President Obama's much maligned speech in July, 2012 that 'if you've got a business, you didn't built that,' has resonated with me on the eve of our last business day. My wife and I started and ran a successful bakery for 33 years; we had the skills, we had the vision, we had the stamina to make it work. But we most certainly didn't build it alone. My Dad, Roger L. Normand (1929-2010) was a force of nature, and every step along our way at Bakery Normand, except for the past two and one-half years, he was our plant superintendent, our handyman, our trouble-shooter, problem solver, crisis manager, baby-sitter and generally our behind-the-scenes 'rock of support.' I think of him a lot now, at the end, because he did so much for us and asked so little from us.
He was a 'self-made man' of French Canadian immigrant parents. Born in Chicopee, MA, but raised and resident all his adult life in Holyoke, MA, he learned cabinet making from his father, and followed him into the mills of Holyoke as a millwright, or machine repairman. He hadn't finished High School when he took a job at American Pad & Paper Co., but by the time he retired from Ampad after 44 years of service, he had earned his High School Equivalency Diploma and had managed to become Ampad's plant engineer (not only for their Holyoke Mill, but for all of their paper converting factories in Utah, Texas and Illinois). He understood the way things worked, how things were put together, how they could be taken apart, how broken things could be fixed. He had an intuitive sense for mechanical assembles, for all things electrical, for plumbing, for woodworking, for rigging and moving heavy objects, for looking deeply into man-made things in order to understand how they worked, or why, in very many cases, they weren't working well.
So you can see, without stating the obvious, he was a good man to know if you had a problem with the real things that make our world run smoothly. He was especially a good man to have your back if you were his son and owned a business full of mechanical equipment that seemed to always need repair. And he always had our backs. In 1985, when we were in fear of losing our lease at 44 Main Street, we decided to open a café-outlet on the second floor of Thornes Marketplace-Café Normand. We figured that, if we lost our lease, we would still have a location in Downtown Northampton, and that we could always find a production facility somewhere outside of town if we needed. My Dad planned and supervised the entire project. He built a dry pastry case to exactly match the wood, glass and stainless steel vintage pastry case in our 44 Main St. store. Both cases still sit side-by-side in our current location-his case is the one that holds our tea cookies and larger cookies. He also built matching wooden bread racks to our 44 Main St. racks (both are long gone).
He designed and built one of the most important pieces of equipment in our kitchen- a dough sheeter. That's the machine that allowed us to make uniform croissant, danish, puff pastry, and our thin and uniform tea cookies. That machine was his baby and he came by every few weeks, for sure, in order to grease the gears on it and make sure it was in tip-top condition.
In 1993 on Good Friday morning of Easter Week we had an elecrical fire in our four-deck baking oven. One of my bakers, John Knybel, had arrived early to start the sourdough breads and to warm up the ovens. When he noticed black smoke coming out of the control side of the oven, where all the high-tech wiring was, he immediately threw the main circuit breaker and called 911. I arrived shortly after the firemen had put out the fire, containing it to the oven only, and not to the building. With all the side panels off the oven, it was pretty clear that there had been a lot of damage to the electrical components. One fireman said to me, "Well, looks like you'll be out of business for a couple of months!" In the meantime I had called my Dad in Holyoke, much as I had often called him in the past with one problem or other to be dealt with. And, as always, he was there as quickly as his car could carry him. Always calm and focused, he took a long look at the oven and then got right to work. Within two hours he had salvaged the good parts from several oven decks and used them to replace the fried and charred parts. Within two hours he was able to get three of the original four decks working. Good Friday production, though delayed, was saved. And so was Easter Saturday production. We had to work multiple shifts and longer hours to produce the same volume in three ovens as we would normally produce in four ovens, but the point is that we were able to produce anything at all. Even if we had found an electrician, unlikely on Easter Weekend, he probably would have told us that the repair would be long and costly. As it was, the repair was quick, with the urgency only a father would gift his son, and the cost was an amazing ZERO DOLLARS.
That was my Dad. That's what he could do, and that's what he did to make our bakery run for 30 years of our 33 year run. Without him Bakery Normand would not have survived and we would not have prospered.
So, I would be the first to attest that we did not build this business alone. Not by a long shot. And I haven't even begun to mention all the employees who worked so hard and gave more than expected to make our bakery a place of friendly service and consistant quality.
But above all, and on this last night and early morning of baking for me, my Dad will still have my back. I love him for his lessons in selflessness and giving. He was proud of what we had done, but I am prouder to have been his son.
Saturday, September 1, 2012 will be our last day of business. We warned you that this would happen, and you have responded like the calm, rational people that we always thought our customers were. You're killing me with love, people! I've never worked this hard in all of the past 33 years. Clearly, you won't let me go quietly- you're making me earn this one.
I promise you, some day, some how you'll see me again, or should I say, you'll see your favorite baked goods again.
In the meantime, let's party! We will be open on Saturday from 7:30AM 'til 4:30PM, usual, and we plan to have tons, literally tons, of product for your last minute cache. We will also have live bluegrass music on the street in front of the bakery from 11:00AM 'til 3:00PM. Also, Sonja Sweeney, the massage therapist who has her practice on the second floor above the bakery, will be giving free relaxation massages in her chair on the sidewalk in front of the bakery. She hopes to help as many people as she can accommodate de-stress from the trauma of losing the bakery. If I finish my baking responsibilities early enough, I'll set up a little consultation booth on the sidewalk to talk this through with our customers and help them get over the terrible loss of Bakery Normand. I'm not saying I quality as a trained psychotherapist, but I feel I understand what you're going through. Maybe a couple of tears, a couple of hugs and a few laughs will help us all say 'good-bye.'
Come celebrate with us.
Today our oldest son, Peter Normand, turns 33 years old. We literally started our business the day he was born. This March, 1980 photo accompanied a Daily Hampshire Gazette article entitled- THEY SHARE LIFE - AND A BAKERY. Patty and I are standing in our West Street bakery kitchen with little Peter overseeing the activities. He and Patty joined me at work for the first early morning hours until his patience ran out and he needed to be home for his nap.
Today, Pete's 5 month old son, Samuel Baker Normand, will be there to oversee the end of Bakery Normand. Sadly, he will have no real memory of the excitement and energy of these heady days. Through Blog posts, photos and print articles he will be reminded of what once was and the family business that gave him his middle name. His future will be his to make, with our love and support.
We're quickly approaching our final week of business. I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has come by the bakery since we announced our retirement. We honestly were not prepared for the love and support that you all have showered so kindly upon us. We actually thought that our final three weeks would be a long, and quiet, good-bye. Instead, we have had to ramp up our production to meet the unprecedented demand for breads and pastries in this otherwise hot and quiet month of August. I would characterize the response from customers as, first, happiness for us and our retirement plans, and, second, panic, bordering on hysteria. It's kind of like what happens when the local weather man reports an approaching hurricane or Nor'easter blizzard; people start stocking up on essentials to manage some unknown or uncertain future. Yes, the end is near, but the memories will forever feed our souls.
Please come in before we close and sign our guest book. We're asking folks to sign their names and contact information, along with comments about what baked goods they will most miss. In the event that a reincarnated bakery should appear, in whatever limited form that may be, we hope to use this contact information to reconnect with our supportive fans. One idea I have is to construct a wood-fired brick oven behind our house in Holyoke overlooking the Connecticut River and the Holyoke Range; then, when I bake a batch of a favorite bread or pastry, I'll call up those folks who would most appreciate that bread or pasty and invite them over for a drink while we nurse the oven. After a relaxing visit, everyone goes home with some hearth-baked goodies and a memory for old time's sake.
Who knows what the future holds. Stay curious. Stay engaged.
"We have been born once and cannot be born a second time; for all eternity we shall no longer exist. But you, although you are not in control of tomorrow, are postponing your happiness. Life is wasted by delaying, and each one of us dies without enjoying leisure."
Epicurus- Vatican Sayings
In the beginning of every life, of every venture, are the seeds of its end. In baking, that idea was enacted every day in every season for the past 33 years at Bakery Normand. Every day the yeast was brought to vigorous life, the sourdough refreshed, the daily dough mixed and developed, kneaded and shaped, baked and consumed. Every day it begins and ends again.
We have been diligent stewards of this process for many years, starting in 1976 when Patty and I first set out to live and work among good, even great, bakers in family bakeries in Germany. In 1979 we set up our first kitchen and started out on our own on West Street in Northampton. In the Spring of 1980 we re-located our bakery to 44 Main Street, also in Northampton. When that space became too small and we sought the security of ownership, we bought the building at 192 Main Street, Northampton in 1989. There we have continued our trade unbroken to this day.
Baking, as with any food related industry, is for the young, and we have grown old in this profession. We have enjoyed remarkable good health for all these years. In hindsight it is clear that we walked a razor's edge in our small, family-run business, and that any significant physical or financial setback could have knocked us off that edge and undone our entire endeavor. But despite our naiveté, or maybe because of it, we endured, we prospered, and our customers, we hope, benefited.
But our creation, our baking enterprise, is mere stone and stainless steel, mere butter and eggs, without Patty at the register and me at the oven. It was not built for the ages. We were the dreamers and it was our wonderful dream alone. So now, while we are in the youth of old age, we choose to shake ourselves awake, rub our eyes clear, and imagine what other goals, what other challenges, might await us. We have lost any driving ambition long ago, and we have certainly acheived more than we could ever have hoped to acheive after all these years. So now we are ready and feel wonderfully free to ride any future tides of possibility.
On Saturday, September 1, 2012, we will begin the day as we have for all these years. But on that day, when the last dough is mixed, when the last bread is baked and the ovens go cold, that will be the day that Bakery Normand will end.
It has not been lost on our attention that there is much we will miss about our bakery. We will miss the casual, almost self-evident, access to good bread and pastries. Suddenly we will be consumers rather than producers. We will miss all of our loyal and, dare I say, devoted customers; most of them transcend mere transactional relationships. We will miss a long list of energetic, thoughtful and honestly good employees, especially the superb staff who work with us now and who will see us through to the finish line.
We want to thank everyone who has been a part of this modest enterprise for their support and commitment. You have made our work a vocation, and we consider ourselves fullfilled and happy people.
"As long as we are on the road (of life), we must make the later journey better than the beginning, but be happy and content when we have reached the end."
Epicurus- Vatican Sayings