When the kitchen staff opens the doors at 8:05am, we are waiting just outside, ready to start the day's baking, mentally keeping track of baking times, oven temperatures, delivery deadlines, and how many cups of flour are supposed to go into a double batch of banana butterscotch bars. We've got five different things to bake and deliver before noon, while our fifty pound bag of sugar is running low, we need to plan out our booth at the Natick Farmer's Market for the weekend, and the short-staffed dining hall has asked us to help out upstairs during the soccer camp lunch rush. Pretty much a typical day in the Midnight Bakery.
Throughout last school year, the two of us along with a few other friends gained quite a reputation for baking all the time and wandering around the dorms late at night offering our creations to our studious and hungry classmates. After several suggestions that we go into the baking business, it occurred to us that this might not actually be out of the realm of possibility. Thanks to Olin's summer business incubator program, a few students are granted housing and resources each summer to run their very own entrepreneurial ventures. When the program opened to applications in April, we decided to give it a shot, so we put together a proposal for a bakery business that would do 24-hour delivery in the Olin area.
As soon as our idea was accepted into the program, we set out to make it happen. Our original plan was to bake in one of the student kitchens available on campus, but during our preliminary conversations with the Needham Board of Health we eliminated the possibility even before the academic year ended due to the difficulty of certifying a kitchen for commercial use. Eventually it came down to a long-shot request to use space for the summer in the dining hall kitchens. Amazingly enough, the new dining services manager seemed thrilled with our idea and agreed to share the kitchens. A promising start to the business.
Once we had secured a place to cook, it seemed like it should be no problem to get all the certification paperwork through the board of health and start baking orders. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy associated with the food industry allowed us a few weeks to test out recipes on our own while we waited for Sodexo to approve our business plan and the town of Needham to make sure that every item on our menu was within regulations (it's amazing how many things are 'potentially hazardous'). Then, of course, we had meetings with people in insurance and Olin's facilities to make sure everything checked out in those departments as well. In any case, by the end of June we were ready to officially open for business.
Since our kitchen hours were limited by when the dining hall would be open for the various camps using it for the summer, we adapted our business plan to accommodate specialized orders for delivery during the day, and certain items that would be available all night on each day of the week. We used some of our time waiting for certification to work on our website (http://bit.ly/midnightbakery in case you're interested), menus, and marketing, so when we finally opened we were all set to start filling orders as soon as we made the trip to the local Restaurant Depot and Costco to buy enormous quantities of our basic ingredients. The orders began to trickle in, a few per day, and as we got used to using the kitchen's convection ovens and trying to keep track of how many cups of flour had gone into each of three different cookie doughs, we gained customers through emails to Olin students and staff. We quickly branched out to fill orders from the Babson community, and began to advertise mail orders to anywhere in the country.
We have only been open for a short three weeks, but already we have learned a lot about the inner workings of the dining hall kitchens and the local government, not to mention honing both our baking prowess and our business skills quite a bit. We have even improved our engineering skills...doing mental math to make ¾ of a recipe counts, right? Between buying ingredients, confirming orders, estimating late-night numbers, and balancing finances (we just broke even from our initial costs!), there can be a lot to do in the bakery business. Worth it? Definitely.
The question of the future comes up fairly often. Will we be able to continue the Midnight Bakery into the school year? There's a great opportunity to fill the niche of feeding the college students studying late into the night during the semester. Unfortunately, with the limitations on kitchen space when the dining hall will be fully operational, along with the time commitment we have had to put into running the business during the summer, it seems that keeping it up, at least at this level, will be impossible during the year. But it is doubtful that we'll ever stop baking. There are always birthdays that need cakes and parties that need cookies.
Some interesting Midnight Bakery statistics:
50 lbs - the amount of flour used in the past week, and sugar used since we started
26 dozen - how many eggs we have used so far
$3 - price of 32 oz of red food coloring (we returned the $3.69 one oz bottle to the grocery store)
324 - greatest number of cookies baked in one day (for a library event)
7 - approximate number of times we go to the grocery store each week
8-10 - average number of hours per day spent on baking and bakery related tasks
$1028.92 - total money spent
$1164.82 - total revenue
$135.9 - net profit
12 - number of egg whites used in six times a meringue recipe to make 33 giant meringues
$101.60 - amount spent so far on postage for mail order items
$0.00518 - price per muffin liner
1:17am - latest delivery
2:15 am - earliest we have woken up this summer
3 pm - latest one of us has woken up this summer
4 hours - longest period of time we have been apart from each other this summer (when one of us went to the hospital)