When Ian Farrell, executive pastry chef for Bon Appétit at Oracle in Redwood Shores, Calif., started at the location six years ago nothing was baked onsite. Now Farrell and his team offer celebration cakes, a patisserie full of chocolates and other full of handmade treats and artisanal breads. Farrell spoke to FSD about how he got the onsite bakery up and running.
The bakery started at Oracle pretty much when the building was built. I came to Oracle about six years and I definitely developed the bakery into what it is today. When I got here they weren’t making everything in house. They hired me to raise the bar and develop the whole idea of a bakery marketplace. The idea was customers could go in there and everything they’d want or need from a bakery would be available. We now make all the products in house for the entire campus, including this retail bakery, baked goods for the cafés and catering. There are 7,000 people on this campus so the idea was to have this community bakery where everyone would find whatever they needed. That’s what happened. It feels like I’m the baker in a small town because I’ve gotten to know a lot of the people and they know me. I’m making their daughters christening cakes and all kinds of stuff like that.
We serve a lot of cookies and bars, but there are about 10 desserts that change every two weeks, depending on the season and what’s available. Once those products were developed I moved on to offering a cake program where customers can buy any kind of celebration cake for the office or to take home. We offer probably 14 cakes in different looks and flavors. I took a lot of pictures and put together a book they can look through in the bakery. You can order your cake from there and it takes about 24 hours to fill an order. I’m also responsible for the catering for the campus. The catering menu changes every quarter, and it’s very seasonally driven as well.
From there I moved on to developing the chocolate program and seasonal confections. We do a ton of business for Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas. For example, the first year I started I made these chocolate stilettos for Valentine’s Day, which where like a life-size stiletto in a nice package, and it was a huge success. I couldn’t keep them made. For the first few years there was nowhere to really showcase all that kind of stuff. It was just put out at the registers. This year we opened a patisserie/chocolate shop within the café so now that’s where we showcase all the chocolates and cakes we bake. More recently I started working on the artisanal breads. At the beginning I was making two special breads every Friday for employees to take home. Now it’s developed into offering 12 or 14 different artisanal breads. They are definitely more health conscious. Over the years I started a distribution list where people signed up with me and they get the menu sent to them every week. They can order online or show up early the next day, but if they show up late the bread is always sold out.
I do a millet bread, which is a really nutritious bread that has a lot of seeds in it—flax seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and millet, which is pretty much bird seed. The most popular bread I started out with was an olive-rosemary pain au levain, which is a bread made from a wild yeast starter. I make a flax seed currant bread and a whole-wheat rye bread with cracked wheat and flax seed. I use a lot of flax seed. I love the flavor of it, and it’s really good for you. I’ve also made a bacon-sage bread.
You definitely need to have administration on board and be willing to put the money in initially. The equipment is really expensive. A bakery also requires space, especially if you are making artisanal bread and if you are going to do a lot of different things like making chocolates—it’s difficult to make chocolates next to a hot oven. I’m lucky because the bakery is completely separate from our kitchen. Staff is probably one of the biggest expenses. We oversee other Oracle campuses as well plus the eight cafés I send stuff out to every day.
I think you need to definitely figure out what you want to offer to start out. Marketing is huge. I use Facebook and Twitter and offer a lot of tastings. We also use our flat-screen TV to showcase pictures constantly. If people see what we can do then they’ll want to buy them. So I strongly recommend having a strong marketing presence. Also, you have to be willing to put out some money initially, but it does pay off. I’d say we do about $40,000 to $50,000 in just cake sales per year and we do about $10,000 to $12,000 in sales per week for bakery desserts.