CLARKS SUMMIT – At just before 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday, after one of his employees turned on the electric “OPEN” sign in the front window and the first customer through the door flipped the door sign from CLOSED to OPEN, Michael Bonczar took a seat at a table inside the Bet’a Bread Bakery & Deli, which he owns.
“We started at 3:00 today,” Bonczar said. “That’s normal, for a Saturday.” By the time the doors were closed, at 3 p.m., he expected to sell all 100 loaves of bread baked in the hours before.
Bet’a, pronounced “BETT-ah,” or “better,” as said by someone having a Boston or Long Island accent and a propensity to drop the trailing “r” from a word, opened at 404 S. State St. in April 2010.
Bonczar has some convection ovens in the back of his shop, but bakes most of his breads in an oven imported from Italy. It has four decks, and each holds about 15 breads, which allows him to produce five dozen breads per cycle. The oven also has a loader, which increases the rate of production, and steam injection, which finishes the loaves with a nice crust.
“It’s real-deal bread,” Bonczar said. “People that know – they travel the world, they go out. They had bread over in Europe or they had bread wherever there’s an artisan bakery, and they come back here and they try mine and they tell me it’s very good or it’s as good as what they had elsewhere. Those people tend to come back.”
Throughout the year, Bet’a Bread offers about 18 different kinds of breads. Eight varieties are made from Tuesday to Saturday – which is when the bakery is open.
Sesame, cocoa caraway rye, light wheat, baguettes, Italian cheese, Kalamata olive and whole white multigrain breads are baked daily. So are loaves of walnut raisin loaf.
“That’s the same base dough as the light wheat, but it’s got walnuts and raisins in it. It makes it kind of sweet and savory,” Bonczar said.
Rolls are made on Wednesday and Saturday, and the bakery lately has offered cinnamon raisin bread on Saturday. There are four employees, including the proprietor.
All the breads sold by Bet’a are baked from scratch, with each batch started with the base ingredients, mixed accordingly and then placed in the oven. Many supermarkets and restaurants with in-house bakeries use “parbaked” products: the doughs are prepared in a central commissary, partially baked, frozen and shipped to an endpoint for final baking in an oven.
A Clarks Green native, Bonczar always desired his own business. He considered opening a pizzeria before settling on an artisan bread bakery.
“I had no formal training. I taught myself,” he recalled. “Basically, when you’re working with pizza dough, you’re working with a bread dough.”
He studied dough recipes and handling techniques, and the fermentation times necessary for different types of breads. The more he immersed himself in the subject matter, the more certain he became of his ability to deliver a superior bread product.
“The American diet is kind of based around convenience and price, and not so much on taste or flavor,” Bonczar said. He still must compete with supermarkets on price. For the breads he bakes most often, he charges $2.50 for a baguette, $4 for the simply sesame, cocoa caraway rye and light whole wheat loaves, $4.50 for the heavy whole wheat multigrain, and $6 for the Kalamata olive and pecan raisin breads.
Although the back of the shop, with its ovens and mixers and sacks and buckets of raw materials, occupies much of Bonczar’s time and energy, the front of the store is where revenues are realized. Bread is sold over the counter here, alongside the deli operation. Sandwiches represent a large sales segment.
Between June and November, Bonczar takes breads to different farmers markets around the area and retails them to participants and customers.
“The farmers markets are important,” he said. “That’s half the business, if not more.”
Bonczar said his business remains solid, but its rate of growth has slowed from what was experienced during its first five years of operation. He has considered ways of increasing sales, including focusing more on the deli side of the shop, opening a second retail location or growing the wholesale part of the bakery. He now wholesales some breads to a few local restaurants.
“I like what I do. I’m kind of a hands-on guy,” he said. “But if I could have a crew of people doing all the work and then just sit back and manage the business, that’s what I’d be doing. And I’m trying to get to that point.”
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