Becoming An Accidental Baker

September 22, 2012 § 6 Comments

A few weeks ago, I had a brick 66-inch brick oven built in the right corner of my front yard. It’d taken me since March to get that thing built. It had also been part of this more complex plan to bring a food business concept to Ghana. I’d run the numbers several times and it stood to be a real money maker. I had also faced a lot of resistance from people who for the most part don’t really know who I am even though I’ve always seen them as family. I’m usually very private about my plans or what I do, but with this, and considering how little I knew of Accra, I reluctantly run my business concept by my maternal uncle. The man didn’t really understand what I was trying to do, and probably held some skepticism about it all, but he also understand his wasn’t to criticize what I wanted to do- and it really always boiled down to just that: what I wanted to do. He always referred to it as my project, which later became my bread business. My grandmother was there when I first visited about what I wanted to do and what I needed to start. I’d actually gone to seek advice from my grandmother, but he was also there.

I wanted to bake pizzas. It would’ve and eventually would be about an eighth of my potential revenue stream in that food business, so let’s not call it a “pizza” business like everyone here likes to do. I also wanted to be traditionalist as possible. This meant no tin cans and no gas! I had this quiet stubbornness about my plans. People who had a lil’ idea about what I wanted to do would naturally raise their objections to what they didn’t know or understand. I’d listen, and still press on. This was my show; cooked up in my large and very creative brain, and I wasn’t going to let these Neanderthals tell me what to do. I’d listen; I’ve always been a good listener, but on this and pretty much every business idea I had, there was no way I was going to let any dictate how I should live my life. A few months ago, I reluctantly stood on an uncle’s porch with smiles and all…and listened to this man lecture me about life, religion, his life, and pretty much whatever he could throw in. I had only come over to get a pen drive from his son, but had been cornered and here I was standing for 1 hour and 16 minutes (I timed him) while this man essentially told me how to live my life.

Eventually, he got to a line that pissed me off. “Abandon your plans and…” he pronounced, with such authority! By that point, my mind was frozen on those words and nothing else was coming in. This wasn’t the first “lectur” I’d received from him. They’ve usually been squarely about the virtues of Christianity. This is a man who believes every word in the bible as literal truth, and since I hadn’t the heart to tell him that I worship the devil (I don’t, but always thought it’ll be funny to say), I often stood or sat while I got lectures about the religion. This had happened on nine different occasions and each also ran for more than an hour! This time, however, I was bristling at having to endure for the umpteenth time, another lecture I hadn’t asked for, and worse…I was now being told what to do with my life. The impudence! My own parents have long learned not to meddle in my life after their interferences had negatively impacted my life in very profound ways. And here you are -someone who hadn’t known me for 17 years- assuming your age gave you the right to tell me how to live my life. I nodded and smiled a few times. Left his home abruptly, and called mom to chew her out about using this man as a proxy to do what I’d warned her never to do. She pleaded she hadn’t, but I was still steamed, and that was the last time I was going to let any local know anything I wanted to do here.

The oven was built, but something about it didn’t look right. It looked nice, but I kept thinking there was something off about the structure. There was. The dome was high- a good 14 inches to be exact! I knew I should’ve stood over my builder and kept him from making me a bread oven, but it was too late. He had however promised it’ll bake really good bread. It wasn’t what I wanted, but until I could find the right bricks and cooking tiles, I was going to make use of new brick oven. It wasn’t exactly my fantasized response for that 76-minute lecture, but I was determined to make it a good start. In the last 3 weeks, I’ve managed to get a total of 600 loaves of bread orders from 4 mom-n-pop stores and 3 gas stations- I have yet to even baked a since loaf in my oven! I’m looking to get at least 50 more potential customers to sample my product next week when I start baking my first batch of Amish bread (and another more delicious recipe I’d rather not mention for now). My ultimate goal is to bake about 5000 loaves a week- the max I feel my oven can handle in a week. I’m at 600 now.

I also had designs on making vacuum-sealed and refrigerated dinner rolls for mostly restaurants and hotels. A grand ambition, I know…but why not. And after a few exhaustive weeks of buzzing about Accra and finally hiring my first 2 bakers, I was up headed to A & C to meet a restaurant manager friend who wanted to try out my sweet dinner rolls on a weekend day when others were resting in their homes like I should have. That’s where my last entry happened. So, after 3 weeks of plastering and re-plastering my oven dome; going through three cycles of burning fires; buying bags of increasingly expensive flour; and finally finding some ingredients I’ve needed at Koala only after enduring the blatant racism in that store, I’m all set to go. Today, I’m headed to Abokobi, Teiman, Ayi Mensah, back to Adenta Barrier, then it’s back out to the lower boarder of the Eastern Region all to target customers I’d like to give out bread samples to the first week of October. So, this is where I’m headed at least the last 3 months of the year- making some delicious oven baked bread. Maybe next time, I’ll live blog why I’m doing any of what I came back to Ghana to do, and why I no longer hold back when it comes to dishing out some venom to Ghanaians. Ta-ta!

 

 

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§ 6 Responses to Becoming An Accidental Baker

  • Richard says:

    I live in Accra. I miss eating good (artisan) sourdough bread.

    Anyway.

    Don’t forget to let us know where we can check out your baked goods when they are available. Good luck. Peace.

  • Jenny says:

    Keep going Mike!!! You’re making leaps and bounds already. Cheers!!!

  • Yvonne says:

    I can’t wait to get a chance to taste your baked goods!!! 🙂 keep it up!!!

  • Nana says:

    Wow, its a little comforting(I guess) to hear that I am no the only one who gets unsolicited advice from “family friends”…. I am thinking thats just the norm of what most elderly people in Ghana see as their duty or calling to lecture. Its very irritating and annoying. Hopefully, I can build the guts to tell them exactly how I feel. Congrats on the oven, very inspiring.

  • Ann Meredith says:

    Congrats on keeping on keeping on despite the setbacks. I would also really appreciate good bread – it is in short supply in Ghana! Hope you make a success of it and we can see it on sale in many outlets.

  • Nana Yaw says:

    This right here:
    “I knew I should’ve stood over my builder and kept him from making me a bread oven, but it was too late. He had however promised it’ll bake really good bread. It wasn’t what I wanted, …”
    is all the proof I need, to know that Mike was really in Ghana.
    EVERY TIME you engage the services of an artisan, you go through this shite. You have to stand over them and direct everything they do … Sometimes, they’ll even intentionally sabotage what you tell them to do, because they “resent” being made to do something which is not “how it is done”.
    I used to be very upset when I saw how the Lebanese treated artisans on building sites etc – until I had to deal with them myself on a project. In the end, I had to resort to the same tactics that Lebanese employed – and it worked.
    The Lebanese way isn’t pretty, but it works in Ghana – again a sad testament to the mentality of my fellow Ghanaians.

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