The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

have you worked at a bakery? describe...

a.little.bread's picture

have you worked at a bakery? describe...

Hello everyone,

I'm gathering data regarding working at a bakery. I have been an avid home baker for probably about 10 years, and I am considering making it my profession… meaning, I'm looking into working at a bakery. I did not go to culinary school, but I have taken some baking classes. The main thing that draws me in to working as a baker is the practice and repetition. I know that I can only get more skilled by making a recipe over and over, and my family & friends can only eat so much. Also, I'm at that point where I'd like to have a job that I am truly interested in, rather than something that is just a paycheck. This being said, I know I'd be taking a severe pay cut in working at a bakery. I am trying to look at this chapter as paid apprenticeship, instead of a financial deficit. 

I'm interested in hearing about your experiences - the highs and lows… and also, if you own a bakery - how do you measure your employees? Have you hired people without a culinary degree? Why did they appeal to you, if they lacked experience?

Thanks for your input,


MichaelLily's picture

I have a pretty new bakery.  None of my current or past employees had a culinary degree.  I was looking for an attitude and a reliability and an ability to learn.  Tangible skills that I value most are speed, precision, and multitasking.

Baking is a lot hard work for little pay.  That being said, it is rather fun; I think I would like it more if I was an employee and had only 8 hour days.  But I can get paid more as the owner, so I wouldn't give that up, either.  It might be worth trying for a year.  I don't think you would want to do it forever, especially if the bakery is low quality (i.e. supermarket bakery section).

gerhard's picture

and confectionary business my entire adult life.  Not everyone is cut out for the work, the hours tend to not be 9 to 5, Monday to Friday and the work can be physically demanding.  In general 4 out of 5 people don't last a month but those that do survive the initial period tend to stay at it for a while.  The people that say I love cooking and baking generally don't understand that you are on your feet for most of your shift and that repetition is what it is all about and just because you are getting bored with a task does not mean you can move on to another part of the job.  Your day may not end when the clock says you put in your 8 hours, maybe it is a big order, one of your colleagues didn't show, or things just didn't go as planned.  Before going into this with both feet  try finding some weekend shifts somewhere and see how you feel after putting in a 10 hour shift and if you still look forward to going to work after a few weekends maybe it will work for you.


Trevor J Wilson's picture
Trevor J Wilson

I'm gonna try and fight my tendency to ramble here, but no guarantees . . .

I've been a professional bread baker for 15+ years. I got hooked on bread after watching an episode of "Breaking Bread with Father Dominic". My first loaf was a brick. As were my second, third and many more. I quickly realized that I really had no clue what I was doing. I had to have my then-girlfriend shape my loaves because I had no hand skills whatsoever, whereas she had worked at Pizza Hut for a few weeks and sort of knew how to round dough. So, even though I had just finished school for computer aided drafting (which I enjoyed), I decided that I needed to become a baker -- I figured it better to get paid to learn, than pay to learn (as I had with school). 


Baking at home will never ever ever develop the same skill as will baking professionally. Home bakers might shape a few hundred loaves per year. Professional bakers might shape a few hundred loaves a day. Professional bakers will encounter a range of problems on a scale that home bakers can't even imagine. Nothing will train you better than making mistakes on a massive scale.

I only learned to competently bake out an oven after burning 2 decks of sourdough rounds (almost 200 loaves). I only learned how to properly bulk proof dough after underproofing (to the point of unsalable) an entire day's bake (over 1000 loaves of bread). I only learned how to adequately shape a loaf after ruining thousands of them (though admittedly, I've never met another person who had worse dough handling ability than me when they began). 

The point is that failure is the best teacher. And as a professional, your failures will be frequent and on a much larger scale. This is extraordinarily painful. I've seen many many new bakers quit because they couldn't handle the inevitable expensive failures (and the yelling and screaming that often accompany them). 

So why have I placed this in the "Highs" category?

Because this is learning. This is education. It ain't pretty. It ain't for the faint of heart. But it is growth. It's improvement. It's a way to take your skills to a level you can't even imagine right now. Baking under the pressure of a production environment will either make you or break you. 

Of course, there are many other "highs" as well . . . enjoyment of the process, great coworkers, freedom of expression, the satisfaction of creating bread that truly nourishes, etc. But education is really the one that matters. Anyone who has truly become obsessed with baking bread owes it to themselves to work in a bakery for a while. There is simply is no better way to fully connect with a process than to make it your life.


As a profession, baking is generally considered unskilled labor. And while I disagree with that classification, your boss will not. Bakers typically earn a very low starting wage and enjoy few benefits. Unless you find work in an exceptional bakery, you will only be valued as a body based on the hours you put in. If you rise to a position such as "Head Baker" then you might be able to live a solid middle class lifestyle. And if you're an owner then you may do quite well (though you may also fall flat on your face). 

There is no glamour in the day to day realities of the baker's life. Whatever you see in books or on TV or on Instagram is nothing more than a carefully curated image that belies the true nature of the work. This is hard, dirty, unappreciated work. It will leave a toll on your body . . . and possibly your spirit.

I temporarily left baking after more than a decade because I became so fed up with the conditions, lifestyle and lack of appreciation. 

But . . . 

I returned.

Even though it meant a significant pay cut, even though it meant inconvenient hours, even though it meant hard dirty work. I returned because I came to the realization that bread baker is truly all that I am. Nothing more. If you are a bread baker, then you will never be happy doing anything other than baking bread. 


And so I bake.

Since you've asked for a picture of first hand experience, my experience is this . . .

Baking will only make you happy if you are a baker. But if you are a baker, then nothing else can.





leslieruf's picture

I enjoyed your "ramble", funny how baking just draws you in..... and before you know it, you are hooked!  My eneavours are puny compared to yours, but thank you for the insights. 


GrowingStella's picture



I have watched your videos so many times, I know them by heart and I read every line in your articles...your methods and techniques are work of art! 

Your methods and techniques helped me a lot with my second ever loaf of sourdough bread.

thank you very much!

Arjon's picture

I have not, but I've worked as a consultant / advisor / trainer for over 100 small business start-ups in various other industries. And one of the more common sources of problems I've seen is people not fully understanding what they're getting into. 

Even if you're not looking to start your own business, there are lots of other possible considerations. For instance, how far / long are you willing to commute, are there bakeries within that area, and to what degree do their product assortments fit with what you want to learn? Are you willing to work shifts and at what times of day / night? Are you willing to take a job as an unpaid intern or only as a paid apprentice?

GrowingStella's picture



I have watched your videos so many times, I know them by heart and I read every line in your articles...your methods and techniques are work of art! 

Your methods and techniques helped me a lot with my second ever loaf of sourdough bread.

thank you very much!

chris d's picture
chris d

This sentence caught my eye: "The main thing that draws me in to working as a baker is the practice and repetition. I know that I can only get more skilled by making a recipe over and over, and my family & friends can only eat so much."

I found myself in the exact same quandary a couple of years ago. It's true; there's a limit to what you can learn making a couple of loaves a week. My solution (and an intermediate step you may consider if you're not sure about diving into the profession head-first) was to start a small cottage food operation and make bread for "the bread share," a group of 24 subscribers who each got a loaf of whatever i made each week. I only charged enough to defray costs and buy some equipment, but I learned a lot. I ran if for about a year. Here's my blog, which I stopped updating when I put the CFO to bed after I realized I'd learned about as much as I could from it.

It was a rewarding experience that taught me a lot about making bread. It did not teach me much about the grueling routine of the professional baker. Considering that has kept me at my office job in the intervening year since the bread share came to an end.

Something to consider, anyway!

One unexpected outcome of the CFO...I really miss the excitement (real, true excitement) of the people who were part of the bread share. I was skeptical at first, but after a while, I came to realize that the loaf of bread they got from me was truly the culinary highlight of their week. I miss that, though I still share the occasional loaf with my old subscribers (most of them are my co-workers) who are ecstatic to get a fresh-baked loaf of naturally leavened bread (we're in a real bread desert here).

Standing in line at Tartine this past Saturday afternoon on a trip to SF, the buzz of the line, eagerly anticipating the loaves they were there to get, straight from the oven, reminded me of how much fun it is to see someone's excitement about a nourishing and delicious loaf of bread. It's more rewarding than you'd think.

Arjon's picture

Before starting a cottage food business, it's essential to find out what the applicable regulations and laws are in your specific location. They can and do vary widely, from almost none to pretty stringent. 

chris d's picture
chris d

Here in Redlands, CA, I had to get a city business license, a home occupation permit (also from the city), and a cottage food operation permit (from the county, San Bernardino). The whole process was pretty painless and cost less that $250 total, if I remember correctly. They limit how big an operation you can have here by gross sales. I think in 2015, it was $50,000. As I did only direct sales, this process didn't even include an inspection of my home kitchen. YMMV!