Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Loaves To Feed Four Thousand

While the Herculean effort may not approximate that of Moses single-handedly parting the Red Sea with a wave of his determined hand and staff, still this wide-eyed witness thinks it amounted to something like that.

For two days and a night, three bakers got their collective noses to the dough grind committing to bake a thousand pieces of loaf bread, sliced and packed, and ready to be delivered some 56 kilometers away where the appointed buyer intends to sell them on Christmas Eve.

First, one never realized the extent of the demand for sliced bread (locally referred to as American bread) during Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and maybe during All Souls Day, until one dips one’s fingers into the bakery business.

The typical Filipino is undeniably weaned on bread for a good part of his daily sustenance, for breakfast and for many for the two other meals of the day. But this is done with bread that caters to the local palate – like pan de sal, monay, elorde, pan de leche, pan de coco, francis, and a delightful array of assorted bread with assorted creamy fillings ranging from ube, onion, coconut, cheese, and food coloring.

But American bread or sliced bread? Never imagined that such would be the case. It appears to run counter to nativist Filipino traits or maybe even their hardy psyche. As far as I know the bland taste of American bread has never appealed to the Filipino palate raised on moist sweet bread, or even decidedly salty taste such as the pan de sal, which literally translated means, salted bread.

And why only on those dates mentioned? The prevailing lore is that the demand for American bread during those dates is so unexpectedly high, harangued local bakers are never able to fill soaring demands adequately from wholesale purchasers, but only during those special days.

Our initial order was for 2500 pieces of loaf bread and about 100 chiffon cakes. Another surprising turn in the local palate. Chiffon cakes have never been a preferred item during these festivities, locals preferring to consume traditional local pastries such as bibingka, rice cakes or puddings, and many others. Why suddenly a demand for a cake originating from some foreign land? Many cannot even pronounce its name properly.

And mind you, the prospective clients for these two items are not your regular city folks with their fickle discriminating taste, but those from the barrios and even hinterlands, who troop in droves to small cities to make their purchases for the holidays, but specifically for Christmas and New Year days. Relied upon with their stubborn adherence to long traditions of the past. Or so we thought.

Anyway, the final order was eventually pared down to 1000 pieces of loaf bread and 54chiffon cakes. But fare sufficient enough to feed at least 4,000 hungry people.

As neophytes to the business, we all chimed in collectively: why not? So the exciting process was started on the 21st of December and with strained efforts got done early afternoon of the 23rd.

The last loaf was removed from the oven by past 3pm, cooled, sliced and packed, and ready for transport by 4:30 pm.

The roundtrip took all of 4 hours, given the horrendous traffic leaving the city. And as God’s providential blessing the afternoon drizzle and eventually rain did not start until our trip back home. Or else, the rain could have soaked our precious cargo, exposed to the elements on an open bed of a pickup truck.

And so it was that the Lord said, let them recline on the grass and feed them with the loaves and fishes.

Now for the challenges that the New Year bash will bring.




UPDATE

The financial results are in. Not very encouraging in spite of the close guarding and monitoring in all aspects of production and sale. The "returns" approximating about 20% of total delivered almost sank the whole enterprise. But not quite, ending still on the profit side. Anyway, the unsold bread will be reprocessed either as toasted bread, or pie, or pudding. And the proceeds added to total sales.

So New Year's Eve will not see us getting excited about feeding another 4,000, until the "consignment" arrangements are modified and the table turned a bit in our favor. Right now all the risks are shouldered by the bakery, and none on the consignee.

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