Pandemic Bakers Are Going Pro


Before the pandemic, Max Kumangai spent his Saturdays singing and dancing his means via back-to-back performances of “Jagged Little Pill,” a rock musical on Broadway.

Saturday remains to be his busiest day. But whereas he as soon as kicked off his workday by working towards lifting his colleagues above his head, he now begins by eradicating sourdough loaves from the fridge and getting ready them for baking. (The oven in his Harlem residence is so outdated that the numbers on the temperature dial wore off way back, however he is aware of which dot to choose to get the colour and crust good.)

Once the loaves are carried out, he locations them in paper baggage stamped with the emblem for Humpday Dough, the business he now runs together with his fiancé, and heads to the subway to ship them throughout New York City.

“I always come away from a day of delivery feeling socially fulfilled,” he stated from his house.

Many folks found a love of baking through the pandemic. Mr. Kumangai is amongst those that realized that their new ardour could possibly be greater than a passion.

Culinary faculties have been swamped with inquiries from aspiring bakers. The Institute of Culinary Education, which presents lessons in Los Angeles and New York, obtained 85 p.c extra functions this year than it did in 2019. Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., stated that its baking and pastry applications have generated much more curiosity than different culinary applications.

While longstanding brick-and-mortar bakeries have been struggling to seek out certified bakers, many hobbyists have turn out to be so-called cottage bakers, promoting bread from their houses or at farmers markets, in response to Mitch Stamm, govt director of the Bread Bakers Guild of America.

“It’s a really exciting time,” he stated. “Many small bakeries — one-person bakeries, two-person bakeries — they are doing beautifully.”

Before the pandemic, Mr. Kumangai, 36, didn’t contemplate himself a bread man, and even banned his fiancé from bringing carb-dense loaves into their house. But with “Jagged Little Pill” on an indefinite hiatus, “I wanted something to work on,” he stated.

That April, after cooking sufficient rooster potpies to outlive for months ought to supermarkets run out of meals, he determined to attempt his hand at a sourdough starter.

“It smelled weird, and not in a good way,” he recalled not too long ago. He threw it out. A few months later, “I was thinking, I am doing nothing with my life,” so he gave it one other shot.

The second time was the attraction. Keeping a sourdough starter wholesome requires feeding it twice a day with flour and water. The course of reminded him of caring for a Tamagotchi or a pet. He discovered it pleasantly therapeutic.

So did many others. Penny Stankiewicz, a pastry and baking arts teacher on the Institute of Culinary Education, stated it made sense to her that sourdough would emerge as a breakout star of pandemic-era kitchens.

“At this time, we were all so unstable in our core and we couldn’t really rely on anything, we had this thing we could nurture,” she stated. Mr. Kumangai additionally loved different facets of creating sourdough: stretching and folding the dough, studying in regards to the science of the bubbles.

It was Mr. Kumangai’s fiancé, Michael Lowney, one other Broadway actor sidelined by the pandemic, who nudged Mr. Kumangai to show baking right into a job. (Mr. Lowney is now his business accomplice.)

Last summer time, they had been returning house from a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Mr. Kumangai, who’s Black and Pacific Islander, was feeling a flurry of feelings: despair and rage, but in addition elation at rising from a bodily isolating pandemic to attach with different folks so intensely.

Daily Business Briefing

June 11, 2021, 1:46 p.m. ET

“He noticed that I was needing something to continue that connection,” Mr. Kumangai stated of his accomplice. Baking and delivering bread grew to become the answer.

Over the approaching months, they went from promoting the occasional loaf of sourdough to a pal to delivering dozens of loaves per week — together with pancakes, crackers and focaccia — many to subscribers who discovered Humpday Dough although social media. Last month, the couple obtained 150 orders.

With the assistance of a pair in Brooklyn who had additionally began a pandemic bread operation, Mr. Lowney found out how one can turn out to be an L.L.C., meet well being necessities and arrange a web-based ordering system.

“I’ve realized I like making Google spreadsheets,” Mr. Lowney stated. This was a shock.

Across the world, others had been additionally seeing the potential to show dough into dough.

While dwelling together with her mother and father in Boston, Leah Kahane, 23, started baking as an antidote to pandemic isolation. “Dropping cinnamon rolls off for my brothers and nieces was a way to feel connected to them,” she stated.

It additionally reminded her that there was one thing she loved greater than govt recruiting for well being care corporations. She stop and enrolled within the Institute of Culinary Education’s baking and pastry arts program in New York.

Bakers who had lengthy specialised in posting pictures and movies of their creations had been additionally discovering a brand new doubtlessly worthwhile viewers. The self-taught Norwegian baker behind the sourdough-centric @breadbyelise Instagram account stated she went from 10,000 to 67,000 followers through the pandemic.

The consideration impressed her to launch a weblog. When readers click on a hyperlink and purchase a product that she recommends, she makes a fee. The girl, who goes by Elise, stated she hoped she would quickly make sufficient to stop her different job. “It’s what I’m working toward,” she stated.

This is just not the primary time a recession has spurred a brand new wave of bakers, stated Mr. Stamm of the bread bakers’ guild.

“We saw a big uptick in the early 2000s when the markets failed and a lot of people who had large 401(k)s lost their jobs,” he stated. “We saw a lot of them come into baking; a lot are still around.”

Ms. Stankiewicz was amongst those that discovered baking proper round then. “For sure there was a feeling, ‘I hate my job, I hate my life, I’m going to wake up and follow my heart,’” she stated. “I think the same thing has happened here.”

Jason Evans, dean of the College of Food Innovation & Technology at Johnson & Wales University, stated that the 2007-9 recession additionally spurred “a bit of a renaissance” within the culinary arts.

But because the pandemic has been producing pleasure amongst new bakers, it has additionally been sporting down old-timers.

“It has been a roller coaster,” stated Celine Underwood, a founding baker at Brickmaiden Bakery in Point Reyes Station, Calif.

Many bakery house owners have had to determine how one can keep afloat with out permitting prospects inside. Profits plummeted. Staff members fled.

“Then business suddenly boomed, even more than before, but with a fraction of the available staff,” she stated. “Those we’ve tried to bring on during the pandemic have been unreliable, had personal chaos, or seem to just not be entirely stable or know what they want.”

Now it’s just about not possible to get a professional baker to answer a needed advert, she and others stated.

Cottage bakers like Mr. Kumangai don’t need to deal with such staffing challenges. Except, as life scoots towards regular, they’re dealing with the temptations of jobs they knew earlier than.

For months, Mr. Kumangai has been putting a cast iron skillet with lava rocks and a cup of water in his oven — amongst different tips to make it operate like an expert steamer oven. Just as he started trying into renting house in a business kitchen, he discovered that “Jagged Little Pill” needed him again within the fall.

He has satisfied himself that he can do each: bake within the morning and carry out on Broadway at night time. He and Mr. Lowney will postpone scaling up the operation, nonetheless, for now.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here