By Kristi Hiivala
DASSEL, MN Over the next eight weeks, the Enterprise Dispatch will be provide a unique view into the lives of local men and women whose profession is somewhat obscure from the public in a series called “A Day in the Life of . . .” This week, we take a look into the daily operations of a baker.
An early morning stop into Jay’z Bakery in Dassel is a very sweet-smelling experience. Shelves filled with freshly baked buns and loaves of bread wait for customers. A glass case filled with donuts and pastries greets hungry eyes.
In the back of the bakery, one will find the man responsible for baking all of these delicious treats, Jason Zimmerman. Jason and his wife, Mona, purchased the bakery building almost seven years ago. It took a few years of hard work rebuilding the location and making it suitable for the bakery business they wanted to own together.
They originally saw the building for sale in a real estate magazine and moved their family from Stanchfield, MN, located just north of Cambridge, to Dassel to make their dreams come true. They saw the rundown location as “filthy perfect” for the opportunity to own their own bakery. Almost three years ago they opened the bakery in Dassel and have been working nonstop ever since.
Having the opportunity to plan and build the business as they wanted was important. The layout of a bakery’s working area helps streamline the amount of work that needs to be done, because a lot of work goes into making each of those yummy baked goods.
Jason doesn’t wear the baker’s hat that is often displayed on cartoon bakers used in commercials and ads. And he only dons the apron when working with messy ingredients.
Staying true to himself is similar to how he got his start in the baking world in the first place. He started his baking career as a baker’s assistant in his early 20s and as he learned more about baking under the guide of a mentor, he realized how much he enjoyed working with his hands and creating something overnight.
“Unlike constructing a house, which takes several months, I can create my work in one night and feel the instant gratification of completing that project,” Jason explained.
Many people would be surprised to learn just how much work and time goes into creating each of those donuts, muffins, and loaves of bread. Jason often starts his “work day” at 11 p.m. each night, taking note of any special orders he may need to create, as well as the daily baking of fresh products to fill the bakery’s retail shelves.
“A lot of companies receive already-baked products that they then glaze or frost early each morning and in reality, that product is considered a day old,” Jason explains. “But one of my favorite things about being a baker is creating a fresh handmade product every single day.”
Shortly after starting his night shift, Jason prepares the donut mix and bread he will later bake in large ovens that line one of the walls.
After 20 years of baking experience, Jason doesn’t need to use recipe cards to mix his batters. He recalls the ingredients needed almost as a way of life. “I have been doing this for so long, and six to seven days a week; it all just comes naturally to me,” Jason said.
Having a lot of experience doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t happen or that a product doesn’t come out exactly how Jason planned it to. “I learn new things all of the time. I am constantly figuring out new ways to do things easier. Baking is a dying art, as more and more machines are completing things that bakers used to do by hand,” Jason explained.
Putting in long hours and dealing with the occasional burn from the fryer or oven are some of the drawbacks to being a small-business baker. But Jason and Mona agree that their favorite thing about being bakers is their connection to the customers. “Many of our regulars don’t see Jason when they stop in for coffee and their roll, as he is working in the back. But we both appreciate the satisfaction of our customers when they stop in and enjoy a favorite pastry or even try something new,” Mona said.
During the summer months they are busier. In addition to their regular “8 a.m. and 2 p.m. coffee and roll customers,” they welcome quite a few visitors staying at a local lake or campground. Saturday mornings often means a family affair, as their children help out in the bakery. Stacia, age 14, and Matthew, age 9, probably enjoy those rare days when there are few leftovers at the end of the day to snack on. But predicting what products will be hot sellers on a particular day is a tricky part of the business.
“We pay a lot of attention to what events are going on in our community, so that we can be prepared for additional visitors that may stop for a treat,” Jason explained.
The next time you bite into a fresh donut with chocolate frosting at your local bakery in Dassel, keep in mind how much work went in to creating that treat at all hours in the night.