Baking a business from the basics
It started off about music, and music still has a role. And it’s evolved into pursuing one’s passions, which is happening a lot faster than Jess Jones thought possible.
Jess, David D’Amato and his partner Phil Perry enjoy music and going to concerts. The concerts can be pricey so they thought by using their culinary skills they could make a few extra bucks baking and delivering bread to friends and neighbors.
The plan was to “start with the basics and to go from there,” said Jess. That’s what happened when Phil found a commercial mixer online. Without a mixer, hand-kneading bread is possible but would have been impractical on a large scale.
The commitment was made; they bought the mixer. Then came the baking pans and, with the help of a neighbor, they found the Asbury United Methodist Church in Gaspee. The church has a licensed kitchen that serves as the base of operations, from early Saturday morning and often into early Sunday morning.
But it doesn’t stop yet; that’s when the deliveries begin.
All the elements to J&D Breads have come together.
What they never expected was how quickly the business would grow. In early June, they were filling about 30 orders for four varieties of breads. This past week, they had more than 170 customers, and the numbers keep growing.
“The response has been huge, way beyond what we would have dreamed,” said Jess.
The basics, according to Jess, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, are “flour, yeast, water and that’s it.” There are no additives.
But it’s more basic than that.
The trio is looking to communicating by seeing people face-to-face and to building community. The company purposely doesn’t have a website, although they do have email – email@example.com. That’s in addition to notes left and people dropping by the church to place orders.
Jess, who lives in the Smith Hill area of Providence, loves her close-knit neighborhood. She says people know each other, maybe not by name but by sight, and they say hello and watch out for one another. She believes the same sense of caring is possible on a larger scale and that a basic of life – like bread – can help make that happen. Furthermore, she loves cooking and considers it an art form. When dining out, she finds herself thinking of how the meal was prepared and presented. It is with similar attention that they prepare and make bread; from the “feeding” of the yeast, which takes place throughout the week, to the careful measuring of ingredients; mixing; allowing the dough to rise; and hand-shaping each loaf before it goes into one of three ovens.
“Food is my way to give back to the community,” said Jess.
“We love music on top of what we do,” added Dave. “This is more passion than it shows.”
Dave’s children, Gabriella, 13, and Gavin, 10, occasionally assist, although with sports and school, that’s going to be difficult.
Three of the J&D breads – country white, French loaf and country wheat – sell for $3 a loaf. Honey oat, a mix of wheat and white flours and, of course, a generous amount of oats and honey, sells for $4. The loaves are delivered Sunday and, if there are any leftovers, Jess knows she’ll find ready buyers at one of several nearby fire stations.
“We’re not trying to gouge people,” said Jess. “We’re not looking to turn a huge profit.”
The dream, which now seems to be closer than they dared to imagine, is a full-time bakery. All three have full-time jobs during the week at this point, so the weekend business is all the bread they can handle for now.
A Providence Journal story last week prompted a spike in orders and, knowingly or not, fostered some of that “community” Jess feels is so important. The story named Mayor Scott Avedisian and Ward 1 Councilman Steve Colantuono as customers. So readers reached out to those two customers to learn how to contact J&D.
Avedisian noted that J&D is also helping out the church.
“The fact that you order bread on Saturday and freshly baked bread is delivered to your house on Sunday morning is amazing in a world where everyone and everything is moving so fast. This back-to-basics approach is a great new business in the area.”
Some, like Joseph Brescia, who lives on Fair Street, around the corner from the church, stop in at the basement kitchen to place orders.
Of course, the three eat their own bread.
And they know from experience a loaf rarely lasts a week.
“If it isn’t gone [eaten] by then, we know something is wrong,” Jess said.