the best reality show not on the food network
(read these in order for maximum impact…)
Breadness Blog, episode 7 ~ You Can’t Make This Stuff Up…
If you’ve been following our journey, you’ve no doubt seen (and felt) what we’ve gone through to get our artisan sourdough micro-bakery off the ground. (If not, do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in the previous episodes starting with episode #1 here.)
Once our Sneak Preview weekend was over, the clock was counting down to our projected official grand opening. (I have a a pre-launch list with 70 projects on it, 43 of which are now done with 27 to go.) I estimated we could open mid-July or a week after. And I was on target for that, until…
It was Thursday night, July 8th. I was doing a few of the pre-launch projects in the shop when, as I was walking by our Migali refrigerator (see episode #3: The Case of the Missing Migali), I looked down to check the temperature indicator. The previous night it was 40 degrees (see photo above) and I had put back some Organic Pastures Cheese I’d been snacking on, so I know it was working just fine. I also had our sourdough starter in there and it was sleeping peacefully, growing a tiny bit each day while chillin’ out.
I don’t make it a point to take photos of our starter in the refrigerator so you’ll please bear with me and these artist’s reenactments, especially because the artist is me….
Well, now it’s Thursday and when I looked at the indicator, it showed 92 degrees!
The first thing I thought to do was open the door and check on our starter (I did NOT immediately grab my camera to document what I was about to witness, hence, more artist reenactments).
I opened the door and was hit with a BLAST of HOT AIR, the SIGHT of a STARTER BUCKET that had BLOWN ITS LID OFF and STARTER IN A PUDDLE on the bottom of that section of the fridge.
(Photo Editing Note: the indicator above shows 98 degrees instead of 92, but that’s because trying to remove the two segments from the 8 which was created from a 0 by adding the middle bar, was not looking good, so the 8 stays, but you get the idea: it was WAY TOO HOT! The overflowing starter reenactment is not a bad simulation of what actually occurred.)
At that moment, all I could think about was the starter. Was it dead? Could I bring it back to life? I know from experience that it takes a lot kill starter; it’s a very robust microorganism.
I took the overflowing starter bucket out of the fridge and put it in the sink. I then touched the top with my spatula and suddenly, it collapsed, like a souffle gone very wrong. All the bubbles disappeared and there was about an inch or so of the normal-density starter at the bottom. I grabbed another bucket, added a precise amount of our special water, then added the correct amount of the overheated starter. I mixed that up really well, then added the right amount of flour and mixed it all together. I marked the bucket at the top of the starter mixture line and dated it. Then I put it in the ice chest we use for letting sourdough preferment rise overnight, added an ice gel pack (the Migali freezer was still working), and let that chill.
Next, I turned my attention to cleaning up this mess. There was starter dripping all over the wire shelves culminating in a puddle at the bottom. It took about two hours for me to get the fridge all cleaned. Not something I was planning on doing that night!
Since it was nighttime, there wasn’t anyone I could call to arrange for service. The Migali fridge is only three-months old so whatever happened is covered under warranty. I packed up the new starter bucket and took it home to rest in our refrigerator. It was already starting to rise so I knew it would be alright.
Friday, I was ready to make the call. First, to the place I bought the refrigerator (the Migali manual stated that was the procedure). So I called the store (in Tennessee) and the person I spoke with told me to call Migali! Soooo, I called Migali (in New Jersey) and talked to a nice person in the warranty department. She said she needed the serial number, which I didn’t have to hand at my office. So I went to the bakery and took a photo of the info plate, which fortunately, is located just inside the leftmost door of the unit. I came back to my office and called in the serial number. She asked me several questions and after giving her the answers, she agreed to turn me over to one of her techs who was busy with another customer.
After a half hour or so, I got a call from the tech guy. He asked me many of the same questions the gal had, and I answered them the same. After going through the drill with him, he put me back in touch with her and she initiated a repair ticket. This ticket was then sent to a dispatcher company (in Wisconsin) whose job is to arrange for the repair in my area. By now, there were only a couple hours left in the work day, and it was Friday. I asked if these people worked on the weekend and the Migali gal didn’t know.
I received no repair call over the weekend so Monday I called Migali to find out what was going on. The nice lady said she would check with the dispatcher and call me back. Later in the day she called and gave me the phone number of the repair service in LA (Hawthorne to be precise) and I made the call to them. Fortunately, I was able to talk to someone live and she said there was a tech in the area who could be at our bakery in about a half hour. I headed over and the repair guy was getting out of his van at the same time! Now we were going to find out just what happened to Mr. Migali.
The tech started digging in to the compressor/condensor coil assembly and was checking several things. He contacted another tech a few times via his phone. Things were not looking good for our new refrigerator. In the end, the tech concluded that the compressor was bad and had to be replaced. Anyone familiar with refrigeration knows that replacing a compressor is no easy task. Well, it was a warranty repair so at least it wasn’t going to cost me any money.
I asked the repair guy when the fridge was going to be fixed. He said once they got the part, he would come back and fix the unit. When I pressed further, he said the repair had to be approved by Migali, then the part would be shipped out, then the part would arrive at their shop, then the repair could be done. Fair enough. It was Monday. Surely this would be wrapped up within a few days. Not exactly…
(Sorry there are no photographs or artist reenactments of the many phone calls I made that week, trying to find out what exactly was going on…)
Between the factory in New Jersey, the dispatcher in Wisconsin and the repair shop in Hawthorne, I had to make several calls as no one was calling me to tell me exactly what was happening with the repair. Sometimes I’d reach a person live, sometimes I’d get voice mail. A few times I had to tell each person what was going on as they were not talking with each other! But to make a long story short, as of Friday, I had received no phone calls from any of the above, and the refrigerator is still sitting idle. And until this unit is fixed, I can’t make any bread. And if I can’t make any bread, I can’t open the bakery.
If there’s one silver lining to this episode of our series, it’s that it’s a very good thing the fridge didn’t break down AFTER we were open! Had that happened, we would have lost up to 60 loaves of bread during the overnight slow rise, plus the starter bucket would have blown its top as well, shutting down our operations for as long as it took to fix the unit. We’re not in a position to have a backup fridge as the space is too small and the fridge is the second-largest piece of equipment we have, next to our deck oven.
After all the drama of what it took to actually get our Migali fridge and freezer delivered and inside the store back in April, now I realize that even new equipment can fail. But I didn’t realize that getting our fridge repaired would take more than a week. And I still don’t know where the replacement part is and when the repair company will be coming out to install it. So, the real test of the value of this equipment is: should it require service under warranty, how long will it take before it is operational again?
All of our previous episodes have had happy endings. As of this writing, we have no happy ending for this story, yet. But I had to let you know what’s been going on as people have been asking, “When are you opening?”
So bear with us a little longer as we seek guidance from the artisan bakers of yesteryear… Well, that wasn’t much help; they didn’t have these problems because there was no such thing as refrigeration!
Until next time…
Randall Michael Tobin