Acme Bakery owner Alejandro Ortiz responded quickly and thoughtfully to this week's restaurant review. What follows is his response:
Every restaurateur that I know, at least those worth knowing, starts with one aim in mind: to make and serve the very best they can. Often these goals when reconciled with actual business needs (those pesky things guests aren't bothered with like rents, payroll, and inventory) serve to check a chef's or restaurateur's ego and ambition. The craftiest, the most business savvy, make it anyway and are able to assail both of these mistresses; those of business and that of product (the boys of Pubbelly fame do a phenomenal job at this...). For us these little 'labors of love', no matter how humble or how flashy, culminate our life's work thus far; they are often realizations (however complicated) of dreams and aspirations--shortfalls and all. It is ironic then that so much weight is put on reviews conducted by those without any consideration to the realities of business (a business has only but one $65,000 oven...) and or any actual practical experience in the field. I, for one, understand and appreciate that balance of power.
After all, a journalists job is to look after, in this case, the consumer (Robert Parker doesn't make wine after all).
Miami is not a bakery city. It needs some good ones desperately. At Acme we aim to be that answer, to pave the way, to break the mold and to change the conversation about great ingredients and real handcrafted bread. From the get-go, we knew that a large part of our mission was "education"; i.e. communicating to our guests the value of unbleached flours, wild yeast starters, proper stone-oven cooking and the absence of any additives and preservatives.
Pastries, absent plastic wrapping or preservatives- the way most of us may know them - will naturally stale. It's a fact of life. No one likes this -- and at Acme we go a long way to ensure everything we sell is as fresh as possible. But freshness often gets bought by the case in a powder form: in my youth I worked in various bakeries (both "French" and "Latin") where powdered sodium benzoate was used liberally to ensure "freshness" and various additives and emulsifiers ensured that cakes obtained a fine crumb and retained moisture longer.
Without these additions, pastries, via nature, will do what they do. There is no doubt in my mind that my dear friend and colleague (not to mention a ferociously talented pastry chef) Yannis Janssens does all he can to ensure his handcrafted items are as fresh as possible--he is a consummate professional and Lee & Marie's a model bakery.
Some may see fault a bakery for having a toaster oven to perhaps "re-freshen" things (at Acme we don't and are constantly requested to heat up all kinds of pastries); or for not throwing away all goods at the end of the night (which for cakes is unnecessary since the fat-and-sugar layer we call frosting was exclusively invented to keep the cake moist and fresh--not to mention a blanket practice such as this is not cost-effective); and maybe for selling croutons (from Sarabeth's in New York to Flour in Boston most bakeries sell croutons the way bagel shops sell bagel chips); to not employing a second baker to bake-off baguettes in the late afternoon (a bread meant to be eaten the day of, traditionally in the morning when it's at its freshest--even in Paris; never mind that made-from-scratch baguettes can take 4-6 hours or more to prepare; hence the glut of frozen boxed baguettes that's ubiquitous in Miami). The truth is that there's more to the story.
I can tell you that at Acme we will be reevaluating the way we handle and store our pastries in order to ensure that a guest never receives a "not fresh" pastry, cookie or bread; and plan to make these changes immediately. With the addition of Jessica Moreno as the head of our Savory Kitchen, we have been able to lighten up the dishes and re-introduce some nuances into our food. We will continue to serve the very best that we can; and if that means discarding (actually we give them away) a handful of pastries at the end of the day because they are not fresh so be it (we do it daily)--however discarding an entire day's production would not even cross Thomas Keller's, mind let alone when on factors in the realities of using premium ingredients: eggs, those of Ocoee Florida, and butter that cost two to three times as much as standard eggs and butter and unbleached flours which are more expensive by the pound that the white denatured stuff. Yes, craft comes at a price, yet we keep our prices competitive and will continue to do so.
I think a review does us all in the industry a favor--it allows restaurateurs to respond to feedback by making the proper adjustments and modifications necessary for a successful business. But it is a business, and we hope that in conjunction with fellow bakeries such as Lee & Marie's, that we make a positive impact on the market even when fates have been called three months in. Ask our friends Joel and Leticia; Panther Coffee wasn't swamped three months in... it's not the nature of an artisan business. At Acme we are busier than ever and continue to address opportunities and making improvements at every turn. We will continue to offer amazing hand-crafted breads to Miami and make our Magic City proud. We hope to get busier still and as we do (knowing that comes with long lines and anxious waits as the aromas of warm butter and sugar waft in the air), we can afford all those great things like a second baker for late afternoon flutes that are hot and crusty (however counterintuitive), another oven, an absence of croutons (maybe not...) and more staff to more effectively serve our most valued asset: our guests.
Thank you New Times--we will continue our journey together and every day, better and better. Miami Acme's open for business and we welcome your feedback. Your Neighborhood Bakery: Real Ingredients, real good.