by Bakery Boy
For this website I usually seek out the very best bakeries. I don’t hesitate to shell out $5 for what promises to be a great loaf of, say, sourdough walnut raisin rye. In my book, a single fantastic napoleon is well worth five bucks at an independent bakeshop where craftsmanship rules and quality counts.
But I also remember times—for me it was during college and between jobs, for others it might be after layoffs, divorces, or unlucky casino nights—when I had to stretch every penny. For some it’s an unfortunate daily fact of life. Maybe you recall such scraping-bottom times in your own life. Maybe that time is right now.
Well then let’s drop by the local bakery outlet store and rediscover bargains on staples as well as splurges. These won’t be oven-fresh works of culinary art, but simple square slices will suffice for a basic bologna-and-cheese or peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and cellophane-wrapped sweet rolls will do, in a pinch, if dunked in strong coffee or warmed by microwaves.
I went to three different major-brand bakery outlets, one-story rectangular buildings sitting near large bakeries or warehouses with trucks backed up to loading docks. My mission: round up what $5 could buy.
WHAT I FOUND At each place I saw 99-cent loaves of basic white or wheat bread, close to but not past their expiration dates. That’s five loaves for $5 with a nickel back, which could go toward paying sales tax in regressive states that still tax food. One outlet had some must-sell 79-cent loaves, which comes to $3.95 for five, leaving $1.05 to buy a trio of 3-for-$1 honey buns or cherry pies.
I saw six-packs of coconut-and-fluffy-icing snowballs at two for $2.50, an extravagance in this experiment but one that left half the budget for buying a couple of eight-packs of hot dog and hamburger buns marked $1.49 each. That leaves two cents to tip the register clerk who patiently puts up with bargain hunters, both the truly desperate and the merely curious. Most likely she’ll toss the pennies in a put-and-take tray to help the next customer who comes up a little short.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR Admittedly these aren’t the freshest baked goods. They’ve sat on supermarket shelves until, with sell-by dates approaching, they are transferred to outlet stores for one last chance at maybe breaking even on production costs or at least losing less.
Why the generic photos here? It seems the big bakeries don’t like publicity about their outlet stores. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside and was warned that if I showed their logos they’d have a problem with that. If I hadn’t already known where to find them, I wouldn’t have been able to look them up because they’re rarely noted in phone books or on companies’ websites. I guess their main objective is to sell as much as possible at the regular price through the chain stores they supply, not to promote the idea that you can buy for less at the outlet if you’re willing to sacrifice freshness.
I see their point. It’s a sound business decision. Banning cameras seems extreme, especially since giant signs with bright logos on 50-foot poles mark many stores. Anyway, I’m not trying to give free publicity, wanted or unwanted. I’m just testing my theory that, when needed, bargains can be had.
HALF-BAKED IDEA? I’m filing this essay under Half Baked Ideas, but maybe it’s not so half-baked after all. It’s more of a reality check. It’s about savoring a few dense yet somehow spirit-lifting powered-sugar mini-donuts on a Sunday morning after a week of fruitless job hunting. It’s an inexpensive loaf to get by on for now. It’s a chance to come home with something in a bag instead of nothing.
YOUR TURN If you feel inspired to repeat my experiment with your own $5 budget, please let me know what you decide to buy and why. I learned something about myself in the process, and you might too.
[Regular readers: With my next blog post I promise to get back to my usual pursuit of the very best bakeries I can find.]