Hewn’s Ellen King on bread and the principle of scarcity
Posted by Aimee Levitt on 08.06.13 at 04:16 PM
It’s embarrassing to admit that the thing that made me start thinking seriously about economics for the first time since high school was a shortage of pastry. Particularly why some local bakeries have decided to stay open to sell bread or doughnuts only as long as supplies last, not until a set closing time. Did they do it to increase demand, knowing that if you need to get up early and repeatedly check a Twitter feed to get a loaf of bread that may disappear by the time you get to the front of the line, it only makes the bread seem more valuable? (That’s called scarcity.)
That’s not the case at Hewn, a new artisan bakery in Evanston, says head baker and co-owner Ellen King. At least not intentionally.
“The whole principle of our business,” she says, “is that we want to be totally in touch with the bread. We hand mix the bread so we can make adjustments. We ferment the bread for a long time. It’s an antiquated method, but it improves the taste. It also limits the amount of bread we can produce.”
Hewn’s production is also limited by the bakery’s size. The bread has to ferment and rise overnight, and there’s only so much refrigerator space. There’s also a limited amount of space for ingredients.
“All our sourcing is local,” King explains. “We’re only buying what we need for four or five days. It’s expensive. So we don’t want leftovers, that’s for sure. And we want to keep our bread fresh. We would never sell anything that’s a day old. We’d prefer to sell out than have leftovers.”
On a day when Hewn is working at full capacity—most often Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—the bakers make 150 loaves of bread. Those also happen to be the days when the bakery gets the most customers. On slow days—Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and, especially, Thursdays—they make less.
King and her business partner, Julie Matthei, have been keeping track of how much they sell every day, but since the bakery’s only been open for two months, they’re still working some kinks out of the system. Last Tuesday morning, for instance, they saw an unusual number of bread sales in the morning, though usually on Tuesdays, people buy pastry in the morning and bread in the afternoon.
But while King and Matthei will make minor adjustments to the production schedule, they have no plans to increase the bakery’s overall capacity.
“We know how much [money] we need to make,” says King, “and we want to meet those numbers. We’re not a franchise. We don’t make bread for the masses. We want to have a life. We’re in this because we want to make the best product we can. It sounds pompous, but I love making bread. It makes me happy.”
And if you don’t want to get up early and face the open market, you can always call the bakery and ask them to reserve a loaf of bread for you.