For the first two months after opening Ceres bakery, Rick Grimm and Hannah Bjornson were each other’s only employees.
They each worked 16- to 18-hour days, developing recipes for breads and pastries, baking, making deliveries, doing maintenance, keeping the books, and working the front counter. The married couple was so fried that when they finally took a day off, they rushed to Glacier so fast they forgot their coats.
But, they’d committed – moved to a new city, invested in expensive equipment and started a bakery with no guarantee customers would come – and the adrenaline that came with that nerve-wracking decision, along with copious amounts of caffeine, was enough to keep them going.
Not that they’d want to revisit those months.
“I don’t really even know how it worked,” Grimm said. “If I had to do it again, I don’t think I could knowing how much easier it is now.”
After almost two years of business, Ceres has grown considerably, adding eight employees and delivering its bread to more than a dozen restaurants and grocery stores in Kalispell and Whitefish. During the winter months, Grimm makes about 350 pounds of bread dough daily, while Bjornson prepares around 100 pastries. Their production doubles during the summer tourist season.
Grimm takes pride in Ceres’ artisan breads, enjoying the simplicity and patience in making the hand-formed loaves. He’s had nine years of baking experience, beginning at a small cafe in Bismarck, N.D., where he learned to bake breads and later bagels by reading books and experimenting.
Soon after, Grimm and Bjornson moved to Missoula where Grimm landed a lead baking job at Bagels on Broadway. “Because they saw I had experience they put me in charge of wholesale, but I had only learned from a book to make bagels by hand,” Grimm said. “In Bismarck I’d make three to five dozen; they made about 1,000 bagels a day. And I had no idea how to use the machines they used.”
Grimm’s learning curve was steep, and he took away two important lessons from the Bagels on Broadway job: knowledge of how to maintain and repair machinery, which has proved indispensable since the opening of Ceres, and an idea of what type of baking he didn’t want to do. “I started to feel just like a factory worker, pumping the dough through machines. There was no art or skill to it.”
Grimm followed his Bagels on Broadway job with the one that would ultimately lead him and Bjornson to Kalispell. As a baker at Missoula’s Le Petit Outre, Grimm learned the ins and outs of the baking business and matured his techniques. And he gained a mentor and friend in Le Petit’s owner and Kalispell native Leif Bjelland.
It was Bjelland who encouraged Grimm and Bjornson to open a business in Kalispell and Bjelland who sold them his spare equipment.
“I remember sitting at his house, going through a Kalispell phone book, and him telling us what businesses might make good accounts,” Bjornson said. “We could not have opened without him.”
Bjornson’s transformation into a baker was more abrupt than her husband’s. Someone who had only baked “for fun” previously, Bjornson started testing new pastry recipes on co-workers at her substitute teaching and deli jobs in Missoula before the move to Kalispell. “It definitely made me popular at work,” Bjornson said. “But I had no real training or experience. I was a history major.”
The gamble has paid off so far for the couple, who say that while their job may not look great on paper, it returns dividends on lifestyle. “We’re lucky enough to enjoy our work, to have time to spend together and time to do activities we enjoy,” Bjornson said.
But, they still don’t feel quite in charge of the business: “The dough is kind of the boss. When it needs to be taken care of, it can’t not be taken care of,” she said.
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