If you're a hard worker and you're looking for a job, Jeff Cleary wants to hear from you. Cleary was forced to temporarily close his Grateful Bread Company earlier this week after a series of mishaps left his already-depleted team at a critical low. "Normally I need twelve to fourteen bakers to keep things going," the baker explains (he had 23 when we interviewed him for Chef and Tell in 2014). "I'm down to four."
Cleary says he's been trying to hire and train as he goes, but he's had to spend more time manning the ovens himself because of the shortage. "I have no choice," he notes. So he and his remaining employees had been working overtime to keep bread going out the door to Grateful Bread's many accounts, but it proved a losing battle.
The bakery, located at 425 Violet Street in a warehouse district in Golden, will continue producing bread for key customers until this Saturday, June 23, and then will cease operations until July 13. "I'll hire over the next two weeks and then I have to train," Cleary says. He had already closed the bakery's Saturday retail shop earlier this month because of the employee shortage.
The bakery is looking for employees with baking experience, but is interested in hearing from anyone with enthusiasm and a strong work ethic. Cleary says that two recent hires worked out even though they didn't have previous bread-making experience. "They're excited and they want to be here," he points out. "If you're good with your hands, I can teach you how to bake."
The National Chefs Association is helping out by sending bakers to the bakery for training. According to the Grateful Bread website, the company is also looking for drivers.
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Once the new Grateful Bread employees are hired and trained, Cleary wants to get the retail shop up and running again. Although it accounts for only a small percentage of overall sales, the Saturday shop brings in enough money to pay the bakery's bills, leaving the wholesale arm of the business to account for most of the revenue. "I'm going to have to add wholesale back in pieces," Cleary continues, adding that the temporary halt in production will cause a loss of some $150,000 in revenue. Once he's back on line, he'll trim back a few of the bakery's specialty products and items like slider buns to keep things moving.
Grateful Bread opened in the early 2000s in a 400-square-foot cabin; over the years, it's added some of the city's top restaurants and hotels to its list of clients. Cleary hopes that he won't lose that base of great restaurants, which includes early customers like chefs Jennifer Jasinski and Alex Seidel, but he also says he has a list of more than seventy potential clients on a waiting list. "Most people have been understanding," he notes. "I'm not doing this to piss anyone off; I want to keep making bread for them."
Despite the overall labor shortage in Denver's food-service industry, Cleary's long-term outlook is positive. "Most of the time something good comes out of the fire," he explains. "I've been doing this for a long time, and this isn't my first face-plant."