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Entrepreneur Magazine recently published an article and podcast titled “The Best Employees Have Side Hustles.” I’ve got more side hustles than I can count, was immediately interested, and listened in. The big idea here is that businesses that embrace the individual passions of their staff consistently come out ahead in their ability to innovate, grow their business, and create more value.
As a happy customer of Belmont Market in Wakefield, RI, I appreciate the way they create a great customer experience by delivering the area’s best selection of products, quality and service. Whether it’s a grocery run on my way to the beach, or working with their catering department for a special event, I always value the heart behind every associate encounter in their effort to help me with whatever I need. Next time you’re shopping at Belmont Market, be sure to take a tour through the bakery department and meet Bread Baker Jeff Collins. What’s happening here is a great example for the way Belmont Market owner Jack Siravo embraces the talent and ambitions of his staff in order to serve his customers better.
It was buzz on Green Hill Beach that brought my attention to the popularity of Jeff’s Bread. I love bread and wanted to learn more, so I reached out to meet this local baker celebrity.
My conversation with Baker Jeff Collins:
Tell me about your background.
I was raised in Rhode Island, went to South Kingstown High School and graduated from Johnson & Wales with my culinary arts degree. I discovered my passion for baking when working in New Jersey for Delicious Orchards, a 108-year old family owned business in Colts Neck, New Jersey. It’s known for many things, including its bakery featuring world famous apple cider donuts, freshly baked fruit pies and a wide selection of homemade breads. Marty was my mentor. He was a retired Navy Ship baker who learned his craft while serving our country. The bakery operation at Delicious Orchards features 16 64-quart capacity Hobart mixers that operate at full capacity daily.
How did Jeff’s Bread Begin?
In 2016 I returned to South County to be closer to my family. My career focus was to continue to develop my skills as a classic baker. I joined Belmont Market as Assistant Baking Manager and got to work. The experience I acquired at Delicious Orchards for baking homemade breads in a high volume operation inspired me to experiment with from scratch, 18-hour slow rise bread recipes at Belmont Market. Jeff’s Bread started Super Bowl week-end 2018. I was on the floor promoting the winning combination of our Bavarian Pretzel Bites with beer cheese dip from our cheese department and locally celebrated Whalers Pale Ale Beer. I’d been working to perfect my Ciabatta recipe, and brought several loaves over to the pretzel tasting station to see if any Belmont customers would be interested. All the loaves sold out. That’s when I started making Ciabatta regularly.
What was the next variety of bread you made?
Saint Patrick’s Day was around the corner, so Barbara the Baking Manager (who is an amazing mentor to all of us!) suggested I take on the task of making Irish Soda bread from scratch. Up until that point, Belmont had purchased premium frozen loaves and baked them for sale. Customers really enjoyed the change to homemade Irish Soda bread!
Tell me about the varieties of bread you bake today.
Sales of Jeff’s Bread sales have grown steadily over the last year. In fact, Jeff’s Breads outsells all other bread brands at Belmont Market, including Pain D’Avignon, Seven Stars and Buonos. We’ve learned that customers prefer fresh, homemade bread made locally by someone they know and a company they trust.
Customers come in daily looking for their staple favorites like: sourdough, ciabatta, wheat, multigrain and French baguette. We also make special varieties of bread throughout the week; this is where our baking team can be innovative and respond to special requests.
We love hearing from customers on what they think about our bread and enjoy it when they share their favorites, as well as when they don’t like something. It keeps things fun and helps us serve our customers better. You might find any of the following special bread varieties on the shelves: kalamata olive, bacon & chive, spinach & artichoke, seeded rye, French pullman, cinnamon raison, cranberry pecan, ambrosia and chocolate bread.
What’s the most interesting bread variety?
Amanda on our team came up with the idea of a Tumeric, Tomato & Basil Bread. People absolutely love it! Speaking of our bread baking team, they’re fantastic and include Amanda, Kyle and Blake. We run a 24-hour operation of non-stop baking activity, which includes activities like mixing, proofing, shaping and baking bread.
Do you use any special ingredients?
Yes! The flour. I go super local and source from Kenyon Grist Mill in Usquepaugh, RI. They’ve been in business since 1656 producing flour in Rhode Island. What makes Kenyon special is how they produce flour; they use the original granite slabs to grind the wheat. Only a few places in America still do this. It’s a classic, old school method. Today it’s more typical for mills to use stainless steel rollers because it’s more efficient. But, to break down the grain with these steel rollers, it has to but done at extremely high temperatures. But this high temperature process kills all the nutrients in the flour. That’s why when you buy a bag a flour it has the words “enriched flour” because they had to put the nutrients back in. But not Kenyon Mill. In their special flour, the natural nutrients stay in because of their single milled process. So, it’s much better for you and tastes superior. I use Kenyon’s whole grain rye and whole wheat flour no matter what!
Do you sell day old bread?
Never. The only use for day old bread at Belmont Market is for bread pudding or homemade bread crumbs. Each afternoon, Kyle or I drive day old bread over to the Johnnycake Center of Peace Dale, it’s a food bank for our struggling neighbors. We’re so glad to deliver nearly fresh homemade bread to people in need and give them an alternative to Wonder Bread.
What’s Next for Jeff’s Bread?
Bread baking operations now take up 100% of my time. We’re expanding our bread baking production operation into a new space that will be shared with the commissary that makes Belmont Market’s Italian prepared foods. We’re also investing in new equipment and have ordered a very special oven. This new oven will further advance the quality of my bread recipes. It’s a steam injected stone hearth bread oven with multiple decks. I’ll be able to load my bread into the oven on canvas transporters that will place loaves directly on the highly heated stone hearth. So, no more sheet pans! The Vienna style doors allow me to keep a careful eye on what’s baking inside.
What else is ahead in 2019?
Belmont Market will be able to make more bread and more varieties of bread. We feel bad when a customer comes in and we’ve run out of their favorite bread variety. So, our increased capacity will better accommodate the growing demand. The larger baking space will also position us to serve wholesale accounts in South County, RI. If our loyal customers can’t come to us, we want to make our homemade breads more easily available in their neighborhood. Let Green Hill residents know that Jeff’s Bread is now being carried at the Charlestown Mini Super on Fridays.
When not baking bread, what are you up to?
I’m a year round Rhode Island surfer. In fact, Green Hill Beach is my favorite place to surf! The coastline of Green Hill Beach creates uniquely powerful ocean open swells in extremely shallow water. It’s one of the few places in our state where you see tubes and can surf under the lip.
Right now, I’ve got more than buns in the oven; my wife Keri Lyn and I are expecting a baby boy on June 3rd! It’s a very exciting time. With both a baby & new oven on the way, there’s so much ahead. I value the opportunity Belmont Market has given me to develop a fresh, homemade bread program. I’m giving 200% to baking the best bread for Belmont Market customers. Tell Green Hill residents to stop by & say hello. We love hearing direct feedback because it helps all of us serve you better.
Sourcing Jeff’s Bread
Patrons can purchase Jeff’s Bread everyday exclusively at Belmont Market in Wakefield, Rhode Island. Yeah for us!
Neighborhood markets, hotels, bed & breakfasts & restaurants can order wholesale by calling 401-374-5243