STORY BY AVNI RAJAGOPAL, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY
This story was published by a student in our middle school intro to journalism program.
As one of the first bakeries in the Bay Area to mill its own flour, Manresa Bread’s attention to detail has influenced the way it operates from its founding to the recent changes it’s made due to COVID-19.
Avery Ruzicka founded Manresa Bread in 2015 after a customer suggested that she sell her bread — which she was making at the time for the bakery component of Manresa Restaurant — at the local farmer’s market. From there, Ruzicka realized her bread had potential to be sold on its own, and her new company, Manresa Bread, was born.
Although it is a separate business from Manresa Restaurant, Ruzicka still provides the bread for the restaurant, and the focus on quality and detail that she got from working there has struck with her. Like Manresa Restaurant, Ruzicka and her employees prioritize and pay close attention to the way the materials and ingredients are sourced, making it a predominant part of their ideals.
“The primary resource in a bakery is flour, so the natural way to do that was to mill our own flour,” Ruzicka said.
Manresa Bread has locally sourced and milled its own flour from the time of its founding, ensuring that the products it creates are of the highest quality. This focus on quality is a perfect example of the impact that working at Manresa Restaurant had on Ruzicka and her personal values.
Although she is now a successful bakery owner, Ruzicka originally wanted to be a food writer. Once she got a taste of the restaurant industry, however, she knew it was her calling. After finishing culinary school in New York, Ruzicka met David Kinch, the founder of the three-star Michelin restaurant Manresa.
She found herself drawn to the restaurant’s ethos of proper sourcing, excellent craftsmanship and quality, and she eventually became its baker. With Manresa restaurant, every single aspect mattered when it came to the experience of the customers, and Ruzicka wanted to translate that idea into her bakery.
When the pandemic hit and she was forced to close down the bakery, Ruzicka’s approach to customer satisfaction was put to the test more than ever.
“We wanted to keep our team safe, we wanted to keep ourselves safe and we wanted to keep our customers safe,” Ruzicka said. “The big question was just, ‘What do we do?’”
Two weeks later, Ruzicka returned to her bakery, accompanied by only the head baker, the pastry chef and the retail manager, only offering contactless pickup from their commissary. Ruzicka said she wanted to reopen the business systematically, in a way that kept as many people at home as possible.
Then, a few months later, one store was reopened, but Ruzicka said she tried to be systematic in the way she opened up. Instead of going back to operating in the pre-pandemic way, Manresa Bread picked through the way the business was organized and carefully planned their actions.
“[The closing and reopening] allowed us to really review our systems, our organization, our communication and our individual roles,” Ruzicka said.
Before the pandemic, Ruzicka said their process was just opening store after store, but instead of returning to that system, they focused on building back up and improving their current shops.
Being able to start from the ground and build up the bakery again gave Ruzicka opportunities to change the way the business was structured fundamentally by reorganizing positions and altering the way the bakery functioned.
More emphasis and importance was placed on planning ahead, since there was so much that the bakery needed to prepare for. It was important for the bakery to have a game plan at all times. Part of that plan was solidifying and altering the role of each individual job in making the business operate.
Those changes had a lasting effect on Manresa Bread and the way it operates today.
“We were able to come to our jobs with a new and refreshed perspective,” Ruzicka said.
When asked about customers’ reactions, she noted that they were very empathetic about the no-contact situation.
“They understood that we were kind of partners in the process of trying to keep everything safe,” she said.
Being a bakery, Ruzicka said it’s been easier for Manresa Bread to adjust and grow to meet the COVID-19 constraints, as customers don’t linger like they would in a restaurant.
Throughout the pandemic, Ruzicka has been grateful, both for her customers’ support and the ease with which she was able to adapt her business to meet new challenges.
“The pieces that make a team and a business successful and happy during COVID are the same things that were important pre-COVID,” Ruzicka said. “We wanted to be part of the community, and that’s what we’ve been.”