Interview with Pastry Chef/Owner Zueen Bhosle
Madeleine Bakery & Café
By Jeff Yoskowitz and Kathryn Gordon
When we arrived at Madeleine Bakery & Cafe we were greeted by Nancy Roman, a good friend and neighbor who comes in to help Zueen ,the owner, during lunch and to help greet customers.
After talking to her a bit it was clear to us that Nancy has helped encourage Zueen to open Madeleine Bakery & Café. In fact, Nancy told Zueen, “If you don’t pursue your dream, it will always be in the back of your mind and you will never know what it would have been like if you had tried”.
Then Zueen arrived.
Jeff: Hi Zueen, how are you doing? You've been here in for months in Rutherford. Is it what you expected?
Zueen: It’s going great – but I’m a bit tired! I get here at 3 or 4 in the morning to do all the baking until around 10 am, and I’m here in the front until we close in the early evening. We close a bit earlier on Saturdays. Meanwhile, my mother arrived from India for a visit yesterday, so at least this week I don’t have to worry so much about my 5-year old daughter.
Kathryn: You’re doing all your own baking? Why don’t you get an assistant baker? You could advertise on Craig’s list.
Zueen: I’ve been a bit scared of using Craig’s list. I haven’t had luck yet with a good baker. Most of them don’t want to start at 4 am, and then if they agree, the reality sets in and they don’t like the schedule. I’ll go beyond my budget for an assistant baker, but I've had trouble getting the right person so I've been doing all the work myself.
Jeff: No wonder you’re tired! Why are your hours different on Saturday?
Zueen: During the week we get a lot of commuters because we are across the street from the train station, and lunches for office and school workers. On Saturday, it’s mostly families with kids, and I think for this area those hours are okay.
|The train to NYC is across the road from Zueen’s bakery; you can see the skyscrapers in the background.|
Jeff: What does your typical morning customer purchase with you being so close to the train station?
Zueen: They buy coffee and pound cake, or the baked goods (outside of the refrigerated case). We’re the bakery which opens first in the neighborhood each morning. My customers love the Illy coffee we serve. Some don’t like paying 25 cents more for it, and will walk past us to another location near the train for their (cheaper) coffee.
|The madeleines at Madeleine Bakery & Café|
Kathryn: What are the biggest requests that people have?
Zueen: I think people are looking for new stuff every day. When the customers come in, they like to see what’s new! For some reason, anything I make with wine, beer or chocolate, coffee, mocha goes really fast. Fruit items have moved more slowly.
Jeff: Have you considered making more dummy cakes for display? That might help generate cakes sales, or let people know you can make them.
Zueen: Until I find another baker, I know that I can’t do all of it myself, so no. I’m too nervous to put more dummy cakes out, in case I get orders!
Jeff: In terms of the equipment you have, do you feel what you have is adequate?
Zueen: Yes, I do think I have enough equipment for growth. I need people, not equipment. People have been my biggest challenge so far.
|View of the production kitchen|
Zueen: I’ve looked for baking assistants but do you know what I’ve noticed? They don’t know how to be organized and keep their work stations clean, and that really bothers me.
Kathryn: Have you considered putting a help-wanted sign in the window here? Something with the parameters like: experienced baker required; will train (4 am start). I think you really, really need some help with the baking, Zueen. You can’t keep it all up yourself.
Zueen: I tried a sign in the window before but there have been some weird people who walk in! However, I will try that approach again.
I agree with you that it’s not sustainable to do this all by myself. I feel at some point my brain stops working regarding what I want to do next. When there’s someone else, there’s someone you can talk to and bounce ideas around. Depending on how creative they are, we could collaborate together on the menu. Paul (the Chef) and I collaborate on the sandwich menu, and that works out extremely well. I just want someone to come in here who loves to bake!
Kathryn: If you haven’t been happy yet with the candidates you've gotten to help bake, maybe you should always make potential bakers trail. Aren’t some of the issues you’ve noted “trainable to some extent?” Maybe you just need to modify your hiring approach, and help show the people exactly what you want from them in terms of your standards.
Jeff: Zueen, What’s the long term goal here and what’s your plan for it?
Zueen: My plan is to add more products because really people love what we make. I’ve gotten very great responses.
Zueen: I’m still getting a lot of new people, who didn’t realize that we’re open. I’m trying to get county permission to put a sandwich style sign outside on the sidewalk. I might start doing light dinners and I want to hand out free samples at the train station, and give flyers to evening commuters.
Kathryn: Is parking an issue here in terms of attracting customers? I noticed coming in its largely metered parking, and some of the zones have limited time slots.
Zueen: Everyone in Rutherford is used to not being able to park! And a lot of people just walk here during the day, come in after school…
Jeff: I know that your husband Samir has helped from the very beginning. What is his role now?
Zueen: He helps with all the finances and paperwork and tracks our customers and sales with our POS system, while I’m more here, concentrating on the baking and day-to-day management.
Jeff: We’d love to talk to you more Zueen, after you’ve had some more time to settle in to see how your bakery has grown!
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