Local baking duo Coral and Michele Pompei – the brains behind Bakehouse 55 – approach pastries a little differently. The husband/wife duo run the show at their local artisanal bakery from start to finish, and they specialize in sourdough techniques, making for rich, flavorful pastries, cakes, and more. Though they’re working their way toward a storefront – more on that later – their products are currently available at Five Stones Coffee Company in Redmond, Café Cesura in Bellevue, and Bellden Café in Bellevue.
We chatted with Coral about how she got into baking, how she and Michele handle being business partners and spouses, and how sourdough actually makes a difference.
First, what does Bakehouse 55 do?
The Bakehouse 55 is a small, artisanal bakehouse. We’re currently focusing on breakfast pastries and classic vienoisserie, but will eventually expand to offer cakes, tarts, gelato, petit fours, desserts, breads a little bit of everything! Right now, it is just me and my husband, so we literally agonize over every product we put out there. Every component of every pastry is a representation of us, so it has to be perfect!
What does the name mean?
My husband, Michele, is absolutely amazing with laminated doughs – the process of layering butter and dough to create the flakey texture you expect from a croissant. After so many years of laminating and rolling croissants, he has lots of idiosyncrasies about the process. The Bakehouse 55 is a reference to 55 layers of butter and dough in each croissant.
You specialize in sourdough techniques - can you tell us a little about what that means? And what’s a sourdough starter?
When it comes to making dough, the flavor, texture and aroma comes from the starter! The longer you can stretch the fermentation, the more flavor you can get in that dough! That’s why you hear stories of starters that are over 100 years old – think San Francisco. A starter is a living thing, and it needs to be maintained. We have a starter that is over 6 years old, which we brought to the PNW with us from Florida. There are lots of options if you want to work with starters, but we prefer sourdough ones because of their aroma and flavor. This means that our croissant dough, which is buttery and flavorful to begin with, is packed with more depth because of the sourdough starter.
How did you start working in pastries and baking? What did you study, who did you learn from, and how did you know you wanted to become a baker?
I always wanted to bake. In college at Willamette University I worked at the on-campus coffee shop and spent a year as the kitchen manager. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of the industry. After graduation, I researched schools across the country and ended up in Florida at a small, specialized program. That’s actually where I met my husband, Michele. He was one of the incredible instructors I was fortunate enough to learn from during my time there. I wouldn’t trade that education for anything. Since attending that program, I’ve worked in a wide variety of hotels, restaurants and companies and have really expanded my knowledge and skills. I am so lucky to be able to continue learning from my husband every day!
Speaking of which, what's it like working with your spouse, and how do you guys divide duties and make decisions at work together?
Ha! There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to working with your spouse! We have been working together for almost two years now, so we have worked through the majority of the drama. The thing that makes it even more difficult is that baking is such a physically demanding job. We work side by side for 15 hours every day, sometimes on the same table. It takes time to be able to put egos aside and work together for the betterment of the business. We both have different strengths, which is why I think we will succeed. Michele is incredible with innovation, development, and finesse. He really thrives when he can be creative and draw on his insane knowledge to make something amazing. I am better with organization, daily production and general business maintenance. We are really able to divide and conquer.
What was the start-up process like? How did you guys decide to open your own bakery, and what were the first steps to getting things off the ground?
Starting a business is hard. Kitchen equipment is expensive. We sacrificed nearly everything we had to start this business, but we did it the right way. The dream is, of course, to own your own shop and have everything be beautiful from day one. Sometimes, you have to edit your dream according to reality. We are only selling wholesale right now, because we are building this business from the ground up. When we can, we will open our own retail spot.
If you had one bit of advice for a new business owner, particularly women, what would it be?
The first six months are incredible difficult. We have been working overnight with the business, and then I deliver our orders on my way to my day job. My husband and I work 15-18 hours every day, 7 days per week. The work never ends. You probably won’t see your friends (mine can attest that I haven’t seen them in ages), and you might not see your family very much either. But, if you are lucky, the people in your life will understand your sacrifice. Keep at it. Building something of your own is so very rewarding. And eventually, you will be able to get together with your friends again (I hope!). Just make sure you are in the business that you want to be in. If you love what you are doing, it is all worth it.
Finally, what's next for Bakehouse 55?
We are looking for a retail space! We hope to be fortunate enough to continue to grow and build our brand. We will continue to create high quality products, and will slowly unveil new lines as we develop them. We just hope that our customers will continue to be patient as we are able to grow our production! We would also love to get to the point—business wise—where we can start getting involved in our local charities and needs of the community. We believe that it is important for a small business to stay connected to its community. We thank everyone for the continued support!