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Amid food boom, trio of artisan bakeries close

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

First, Flour Bakery co-ownerHope Williamsposted a heartfelt note on Facebook in August about why she was walking away from her small bakery, which was doing well but at the expense of her mental (and physical and family’s) sanity.

Then, Baked in Austin owner Simon Perez decided to quietly close his wholesale bakery, which was based out of Salt & Time and sold baked goods to restaurants and retail stores around Austin.

And now comes word that Barrie Cullinan, one of Austin’s best bakers, is closing Amity Bakery, her online bake shop, at the end of October.

If Austin’s food scene is doing so well — well enough to support about a dozen local farmers markets and maybe a permanent public market downtown and, according to the city, be worth more than $4 billion — why have three artisan baking businesses closed in just a few months?

The short answer: Running a small business, especially a bakery, which has notoriously slim margins, is harder than just about every one of us strolling around a market and quietly balking at a $6 loaf of bread can imagine.

If you’ve ever baked even a single loaf of bread, you know that it’s exhausting work. It’s the same with raising a chicken or growing a tomato, processes that we customers take for granted in our effort to put dinner on the table quickly and without breaking the piggy bank.

Simon Perez, who has been a baker for 15 years and started Baked in Austin early this year, says that his reality check came when he started looking toward the holidays and realized that he’d have to hire another person and invest in equipment to make it through, but that at the end of the season, he still wouldn’t have made enough profit to make all the time away from his wife and 3-month-old child worth it.

As a wholesaler, he made even less per baked good than his straight-to-retail counterparts, and trying to change the business model to become a retailer wasn’t something he was interested in doing. “This was my shot at being able to do what I love,” he says, “but it just didn’t work out.” Perez says that now he’s looking for a change, maybe even a change of career, so that he can bring home a living wage without working around the clock.