Bui Ship Box Seattle
Greg Atkinson / January 2009
At wit's end trying to keep up with production and logistics for three jamming locations of her Macrina Bakery & Cafe, Leslie Mackie streamlines operations at a new baking facility in Seattle's latest hip neighborhood. Greg Atkinson reports.
When Leslie Mackie of Seattle's Macrina Bakery & Cafe realized it was time to consolidate her three bakeries under one roof, she wanted to make sure that the move would enhance the bakeries' reputation as an interactive space where customers and artisan bakers came face-to-face. When a space in the city'smost recently gentrified neighborhood became available, she embraced new business partners, ordered new equipment, and started planning for the move.
It may be counterintuitive to equate a warehouse with a cathedral, but if you step inside one of the soaring, 100 year old, concrete and timber buildings that occupies Seattle's SoDo neighborhood, the analogy is easy. Dependent almost entirely on natural light, these industrial structures defy gravity with old-growth timbers that reach from their very solid foundations to their lofty ceilings, which are typically punctuated with skylights or ringed with louvered windows. Recently one of those spaces, having undergone a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) renovation, has become home to Macrina Bakery, a Seattle business launched 15 years ago in a much smaller building in the city's Belltown neighborhood.
"At the old location, " says Mackie, "we were bursting at the seams." The original 4, 000-square-foot space housed production, dining, and retail space until additional room was acquired in the basement of a neighboring building. "We moved most of the production to a basement area under Wasabi Bistro, half a block from the original bakery, and from there we were supplying the Belltown cafe, the Queen Anne cafe, and a cafe on Vashon Island." (The Vashon location was slated to close as soon as the new SoDo location was up and running.)
"Our mission here, " says Mackie, "is to create flow. Deliveries come in through this door, " she said, with a wave toward a retractable bay that opens into the alley on the west side of the building. As Mackie spoke, her production manager, Phuong Bui, was supervising the unloading of five pallets, each one containing 55 50-pound bags. He started working as a dishwasher at the original Macrina in 1994. "Most of my crew has been with me a long time, " she says.
"So the flour is unloaded here directly into the mixing room, " says Mackie, "and I'm still using these 50-pound bags because I use a lot of different flours and I didn't want to go with a big silo the way most commercial bakeries do." In the mixing room, dough is fabricated, and for rising it is dispensed in 10-pound lumps to gray Tablecraft bus boxes, familiar to anyone who has spent more than a minute in the restaurant industry. From there, the dough goes to the shaping area where bakers hand-form every loaf and roll. A walk-in cooler is positioned nearby to retard the rising of the shaped breads so that they don't overproof before they're baked. One of the biggest challenges Macrina's bakers had to face in the original space was minimal areas for proofing. "Some days it would be 100 degrees in the shaping area, and we were scrambling to get the bread in the ovens before it overproofed, " confides one baker. So at the heart of the new facility is a 16-by-9-foot walk-in cooler with ample shelf space for hundreds of loaves. Adjacent to it is a 16-by-9-foot walk-in freezer for the scone dough and the laminated dough that becomes croissants and pain au chocolat, which are assembled here and shipped frozen to the satellite neighborhood bakeries to be baked off.
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