“We are retelling the history of artisan baking”
Braided butter loaves are also part of John Baker’s standard range, and are available as a vegan spelt variety
Organic and artisan are neither religion nor tradition for him, they are simply his outlook on life. Jens Jung would have been derided for it a couple of years ago, but his financial success is now the talk of the town.
Perhaps it’s one of the ironies of history. Nowadays half the town treks to buy bread and braid loaves at the very same Zurich shop in Stadelhoferstrasse where BackWerk failed. For Jens Jung, alias John Baker and otherwise regarded as a rather cautious Swiss, this has been a truly runaway success. The shop, measuring just 80 m2 and housing both production and sales, was first opened in 2013. Today, scarcely two years later, total annual sales are 2.5m Swiss francs with staff costs less than 40% and material costs below 27%, key figures that are plain to see. The kernel of the story is the openness of its honest, understandable basic principles, or as Jung expresses it: “I just do what I like doing, good artisan work, and I tell everyone about it.”
The 44-year-old’s own story can be summed up in a few words. A baker’s son whose failed takeover of his parents’ business due to the generations problem caused him together with three friends to found his own bakery. They all belong to the new generation of entrepreneurs who value a life based on their own beliefs, and equally on openness, networking, discussions and collaboration. The operational management of John Baker is in Jung’s hands.
He gained the practical inspiration for baking during worldwide trips to colleagues who were venturing along new roads to more quality, and from Martin Ott, one of the leading figures in the Swiss organic sector. Thus organic and sustainability are also obvious without becoming dogma; only organic quality raw materials, entirely untreated flours, sometimes even from his own fields, regionality in purchases and sales wherever possible, no freezing, no plastic in the shop, no convenience products and delivery to customers and resellers only by bicycle etc.
A bicycle is used consistently for deliveries
“We arrived at the right moment and we are retelling the story of artisan baking, honestly and understandably.” A web site that differs from most sites has been created in parallel with the shop: www.johnbaker.ch. It tells a story instead of advertising. The staff – all called Baker followed by their surname – appear in person, and every single product is presented in words and outstandingly good pictures. Employees post images from everyday life on John’s Instagram account, and customers can also supply pictures. On the other hand there is no web shop, because freshness would suffer and delivery packaging is too expensive. The web presence and links to social media exist mainly to create and maintain emotional ties. Jung says: “You become a real person, and people are also willing to make a detour to visit the shop.” It certainly works. His clientele catchment area is significantly bigger than usual. The average total is 1,500 customers/day, people for whom eating is enjoyment with responsibility rather than just taking in food. In many cases they need pay no more than in the majority of sales outlets, whether in bakeries, supermarkets or filling stations. A 400-gram organic quality wheat loaf costs four Swiss francs, and the same size of nut bread is five francs. However, fine pastries cost considerably more if they involve Demeter (bio-dynamic) quality milk, butter and eggs, but that is also communicated and is understood.
Flour is delivered in the bakery’s own sacks and stored partly in the saleroom and partly in the bakery
Altogether 20 staff work at the Stadelhoferstrasse address, equivalent to 12 when converted to full-time jobs. Two from South Tyrol, two Swiss and two Germans have already completed their baker’s apprenticeship or even hold a master baker’s qualification, and part of the concept is that somewhere and sometime they will use the ideas and knowledge they have acquired here to set up their own independent businesses.
Jung himself plans to open another location in Zurich – any more would be too many. In contrast to the existing premises, Jung says the area at Helvetiaplatz is enough to “move one step higher in both product range and quality.” Due to lack of storage space at the current site, the dough is made up after the 24-hour maturing time and baked immediately in the electric oven. At the new location, whose opening will be celebrated in January, there is enough space for greater process differentiation and for a Heuft multi-deck thermo-oil oven with a special loading aid. An expansion of its restaurant area is also planned, although separate from the bakery. There will probably also be a greater opportunity to deliver to more caterers and retailers, since the capacity in Stadelhoferstrasse is too small to supply more than a couple of friends. Because that will also be retained. The work at John Baker takes place only during the daytime, although products are freshly baked until 16:00 hrs. The Stadelhoferstrasse shop closes at 19:00 hrs., but closing time at Helvetiaplatz will probably be slightly later.