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Way back when, in 2008, we did a lot of talking and thinking here in the Willy Street Co-op Kitchen about how to expand our production for a second retail site. As it turned out, that particular site didn’t require food, but we’re at it again, gearing up for all the systems changes that will come about in late 2010 when Willy West is open for business. In this article, I want to give you a little snapshot of where we’re heading with our planning and some of the exciting changes that are coming up.

Our bakery has enjoyed fantastic growth over the last year, up in sales to the tune of 35-40%, and we want to continue to feature this sub-department prominently in the new site. In July, look in the Williamson Street store for our new breakfast bakery line, which will include housemade croissants, pain au chocolat, cinnamon rolls and a host of new and delicious flavors of muffins—all of which will be freshly made and baked each morning in our Kitchen and delivered by opening. This will extend to our westside site as well. Our bakery coordinator, Andy Giamber, has begun the process of recipe development and staff training for an expanded line of cakes and tarts featuring piped garnishes and is also working on a line of yeasted breads, making maximum use of our...

This is a huge leap forward in our capacity to produce consistent, high-volume products, both sweet and savory. A rack oven, for those not familiar, allows a tall standing rack to be loaded with up to 30 sheet trays (each of which being roughly three times the size of a home-sized cookie sheet) and the entire rack simply wheeled into the oven to rotate and bake on a timed cycle. This will expand our production capacity in baked products by about sevenfold while reducing the time spent babysitting product in progress to almost nil. Besides generally allowing for greater amounts of customer favorites to be produced, we’re looking to establish par-baked pizzas for the freezer aisle and finished family meals for either frozen or take-and-bake sale, all using the same high-quality ingredients we’ve always used in our prepared foods.

Our cookie forming machine will mean that you will never find your favorite multi-pack of cookies out of stock again, and the machine will also be able to form veggie burgers at a rate of several thousand per hour. Again, look in the freezer aisle for more of these in-house products which have to this date been unfeasible to execute consistently in volume when shaped by hand.

Enough gear talk, though. It’s exciting, but machines can only ever act as highly efficient assistants to the real cooks—our staff. I have invited all Kitchen staff to consider how our current processes can be improved to make expanding production by a large margin feasible. New equipment will help, of course, but we have identified also the need to reconfigure the workspace so that both bakery and Kitchen staff are able to make use of the full floor plan in the space of their shift. This is a complicated topic and I’ve received some excellent suggestions from production staff—thanks! I am acutely aware of the need to involve staff closely in the process of thinking through these changes so that when the time comes they won’t be too much of a shock to the system. We know it’s going to be a challenging fall/winter season, but we want it to be as smooth as possible for both customers and staff at Willy Street Co-op.

Our eyes are firmly on the prize this fall, meaning that we will prioritize continuing fulfillment of the Willy Street Co-op Deli’s needs and those of our loyal catering customers while tackling this expansion. Indeed, the 1221 site has acted as the incubator and proving ground for many of the successful items and ideas we hope to bring across town to Willy West and will probably continue to fill that role. Moving into 2011, we have begun discussions with Dean Dickel of New Century Farm about how to incorporate all of Willy Street Co-op’s green waste into a composting program there (and by “begun discussions,” I mean three of us were leaning on the truck chewing the fatand it started to take shape—very exciting, but in the infant stage currently). There’s a lot going on already and it isn’t going to slow down anytime soon. Let us know how we’re doing.