On Dec. 2, the oven at Worden’s Market’s offsite baking facility broke down. Owner Tim France says the three-year-old operation had conducted proactive maintenance to prevent such an incident, but this particular situation “was something we didn’t see coming.”
“It was like one minute to the next, literally,” France says. “We woke up one morning and boom, she shut down. That was it.”
Repairing the oven would have required parts that haven’t been manufactured for nine years. The price quote on a replacement was $42,000, France says, an expense that “wouldn’t pencil” with the bakery facing another two years of debt. Having exhausted its solutions, Worden’s made a tough decision: It shut down the bakery completely.
“It was a hard decision,” France says. “A rough couple days. It’s still rough.”
Eight employees were subsequently laid off, three of them full-time positions. In addition, 15 wholesale clients were left scrambling to find new sources for bread. Dan Brasington, head chef at Sean Kelly’s, was anticipating an order the day the oven broke down. Luckily, Brasington says, he had enough bread on hand to last two days. After that he turned to corporate suppliers to see what they could get him “on the fly.”
“There’s not many bread people here in town, not many options,” Brasington says, adding that he’s still working to find a local alternative.
Brasington sees it as a sad development, in light of both the lost jobs and the fact that he prefers to work with local businesses. He had a good relationship with the Worden’s bakery. “But I understand,” he says. “It was going to cost something like $50,000 to replace the oven … That’s tough for any small business.”
Worden’s has been baking bread for nearly seven years. If business had picked up another 20 percent, France says, “we would have been doing great.” Worden’s will be able to meet its own in-store demand for baked goods for a few weeks using a convection oven and several conventional gas ranges. But it too will be searching for a more permanent solution. France says he’s now mulling ways to reinvent the space in his Higgins storefront, examining “what we do well” and perhaps focusing more on comfort food than fancy sandwiches. He adds that he’s hopeful Worden’s can salvage a few of the jobs lost in the bakery shutdown through that reinvention.