Hearts and flours: Rickard's Bakery
It was a stroke of luck and then a lot of hard work. Their Vineyard house on the market, Kate and Gates Rickard were poised to leave Martha's Vineyard two years ago with their two children, now aged two and four.
Mr. Rickard was working at Slice of Life as a pastry chef, and on a whim, to increase the family income, he and Kate called Cronig's Market on the chance that the market might buy their fresh baked breads. The sales pitch required some sampling, but as soon as that was done, the Rickards' bread appeared on Cronig's shelves, and the Rickards suspended their moving plans.
"We went down to Cronig's and started getting calls from restaurants. People heard just from us putting a little bread out there. We pulled the for sale sign off the house," said Kate Rickard, co-owner with her husband of the family bakery that bears their name. "By that first weekend, we had about four restaurants saying they were interested, and then within two weeks we had 14 restaurants."
Photos by Lynn Christoffers
It took a year to find a building for the bakery. They settled on the building that previously housed the tent company Seaside Celebrations off State Road in Vineyard Haven.
"There was a truck in one room, and another was filled floor-to-ceiling with tent poles," Ms. Rickard said. "We put up walls, plumbing, electricity, and built an oven shipped in pieces from France."
And then they furnished it with mixers, ovens, a walk-in refrigerator, counter space, a hydraulic press, and bins for ingredients - such as the 1,000 pounds of flour delivered daily.
"This past summer, it was me and Gates here 24 hours. I missed my kids. Now we have an excellent staff," Ms. Rickard said of their seven employees.
Along with manager Katie Babcock, the Rickards held their first baking class last week. Six people signed up for Tuesday's session, to learn about the Rickard way of bread baking. Beginning with a tour of the establishment, much like the tours offered to Island schools, the class progressed with instruction, hands-on preparation techniques, and finally tasting fresh-from-the-oven loaves of sourdough and ciabatta breads. The two-hour class, attended by one man and five women, was able to cover what is actually a roughly nine-hour process by preparing breads ahead of time, at different points in the baking process.
"All breads take two days to make," said Ms. Rickard. Pointing around the room, she continues, "It goes through a circle. Dough gets divided into the bins; it's proofed, shaped, put into trays, cooked, put on racks to cool, and bagged. It goes full circle."
During the class, students got to feel and taste the two different doughs being made, to shape their own loaves and load them onto the conveyor belt that takes them into the oven. They also used a razor (a bakery "lame") to carve a design into the crust. The Rickards use a wheat pattern as their insignia. While engraving the insignia in the top of each loaf adds artistic value, it is also a necessary step in bread baking, because the slits allow the bread to rise properly rather than break through its sides.
"I haven't made bread since I was 30, and that was 30 years ago," bread baking student Dolly Campbell said.
Sue Kimball came seeking a reliable baking method: "I've tried making bread before. Sometimes I have success; sometimes it's a miserable failure. I've come to find out how to make it consistent."
After extensive schooling and work experience in the U.S. and abroad - they both attended Johnson and Wales then worked in Brussels, Switzerland, and London - the Rickards' considerable expertise was evident in their instruction. With mentors such as Peter Reinhart and Ciril Hitz, two renowned bread bakers, the Rickards' wealth of knowledge pushes new ideas and strategy.
"Gates is a textbook," said Ms. Rickard proudly. "He remembers every tiny bit of trivial knowledge. I'm really good at fixing mistakes on the fly. He's really good at not making them."
Their new bakery opened in May, and now the Rickards have grand plans. They envision having 40 workers next summer creating a variety of new goods: Brunch in a Basket (ready-to-bake cinnamon buns, apple turnovers, and scones), more classes, an olive oil specially blended for their breads, and eventually wedding cakes.
"I got into it for the art of it. Chocolate work, sugar work, really more of the decorative work," said Ms. Rickard. "Gates got into it for the meditative purposes of working with bread."
Though most of their 20 breads have proven popular, a few recipes have intimidated some customers. One example is their Black Russian bread, made with dark rye, caraway seeds, molasses, and cocoa powder for color.
"It's really good, but no one knew what it was," said Ms. Rickard. However, the bread sold out once shoppers were offered samples.
Ciabatta is their best seller. "We can't make enough," says Ms. Rickard.
Since they do not add anything to make it shelf-stable, the Rickards donate leftover bread to the Island Food Pantry, Community Services, and the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, so little is wasted.
Despite working 24 hours a day through the summer and dealing with obstacles, such as the price of flour, which, before prices began dropping, had tripled, the Rickards love what they do. They even manage to keep their two children happy...with sleepovers at the bakery.
Holiday Cookie Class, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 6-8 pm, Rickard's Bakery, Vineyard Haven. Make and bake assortment of holiday cookies.
Gingerbread House Class, Thursday, Dec. 18, 6-8 pm, Rickard's Bakery, Vineyard Haven. Learn tricks about making gingerbread houses. $55/class. Pre-register by calling 508-693-2955.