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Bakery growing while saving dough

People’s Bakery takes lower-rent night shift  at CDC shared kitchen

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>The People's Bakery, James Wickline and his children Sammah and Brian, are producing five varieties of spelt bread at the Franklin County Community Development Corp.'s Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center in Greenfield. The company works an overnight shift at the center.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    The People's Bakery, James Wickline and his children Sammah and Brian, are producing five varieties of spelt bread at the Franklin County Community Development Corp.'s Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center in Greenfield. The company works an overnight shift at the center.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>The People's Bakery, James Wickline and his children Sammah and Brian, are producing five varieties of spelt bread at the Franklin County Community Development Corp.'s Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center in Greenfield. The company works an overnight shift at the center.

GREENFIELD — If bread is the staff of life, it’s got a new twist in the popularity of spelt.

And a Franklin County spelt breadmaker is seeing its wholesale business rise, with a little help from the shared commercial kitchen.

People’s Bakery, which moved to the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center about a month ago, is being run by 21-year-old Brian Wickline, with help from his father, business founder James Wickline, who began baking spelt loaves about 10 years ago in Rutland, Vt.

After a brief pause, the elder Wickline moved the bakery to the former Monroe Elementary School, then up to Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, Vt., and after a brief hiatus, about 2½ years ago in Warwick.

When James Wickline, who’d been using the ovens at Warwick’s Copper Angel restaurant, began burning out about six months ago, he turned to Brian, who had moved to the Washington, D.C., area a couple of years ago to do carpentry. The younger Wickline had grown up making bread in the bakery and decided to return to Warwick, buying the business and trying to expand its customer base.

That meant seeking a bigger baking space for what Wickline calls the largest wholesale spelt bakery in western Massachusetts. And that’s where the Franklin County Community Development Corp., which owns the 11-year-old Wells Street commercial kitchen, comes in.

Working with the CDC’s lending program director Alan Singer, the Wicklines decided it would be a better bet at this point to take advantage of overnight down time at the CDC’s kitchen, said CDC Executive Director John Waite.

Between the slowdown in demand with the end of the farming season translating to processing fewer food products and the wee hours preferred by bread bakers, People’s Bakery was offered a discount for a six-hour shift to prepare and then bake its five spelt varieties: four-seed spelt, honey oat, ‘Common Bread,’ cinnamon raisin and sandwich rolls.

James Wickline still works in the Warwick office and helps in baking bread twice a week, said his son, who has helped grow the list of accounts to about 32, including several natural-food stores and co-ops around the Boston and Worcester areas, and to the Berkshires, Albany and Schenectady in the west. In all, People’s Bread sells as many as 1,000 loaves a week, with local customers at Green Fields Market in Greenfield, McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls and River Valley Market in Northampton.

“My dad had been experimenting with spelt and converting wheat recipes to use spelt. Anybody who’s baked spelt recipes knows you can’t simply use spelt instead of wheat. You have to really tweak it.”

That’s because, although it has the same gluten content as wheat, spelt has fibers that aren’t as strong, Wickline says. Ironically, that helps strengthens sales, since it’s good for many people who have trouble digesting regular wheat. So is the fact that its gluten is more water-soluble than wheat.

“We couldn’t sell our product in this volume as well as we do” if it weren’t for that advantage, Wickline said. But having a sliced bread that customers seem to like has helped drive sales to about twice what they were before Brian Wickline returned home to join his father in the business.

Now his 25-year-old sister, Shammah has added granola to the bakery’s products — in both peanut and “Cape Cod cranberry white (chocolate) chip” varieties. They’re sold at Green Fields market as well as at State Street Fruit and Serio’s Market in Northampton.

Despite his age, Wickline — who expects his 16-year-old brother Nehemiah to eventually join him as business partner — says he’s able to keep the bread-baking business booming with advice from their father, as well as the counsel of the CDC’s Singer and Allen Kronick of the Western Massachusetts Small Business Development Center. Both have helped in writing and rewriting the business plan for the bakery as it has evolved, he said. The business employs about nine people full-time, according to Wickline.

And for the CDC, which has about 24 users for its shared kitchen, “Using the overnight shift is huge,” says Waite. “It’s worked out for both of us.”

Although the kitchen has spawned a variety of businesses, from Hillside Organic Pizza and Real Pickles to Katalyst Kombucha and Chubby’s Sauces, Waite said, it’s never had a bakery use the shared facility because making bread is a labor-intensive process that doesn’t leave much leeway for renting kitchen time.

“But they’re used to doing it with just two or three of them,” said Waite, “and it works financially for us to charge the lower rent to have the kitchen in use two nights a week.”

That may expand to three nights a week if business keeps growing, said Wickline, and he’s already looking into the possibility of the business having its own home, with a retail bakery attached where his sister can sell her baked goods as well.

After all, there are some downsides to having People’s Bakery in the shared kitchen. Because of allergens from the flour, the Wicklines have to be fastidious about cleaning every speck from the kitchen at the end of their process … and be out promptly at 6 a.m. when Meals on Wheels shows up to use the facility.

Wickline, who shares in the task of delivering their breads twice a week, said that if the family can boost sales to the point that they’re selling 1,000 loaves a week through the winter, they’ll be ready to go from two nights a week to three.

“The potential is there,” he says. “It’s just a matter of getting on it.”

You can reach Richie Davis at:
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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