We had the pleasure of sitting down with Melissa Gardner from Five Points Bakery over a cup of coffee (or two) recently. She was nominated by Michael McGreevy because he really likes what they stand for, and what they are working on accomplishing with their business.
Tell us a little about you guys
Melissa: “I’ve been married to Kevin for 17 years. We have worked together for all of those 17 years. We have been employees of the same place and Kevin had his own contracting business for a while and I would help him out there. Before we started Five Points, we managed Dulci Bakery on Breckenridge and Elmwood. Some friends of mine had bought it, I was 18 and it was easy for me to help them manage it because I had already been working there. When we were there, we thought a lot about buying local ingredients. I had done the Eat Local Challenge over a few summers, and it was easy because there’s so much here. You have eggs, cheese, vegetables, maple syrup, honey, milk and butter. But, the one thing that we couldn’t find was bread. You could find bread that was made here, but you couldn’t find bread that was grown here. Dolci was really traditional, so the finding local products didn’t really fit. We ended up leaving and we started this whole concept: everything we used would be local. I went to a NOFA conference and I figured I could find a farmer somewhere locally that grew wheat. We couldn’t find anybody. What’s interesting, is Kevin was working in construction along with our neighbor and had built a straw bail house out in Depew. It turns out, they used wheat straw. We contacted the guy who sold them the straw, and it turned out that he grew hard red wheat – which is what you use to make bread. So, there we had our source of wheat. Which is kind of funny, we did it backwards. We had the space, the mills, now we had to find the wheat.”
Tell us about the Five Points Bakery building
“We’ve been in business for 7 years, and have only been here since December. Kevin has owned the property for three years.” It took a lot of time to work on the building. “I loved that all of the people that worked on the building lived on the west side. We never hired a big company or out of town contractors to do the work. When we closed the other bakery to work on the finish work for this one, we didn’t want to lay off our staff, so we paid them to work here. They redid the floors, they painted. It was fun. A lot of them had never done anything like that in their lives. They have sanded or stained, and now they know how to do that.”
Tell us about the wheat
Melissa: “Our farmer is not certified organic. One thing that I had learned when I went to the farming conference is that a lot of farmers don’t want to be certified. Some of the farmers out there are really tough. They’re against the government coming in and telling them what organic is, and what it isn’t. A lot of the farmers we deal with are small batch farmers. For them, they would just get bogged down with paperwork and it’s really expensive. So, a lot of them pledge organic. That was one reason why we say “it’s good to know your farmer”. Then you know what they are doing, and what they aren’t doing. It’s just like when we got our mill. When we milled the flour, you could see the bran in it. Something wasn’t right. We did research and found that it can actually be only 80% whole wheat, but you can legally call it 100% whole wheat. We had a lot of eye opening experiences like that. Like, the legality of what you can say is whole grain or organic is really a government controlled thing. You can say a lot of things, but it doesn’t mean that they’re true. You can say the bread contains all of these nutrients, even though the way that most bakeries, when they just add a lot of yeast, sugar and water doesn’t unlock any of the nutrients. They’re in there, but they’re not absorbed by your body unless you use an old style baking method. It’s kinda like eggs… a conventional egg is not like a free range egg. You think it’s the same, but it isn’t. When we take our kids to the farmers market, you can tell that care has gone into the broccoli, rather than the mass produced broccoli. We just had peaches the other day, and my daughter ate one and said “this tastes like a peach!” I said: “yeah, that’s why you have to wait for peaches”.”
What challenges do you face?
“Doing it this way has its challenges. Every year, when it’s harvest time, we never know what our wheat is going to be like. Every year it’s different. When you buy flour from the store, they actually make it in a lab. They take wheat from all of these different places, and if one has super high protein and one has super low, they mix it into a certain ratio so that your flour is the same every time. Once it’s harvest time, and we get the new wheat, it’s always a little bit scary. We have to redo all of our recipes. But for us, that’s exciting and fun.”
“Maybe it’s even a crazy business model. My husband and I own the business together. If things go amiss, it’s hard for people to understand what we need to do. Like for instance our egg farmer. A fox got into his hen house and killed all of his chickens. Our customers were all saying “what do you mean I can’t get eggs?” I said that it was going to be at least 8 months to a year, because we committed to this person. We’ve told them that we were going to buy his eggs. This is life in a way that people don’t necessarily see life anymore. Life is so very convenient – you can always get your eggs, you can always get your bread and it will always be the same because your flour is always the same. That’s not necessarily reality. Reality is that it can all be gone, which can make you appreciate it in a different way.”
“I tell people that when we got our first batch of wheat from the farm, we had to rent a truck and we filled the barrels ourselves. We had to clean it ourselves. There aren’t systems set up for this anymore. The farmers don’t clean the wheat themselves anymore. Nobody buys wheat this way anymore. Our farmer looked at our truck, turned to me and said, “Look at that smile on your face. This if fun for you?” I said, this, to me is food security. I have this entire truck of wheat. If anything ever happened, this makes me feel good. This is money in the bank to me. We could live off of this. It’s not going to go bad. It’s a true commodity. That’s really the reason why we started the bakery. We wanted people to see that you could do it this way. It is difficult, you pay a lot more for our ingredients. But, to us, it’s pretty amazing. Our wheat farmer, John had never eaten his wheat before. When we baked our first bread, we brought him some. It was really very empowering. When the movie Food, Inc came out, we invited John to view it. They talked about the cleaning of wheat. They tell you that Monsanto is buying up all of the cleaners because they don’t want you to save your seeds. They want you to buy theirs. After John saw the movie, he bought a cleaner. It’s changed his perspective on his own farm. He’s always been a heavy duty commercial farmer. The wheat that we get now from him is native to this area. That’s pretty exciting.”
It’s about relationships
“When we were looking to sell coffee, we went with Gimme Coffee. They have organic, fair trade, shade grown, but they also had something called relationship coffee. They have relationships with these specific coffee growers. They would go down there, visit the growers and they would tell them how much they want to sell it for. It’s what it’s worth to them.”
“Some people don’t like what we do here. One day, a man was really upset about the price of the coffee. It’s $2, but he was berating me over the price. Kevin told me: “Melissa, you can just tell him to leave”. Also, on weekends, we don’t like people to work on computers. It gets busy here and we need turn over the tables very quickly. People come in from out of town, or the suburbs and we want to be able to serve them all. Sometimes you have to upset a few people. Everybody can’t like everything. It’s like all of the progress and new development in Buffalo. Sometimes I look at a new building and I’m say “WHOA, that is something!”! I’m sure people come in here and say “what were they thinking, with this barn and all of this crazy stuff!” You just really have to be true to who you are. That’s it. What else are you going to do?”
What’s an average day look like?
“An average day in the life of Kevin and Melissa – we have four daughters that are 9 years, 11 year old twins and a 13 year old. Which explains why we are only open from 7am until 3pm. Which a lot of people don’t like either. But, to us, we want to be here but we also have a family. An average day is not as difficult as you think. We finally have a bread baker that really understands the bread. Bread is a chemistry. He really gets it. We’re usually up at 5 or 5:30am. We both do spiritual practice for usually 30 minutes to an hour. It’s really important to us. We get up early to have alone time, without the kids asking to do whatever they need to do. We do most of the work in the bakery ourselves. Managing, baking, ordering, accounting, plus managing home life. One of the toughest things is the struggle to balance the work and home life. Which is one of the reasons why we didn’t open this space for a while. We had worked in a high-demand bakery and it was all you were ever doing – working for it. It wasn’t working for you. When we opened up this place, we agreed that we wouldn’t sacrifice our family life. Before, our kids went to daycare, and sometimes when we picked them up, it would be dark. We thought, this isn’t right, this doesn’t make any sense. They’re only little for so long. Very soon they’re not going to want to hang out with me at all. They’ll have their own lives and friends. I think that is really the most important thing in a day in the life of Kevin and Melissa. During the school year is when we try to be the most productive. We just have that extra time. We eat family dinner together every night. That’s one of the most important things to us too.”
Do the kids help you out?
“They do! Maybe one day a week in the summer they’ll come in and label some bread or something. My oldest is 14 next summer and will be getting her working papers and can work here for real.”
Any predictions for you and the bakery?
“This is where I wish that Kevin was being interviewed. He has some very long-range plans. I think that the bakery business will probably stay relatively where it is. At the beginning, we had thought about doing wholesale but we only wholesale to the Co-op. We really like it that way. It means that people come in and we get to talk to them and we can explain things, like how our bread is different because of the harvest that came in. We like the relationship that we have with our customers.”
“Kevin owns the 5 Points Building Company, and I own the bakery. I actually pay him rent. Kevin has plans for the whole property. When we bought the building it was actually a two story structure. It was falling in, and full of stuff. Kevin had a vision and I believed him. He has a whole plan and sometime I don’t quite see where he’s going with it, but it’s just how I am. For us, we really are really happy where we are. When people call and ask us to do a Groupon or offer to get us more business, we say we’re happy with the business we have. Our kids are healthy and well-fed and I can buy them new shoes. Our employees are happy, we can pay them a decent wage. We can all take vacations. Why more, more, more? Where is that going to get me? Then my kids are going to just want more expensive shoes. We don’t need that.”
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
“I think that if anything, it would be that anything truly was possible. It really wouldn’t matter what you wanted to do. Growing up, I was in a hardcore band. I was this crazy, traveling gutter-punk. And so was Kevin. It seemed really limiting. Even being a female, or a feminist. Being feminist when I was growing up, you couldn’t wear lipstick, or a dress. It’s just amazing now what my daughters can do and have available to them. I think that I would just tell myself it didn’t really matter what anybody said. You can be anything you wanted to be, or do anything.”
Do you have any go-to words of encouragement?
Jill Gedra from Nickel City Cheese