lafayette store stand out. You walk in and you just know there is a story to be told.But the star of the layout is the kneading table--front and center. Kneading tables are always celebrities in Great Harvest stores. It is here that dough, loose and unformed, gets molded and given its first hint that it will soon be bread. During the morning when we are making bread, it's to the kneading table that all eyes are drawn, as if we remember a time when most meaningful work was hammered out on big sturdy tables like this and not at a desk or on a phone.Terri and Brian Step Back and View What They Have WroughtIt's mid-morning Saturday, nearly time for me to fly home, when I catch Brian neglecting the bread in the oven, if only for a moment. Transfixed by the crowd in his store and the line making its way out to the road, he's looking at Terri leaning over the counter talking to a customer, explaining for the thousandth time that day that she and Brian have opened this bakery because they love great bread and, oh, did she mention that the flour is fresh-ground every morning, something that no other bakery does, which is why the bread is so good? Brian's watching the hustle at the kneading table and the smile on Lori, his main kneader's face. I look at him and see her smile reflected in a tiny half-smile of his own, a small dawning of a great satisfaction becoming real. It's pride. Not a false pride, but a well-earned I-hoisted-those-beams-up-there-myself pride. I find myself humbled by the strength of his emotion.And then I feel it myself. I'm proud to have said a few encouraging words to Terri and Brian yesterday, to have passed them a towel to mop their brow in the midst of the rush, to have coached them throughwhat was a tough labor, and in so doing helped in some small way to bring this bakery into being. It's good work and I am glad to be here.
It's Saturday evening and Terri and Brian have given me a final hug. I'm driving the rental car back to my motel. Breathing in cool air from the open window, I find myself wondering more deeply about why people are drawn to this idea of owning their own business, and more fundamentally, if it is possible to be an entrepreneur if one doesn't start and own a business. This is the age of the entrepreneur, after all, and its spirit is infectious. I know why Brian and Terri are in business for themselves. It is because they want to be happy. They are the sort of people who lust after what life has to give, and for them that means doing whatever it takes to get the right to call the shots. It is almost as if they don't care if they "succeed" in some standard sense of the word. For them, freedom to do it their way is all they are asking, because freedom is the ground on which a good life can be designed and constructed-beam by beam.The Terris and Brians of the world are our heroes. Bravely they toss security to the side and stride purposefully into the breach. But what of those who work for companies or large organizations? Can they be entrepreneurs? Yes and no, I think, to myself. Yes, they can think creatively about their work and push for projects they believe in, but maybe it ends there. After all, aren't they less free to give of themselves fully, constrained by the passions and whims of their bosses?It occurs to me that this is one of the central questions of our day, as I drive past the big Caterpillar plant. Can you be part of an institution--a teacher in a school, an engineer in a lab--and still pour your personality and spirit into what you do? Can you participate in the abundant possibilities of life with as much abandon as the true entrepreneur when you work for someone else? Really, it is a question of happiness. Do we have to be captains of our own ships to be happy?From At Home in the World by Stuart A. Kaufman, copyright © 1995 by Stuart A. Kaufman. Reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press.