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Ingredients, and Hair Nets, and Co-Packing…Oh, My!

on June 10, 2012

The weekend was a big success.

Aside from (not) sleeping two nights on planes, we came out on the other side of 36 hours with final formulas for our launch product.  It’s honestly what we hoped for, but didn’t know if we could achieve in such a small time.  Good thing there are hard working, smart, honest people out there to help us.  The folk at Fairlight Bakery in Vancouver, Washington couldn’t have been nicer. 

We are a small order, by anyone’s standard, so it was very difficult to find anyone in the first place that would open their doors and take us on.  Most co-packers wanted us to make tens of thousands of pounds of product.  On the first run.  Or monthly.  Or both.  When you spend months having to say “no, that’s too expensive for our start-up blood” and wonder if you’ll find anyone to take those minimums way down to reality, you question if that person will be any good.  Boy, did our fears vanish on Friday.

But let me backtrack.  When last we left you, we were headed to JFK Thursday night.  It was warm in New York and the sun was thinking about setting as I stepped off the air train into the terminal.  I was tired from a long day with the girls, but excited about the trip ahead.  Thankfully, all flights were on time, but taking off at 8:30pm EST and landing at 11:47pm PST makes for a long, delerium filled night.  Rental cars, directions, crossing over the ink black Columbia River from Oregon into Washington and pulling into the Best Western in Washougal, Washington felt like a battlefield.

We hestitated with sharing the location of our hotel because EVERYONE we told that we stayed in Washougal thought we were insane.  Hey, it was 3am and we wanted a bed.  It was the trunk of our car or Washougal.   Washougal won.

With a 5am wake up call, you can imagine how brief those moments of sleep were, but we had a job to do, so up we got.  After checking out of the hotel, I proceeded to enter the address into my phone to help navigate our trip.  The fact that the estimated time I found differed from what Silvia had checked in NY should have been a red flag.  I blame fatigue on the fact that I avoided the red flag.  Off we went.  Fifteen, twenty, twenty five minutes.  And we pull into a residential development.  “Boy, they have weird zoning laws here,” said Silvia.  “Uhhhhh…” I replied.  It didn’t take more than a few seconds more to realize that my navigation skills had epically failed.  Reverse, turn around, back on the road.  I won’t bother to walk you through the remaining 8 times we got into the car together to go somewhere on this trip.  I will end with …well, no defense.  I drive regularly around the streets of Manhattan with no problem and relative ease.  The Pacific Northwest, however, kicked my navigating butt.

Needless to say we were a bit late for “opening day” but the Fairlight team and our wonderful food scientist were already hard at work measuring ingredients and confirming the preset formula.  The next few hours were a true testament to understanding and appreciating an industry of which we’ve never been apart. 

In my head, we had to come out, watch them mix our ingredients, make sure the quantities weren’t so big that the taste was off after they came out of the oven and we’d go home.  There’s so much more that goes into it.  Measuring, deciding how and in what order ingredients are mixed, how quickly to run the dough out of the machine, how quickly to run the dough down the line, through the guillotine (yes, that’s what it’s called…and it was fierce!), etc, etc.  It took nearly 3 hours to get the first flavor set up.

I was in awe.  It was the perfect reason why we needed to be there.  Aside from meeting the people who were brining the product to life.  You have to stop, watch, and listen to the steps it takes to do something you’ve never done.  All too often, we lose our patience when something doesn’t go right or takes too long.  It was a good life lesson moment.

The rest of the day was a step-by-step process.  Watching the dough press through the Rheon machine.  Watching the bite sized pieces fly down the line and fall onto baking sheets, only to be whisked away by the Fairlight team to be neatly assembled before making their way to the oven. 

Ingredient after ingredient, flavor after flavor, the experience started to hum. 

And the placed smelled like heaven!  After chocolate chip, we moved on to apple raisin.  Just mixing those ingredients made the whole place smell like and oatmeal raisin cookie.  The staff was even commenting on how good it smelled.  (I think we’re on to something folks!)

If I’m being totally honest, I felt like a little kid.  Here we were, watching this little idea that came out of a conversation over a playdate, come to life.  Literally in front of our eyes.  Taking that first bite, fresh out of the oven was so exciting.  Not only because it was happening, but because they were good.  Phew! 

So, now we’re home.  A long day and a red eye later (they should stop calling it red eye and start calling it punch to the gut.) we are home.  Watching my family taste test these products was pretty fun.  But there’s no rest for the weary.  We have work to do.  Thanks for coming along for this very exciting ride.  The next phase has officially begun.

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One response to “Ingredients, and Hair Nets, and Co-Packing…Oh, My!

  1. sarah says:

    so great to see you both and the sample you shared was sooooooooo good. we’re ready for more!

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