When ICE President Rick Smilow and Anne E. McBride wrote Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food they discovered a plethora of food jobs they had never heard of before. Since the book’s release, they have been discovering even more interesting culinary career paths. DICED shares some of them with you in a reoccurring feature: “Unique Culinary Careers.”
In recent years, the food world has started paying close attention to sustainable, local, artisanal products as well as the impact of their food choices on the world around them. Aviv Fried certainly tackles these issues at his bread business, Sidewalk Citizen Bakery. In November 2008, he would bake ten loaves of bread every Monday, sell them to his friends, deliver the bread by bike on Tuesdays and donate the profit to CODE, a group that donates books and teaching supplies to the developing world. Since then, the project has grown into a full-time business called Sidewalk Citizen Bakery. Now, in addition to the weekly bread delivery, he also operates a store on Fridays and Saturdays and sells breads and pastries in various locations around Calgary, Alberta. The menu has expanded well beyond bread to include scones, croissants, danishes and other special treats. Plus, he uses all local, organic flours with no additives. And he still donates part of the Monday profit to CODE or other charities. We asked him what it’s like to run a business, what inspires him and what plans he has for the future.
How would you describe your job?
I am the baker and owner of Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, an artisan, French-style bakery, in Calgary. My specialty is sourdough. I bake all the bread myself from the initial mixing of the dough to getting it out of the oven. Apart from bread, we also bake pastries and I do that together with a pastry chef and an apprentice baker. I am also the owner so I do a lot of the other stuff, like orders, payroll and planning and testing new products.
What has your career path been like?
I started this bakery about two years ago. It wasn’t my career path at all and was a complete surprise for me as well as for my family. I have an undergrad Honors degree in physics and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. I was on my way to become a financial analyst when I took a short break and worked as a cheese monger for a few months. This break allowed to me to think closely how I want to live my life. I always wanted to create something and living sustainably is close to my heart. While I never intended on being a baker, I never intended to be a banker either. It started slowly. I started baking a couple of loaves once a week, enjoying the challenge. I initially had no intentions on making it my career
At the time, I was still finishing my thesis. I shared my office with four other graduate students and we decided to adopt a library in a village in Malawi. We needed to raise $2,500 to support it for a year. By the time we graduated, we had only raised $1,200 and I wanted to raise the rest. So, on my day off, I baked bread, delivered it on my bike to a few friends and all the proceeds went towards CODE, the organization that supports literacy in Africa. Slowly, this passion became more and more serious and I realized that this is what I want to do.
I started baking more days during the week and selling my bread at a local farmers’ market. Eventually, I quit my job as a cheese monger and started baking full time.
What inspires you?
People who are passionate and dedicated to their passion inspire me. I used to listen to this series of talks called Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner where entrepreneurs — mainly from the tech sector — talk about their career. I was always so moved by the commitment they had to pursue their passion and the amount of hard work and effort they put into it. I hope I am doing the same thing with my bakery.
The inspiration for the name of the bakery is from a book I love, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. She talked about what makes a city interesting. She described the interaction of people as an intricate “sidewalk ballet” and I loved that image. I feel like a citizen of my city and want the bakery to be a part of the pulse of that community. I am a part of one, using local ingredients and knowing my suppliers personally.
What were some unexpected challenges?
There are so many unexpected challenges when running a small business. The amount of work is ridiculous — there are no days off. Dealing with financial uncertainty is hard as well. Having a never-ending list of things to do is something you have to get use to.
What is a typical day like?
I start working around 5:00 am. I usually start baking right away and also do some paperwork and planning for the days ahead. I am done baking around 10:00am and have to make sure the bread that needs to be delivered is on its way. Once I am done baking, I start prepping the bread for the next day. The sourdough takes three-days to make. My day usually ends at about 3:00pm and then I am ready for a nap.
What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
The most satisfying feeling at the end of the day is the knowledge that I’ve created something with my hands. I go home, eat my bread and think about all the people who are doing the same and that is a good feeling.
I love bread, everything about it: the smell, the sound it makes when it comes out of the oven, the texture, the taste. It stirs emotions in people, like food often does. Some people are so excited by the bread, they bring little gifts: herbs or vegetables from their garden, maybe a stew they think the bread complements. The craziest thing I got was a pheasant. One of my customers, who I really like, gave me a pheasant he shot. He explained how to clean it and gave me a sweet jalapeno jelly he made to eat with it. It was delicious.
On my part, I continuously try to bake the best loaf possible. It’s an arduous task. It always changes. As soon as you think you got the grasp of it, something changes. It’s definitely teaches you humility. When the bread turns out great, it’s a fantastic day, and when it doesn’t, I am bummed. I am always learning and trying to improve my technique and when it happens it is a great feeling.
What has been the most challenging thing?
There are many challenges. The most important one is to produce good bread daily. Conditions change; humidity and temperature need to be accommodated. Beside the long hours and lack of sleep, it’s a challenge to make a good product using good ingredients and maintain fair prices. I really believe that bread should be affordable.
Anything exciting coming up soon?
We are collaborating with a chef from Toronto and a local restaurant in Calgary for a pop-up dinner party. It is going to be very exciting. They are incredible chefs and I really admire their creations.
What is your advice for anyone looking for a similar career?
Be passionate and be patient. Remember what you want to do and where you want to go, so when things get hard, or you have temptations for shortcuts, you have your goal as a beacon to guide you through.