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How to Follow Your Dreams and Open a Bakery, in 7 Steps
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Heather K Adams
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Baking is a science, an art, a craft... and just maybe the right business for you to open. Bakeries are in the restaurant oeuvre but are very distinct animals. While some have a coffee bar or even a small seating area, your front of house isn't quite as important as the back of the house. What comes out of the kitchen is, ahem, the meat and potatoes of any bakery. Which means that you, the owner-operator, also need to have some serious baking skills.

Sound perfect? If you've got a magic sugary knack and an entrepreneurial spirit, then learning how to open a bakery of your very own could be your next step!

Why should I open a bakery?

If your happy place is in the kitchen surrounded by the smells of butter and sugar, or your bread game is, like, Hulk-level strong, then chances are, you've probably thought of turning that love and those skills into some sort of income. But owning your own business isn't just for the weekend hobbyist. Loving what you make is one thing. Creating a business out of it? That requires of a degree of grit you need to make sure you have.

Before you go any further down the bakery daydream rabbit hole, ask yourself: Am I prepared to devote myself to making a living from this, or would that ruin my love of baking? Because burnout is a real thing. Some people can only roll out so many pie doughs before they brain themselves with the rolling pin. So, take the time you need to explore whether or not this is for you. Passion needs to walk hand in hand with persistence.

That being said, if your passion really does run deep and true, and you low-key love the idea of adding in the challenge, pressure and rewards of small business ownership, dream on! And build those dreams into a plan for how to open a bakery of your very own.

7 steps for opening a bakery.

1. Decide what you actually want to do.

The first step in figuring out how to open a bakery of your own is exploring yourself. Yes, before any business endeavor is begun, you have to, you know, search your heart (and your stomach). What do you love to make, eat and share? Are you thinking of creating a range of baked goods, or are cakes more your thing? What about bread and the savory side of things? The main point of this exercise is to determine if you want to open a specialty bakery, focusing on a specific type of goods or catering to a specialty diet, or if you want a more generalized shop. Both are good. But, which is best for you?

Deciding on your genre will depend a lot on your own particular inclinations, but these should be balanced with an awareness of your area and the kinds of bakeries you'll be competing with. If you're bomb at pies, and no other bakery around is nailing that niche? Perfect! Otherwise, stay flexible.

While we're certainly not advocating a shtick (unless that's what you truly love) — we're strongly recommending you learn and think about that old USP: your unique sales position. What is it that you can do that no one else is offering? Your city may have bakeries aplenty, but are there any specifically Chinese bakeries? If you grew up obsessively learning how to make sun cakes like your Nainai, then why not explore that niche?

2. Where do you want to do this?

Will you run your bakery biz from home, out of a food truck, at a vendor's stall or in an actual storefront? In the city, outside of town, by local delivery or online? These are all critical questions to answer in the early days of planning how to open a bakery.

Each variation on the bakery theme presents its own challenges and has its own strong points. You can't get a better commute than the one from your bedroom to your kitchen, after all, but running a bakery from home means maintaining some strict safety and sanitary standards. It also means figuring out how to get the goods from your oven to your customers. You can hand deliver (and run yourself ragged), you can send things off by mail (possibly nerve-wracking) or operate a little storefront in or beside your house (more legal and logistical concerns). 

Being a food vendor or running your own shop will likewise offer these kinds of concerns. Because whatever form of bakery you're pondering, commute, workflow, processing orders and delivering the goods will be your foundational considerations. Remember, too, to factor in your location. If you live in the city, then a shop as close to the heart of downtown as you can find makes the most sense. Living out in the country means you probably won't have that kind of commercial access. Your biz decisions will reflect this.

3. Write your business plan.

Unpack your dream, right down to the tiniest nuts and bolts. What's your business model, what will be your startup costs and how long will it be until you make a profit? Writing a business plan forces you to give your bakery fantasy a good hard look in the cold light of day. Is this as fun as planning out all the sweet little Valentine's Day treats you want to sell? No. But it's by far more necessary.

In order to make your dream fly, those nuts and bolts have to be sorted. There are fun sections, of course. You'll need a menu mock-up, which helps you estimate food costs but is also an excuse to whip up batches of different goods in the name of quality assurance and portion control. And market research — i.e. checking out your soon-to-be competitors — means field trips and sampling — and, if you're smart, chatting up the owner about how they got started, too.

In the end, the plan is the physical representation of your dream, a little path you clear inch by inch in order to bring it out into the world. Nail this plan and you'll not only have something solid to show potential investors but something to fall back on during those first few hectic and stressful years of being open.

4. Pricing and products.

Pricing  food is a tricky business. You have to account for supplies, labor and other overhead. You have to be at least comparable to the nearest competition. You want to appeal to customers' stomachs without demanding they dent their wallets to get a simple donut. And, oh yeah, you want to be able to pay your own bills and maybe even (!) build up a bit of savings.

Finalizing your menu options requires more research, as well as a bit of on-going trial and error once you open. Because it might turn out that cupcakes aren't the big sellers you hoped they'd be. So, you'll focus more on those cookies that always sell out. After a while, you'll notice seasonal trends as well and be able to adjust both the menu and prices accordingly. But in the beginning? Do your homework on other local bakeries, research and price shop among suppliers before making an educated guess. And understand that you'll improve the process from there.

5. Be able to answer "Who are you?"

Your company needs a brand, a story and a style. Because when it comes to food, customers ultimately pay (and come back ) for an experience as much as anything else. Let the thoughts you set down while deciding what kind of bakery you want to run lead the development of your story, its tone and the way you'll tell it later. Are you a kitchen witch to the bone, baking pies from home and hand-delivering them every day? Then that — highly-personalized baked goods and home delivery — is your brand.

If you have a commercial space for your bakery, come up for air from kitchen planning and renovation to look around the area from your customers' perspective. When they walk in the door, what will they see? Is your counter-front area warm and welcoming or a little echoey and industrial? Does your physical space lead a potential customer to expect the kind of taste she's going to get when she takes that first bite of pie? Because her experience of your bakery factors in all of the parts. Story, space and product need to create one complete experience.

6. Get those ducks lined up.

Because you're going to need certifications, licenses and inspections. Probably a loan. Definitely a start date. When will all these things happen? Get yourself organized so you can get certified with the least amount of pain possible.

The food industry also has its own strict guidelines about the making and selling of consumable goods. Do you understand what a certified kitchen is and what you'll need to do to maintain that certification? If you've worked at all in the food industry before, this might be familiar to you. But being the owner, the person in charge of adhering to industry standards, is a whole new ballgame. So, once again, do your homework. Then create a calendar, make daily checklists to clean or inspect your equipment and... well, this is one of those areas in which being a bit anal-retentive is a good thing.

7. Stay motivated: remember your why.

This is a first, last and daily must. Because running a company is hard work and so is spending a lot of time on your feet in the heat of a kitchen. Which means you won't be super pumped about doing that every day. So remembering your why — why you love what you do and what you make and why you wanted a place of your own so very much — will help you through those long days and anxious periods that come with being any kind of entrepreneur and, let's face it, an artist as well.

Luckily, this why also forms the backbone of your brand and its story (remember those?), so it can drive you not just on those days when you need "Eye of the Tiger" on repeat but also your marketing strategy. 

How much does it cost to open a bakery?

As with any entrepreneurial venture, startup costs can vary. The size of your operation, the amount of specialty ingredients or equipment you need and the space in which you'll run your business all play into your initial bottom line. Deciding what kind of baked good biz you want to start (or at least start with) is a big part of figuring out how to open a bakery because this directly affects your opening costs.

If you plan to start your bakery from home and need only minimal modifications or new equipment to become certified, your initial investment could be as low as a few thousand dollars. More of your money will probably go toward marketing and ingredients than anything else. Need an actual storefront? That's a major bump in startup cash on the barrel head. A physical space requires outfitting the kitchen (after possibly also remodeling it), the counter and seating areas and maybe even the outside as well. You can look for an existing bakery for sale, of course, but investing in a storefront is still going to run you at least $20,000 and potentially a lot more.

Types of bakeries.

  • Kitchen-table operation
  • Vending/food stand
  • Delivery service
  • Events catering
  • Food cart or truck
  • Storefront

Specialty bakeries.

  • Candy
  • Donuts
  • Bread
  • Vegan
  • Gluten-free
  • Organic

Is a bakery profitable?

Of course! Baked goods are a small but steady market. And you can boost your income any number of ways, from adding in food stands at fairs or festivals to partnering with a catering company at big-ticket events. Now, unless you become a baker to the stars, you probably won't hit rich-rich levels. But you can make a good, steady income. As ever, good business sense will always save the day, but learning how to open a bakery is far from the silliest thing you could do with your time, money or passion.

One last little nibble...

Whether you zero in on a super-specific niche (organic vegan candy, maybe?) or cast a wide net by baking and selling a variety of goods, figuring out what kind of bakery you want to run is just as important as learning how to open a bakery at all. There's a grand world of baked goods out there and just as many opportunities as there are sweets to eat. Find the one that works for you, and go for it!

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