We asked him about Portland’s lively food industry, his efforts to promote sustainability, and the bonds he’s made with his fellow bakers.Interview&Photos by Fumiko, Translated by Andy Edited by Ryoma
“I became a baker by accident.”
NWhy did you choose to be a baker? Does bread have special appeal for you?
Tim I became a baker by accident. I worked for a magazine publisher in New York. I didn’t enjoy my job. It was more like an office job to me. I went to journalism school and I would be more excited. I became interested in food when I was living in New York because cooking became something comforting. It reminded me of home. I grew up in the Northwest, in Seattle. So I quit my job, and I went to culinary school, and as a hobby I was making bread. It was for fun, because we didn’t learn very much bread in culinary school. It was basic, for bread, but I had much to learn about the fermentation process and the working with my hands. My hobby was baking at school and I made my own sourdough starter. It is a culture of wild yeast and bacteria. They live in a mixture of flour and water. Both yeast and bacteria live in the dough, and produce the flavor and gas for the bubbles in the bread. That allows the bread to rise. I would make my own sourdough and transport it on the subway with me to school every day in New York.
When I finished my school, I decided to learn from a professional bakery. I left New York City and came back to the Northwest. I came to Portland in 1998. I started as an intern at Pearl Bakery. I learned about the bread making process. I got a lot of practice with working with my hands. I also learned to make croissants and Danishes. At that time, I applied for the US baking team. I won a national competition to become a member of the team. The team has three people. We got a silver medal. Each of us participated in the competition as a team in Paris.
“I felt lost doing consulting. So I decided to open my own bakery. It was a journey.”
NAfter the competition, did you have a dream to open your own bakery?
TimNot initially. I continued to work at Pear Bakery almost 10 years. I reached the end of the opportunity there, so I did consulting work for a small amount of time. I worked for “Kennie and Zukes” in the Ace Hotel. I opened the restaurant with a bakery of bagels and Jewish breads and desserts. I am a person who likes routine; I like going to the same place every day for work. I felt lost doing consulting. So I decided to open my own bakery. It was a journey.
“Many artisan style bakeries are very traditional in their appearance and in the products they made. I wanted to do something more modern.”
N How did you start your business?
TimBefore I started the “Little T”, I did some traveling in Europe, around in the United States. I decided what kind of bakery I wanted to open. Many artisan style bakeries are very traditional in their appearance and in the products they made. I wanted to do something more modern. I decided to make pastries and breads that were a little bit more modern, but still based on the traditional methods. The shape might be a little different, or the way we use the dough might be a little different, but we still use the slow fermentation techniques. We only use high quality ingredients; we use mostly hand-mixing techniques. Also, the appearance, the design of the bakery, is very modern. It’s very light; it has a lot of windows and stainless steel and looks clean. The interior is more modern. A little bit from Italy and mostly Australia. There is a big café culture in Australia. Melbourne and Sydney inspired me.
How did the bakery become the name “Little T”? When I was a baking team, one of my colleagues was named Tim as well. The team manager, he always called me “Little T” in the artisan baking industry. A lot of people called me “Little T”, so when I opened my own bakery, I called it “Little T American Baker”.
“The main issue with starting a bakery is financing.”
N Did you run into any major problems in starting your business?
Tim The main issue with starting a bakery is financing, because the equipment is very expensive to buy; ovens and mixers and espresso machines. Things are very expensive. Being just a baker, I didn’t have a lot of money to start. I used a government program called a “Small Business Administration (SBA)”. They worked with local banks to provide financing for small businesses. I received a loan that is a guarantee of the government and I’ve still paid money back, but just in case, the loan is guaranteed by the government. In that way, I started my own business. It was very helpful. Luckily, I received my loan just before the market crash in 2008. This year is just the 7th anniversary.
“Glad I did, because Division St. has grown so much since I’ve been here.”
NWhy did you choose this place?
Tim This was another accident. Initially, I was looking for North Williams St. because North Portland was less money. However, the architect that I worked with, her partner was the architect of this building, here. I found out through the architect that they needed a tenant for this building. The demographics have more income than where I was looking, is better financially; more customers in this area. I chose to come to this place. Initially, I was not looking here; that was too expensive, but it turned out it was manageable. Glad I did, because Division St. has grown so much since I’ve been here. There are many restaurants. Excellent restaurants are on the street: PokPok, Ava Gene’s, Avignon. So this neighborhood is one of the most expensive in Portland. We have a lot of regular customers here come every day.
“I teach for a company called Japan Home Baking School.”
NYou have taught baking techniques in Asia. Where in Asia did you teach? Can you tell us a little more about your experiences there?
TimMostly in Japan. Tokyo, several times, Nagoya, Kyoto, Sapporo, Fukuoka. So many! I’ve taught some professional seminars for American cranberries. I teach how to make breads and pastries with cranberries. And Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Then I teach for a company called Japan Home Baking School and every summer, they have seminars for their teachers. They bring international instructors every summer to do the seminar. I was in Japan for six weeks teaching the seminar for the teachers in 2009. I tried to visit bakeries in every city that I went to see. Mostly, it was easy to see the chain bakeries in the department store.
“Part of the modern concept of the bakery is to feature breads all over the world.”
NThere are many kinds of breads in your bakery, European and American and so on.
TimThat’s part of the modern concept of the bakery, is to feature breads all over the world. Why, one of the great things about being an American baker is, we can use traditions from all over the world. European bakeries normally focus on European breads. We make breads from all other countries. We make Japanese style melon bread. Occasionally, we make this. My understanding is melon bread is simple. We use toppings that make the texture and appearance look like a melon.
“Baguette is the most simple bread and most difficult to make.”
NWhat are the top selling baked goods in your shop?
TimThe most popular ones are baguettes, pretzel bread, croissants, and fruit Danish. We use only the fruit for Danish in season. They are changeable. In the summertime, we use fresh berries, cherries, apricots, and plums. We use pears and apples in fall. The baguette is the most popular, and my favorite. It’s the most simple bread, and most difficult to make.
“One of the best things we can do is purchase from local suppliers.”
NPortland is famous as a one of sustainable and ecology cities, isn’t it? Are you doing something for sustainable and ecology in your bakery?
TimOne of the best things we can do is purchase from local suppliers, because if we purchase ingredients from not-local forces, there is a lot of carbon pollution from gasoline. Flour, we buy from Idaho, which is very close by. Most of the produce we use is from local farms, so in this way we try to lower the carbon we exhaust.
“The food community in Portland is very dynamic; there is always something new and it’s very exciting.”
NNow, Portland has changed. Many people have come from other states or other countries. So, are there any changes in the food industry in Portland? What do you think that?
TimAbsolutely, the food industry has become very elevated in Portland. I think Portland has some of the best restaurants in the US. We have very talented chefs here. Portland has a lower cost of living in comparison to large cities like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles. Talented people can come to open food carts or small restaurants and express their creativity. Now, the food community in Portland is very dynamic; there is always something new and it’s very exciting. I think Portland has become one of the more interesting places for visiting in the U.S. It’s affordable to come and visit. The food is affordable, and the restaurants here are not fancy or pretentious. We have access to very good ingredients because there are so many different types of vegetables and fruits we can grow close by.
“There is a nice community with the chefs in Portland.”
NDo you have many communications with other restaurants or bakeries or shops?
TimYes, I especially have communications with other restaurants, because we sell our breads to restaurants in Portland in the central city. I like to visit restaurants who are customers; I become friends with chefs. There is a nice community with the chefs in Portland. Very nice to live in.
“People like to have a connection with who they work for; we are like a family. If the family gets too large, it’s difficult to manage.”
NAre you planning to open more bakeries in the U.S. or other countries in the future?
TimNo, not at this time. What I’ve learned about being a business owner is that it’s very difficult to manage larger scale food business. Currently, I have 19 employees. I know everyone who works for the bakery personally. I find if there are people who don’t know me, and work for me, they don’t have the same investments in the business. People like to have a connection with who they work for; we are like a family. If the family gets too large, it’s difficult to manage. Many of the people who work here have been with me for several years and this is one of the reasons we are successful. The people in the neighborhood come to the bakery and see the same people every day, like a family. This makes running a business much easier and successful. My fear of growing too large would be, the products we make would not be as good quality, and there’d be more difficulty having friendly people for service. For me, it’s a balance between the desire to make money, and to have nice an experience. We spend much of our lives at our work, and we want to have a pleasant experience working together. It’s very important for me.
Little T American Baker
Mon – Sat： 7am – 5pm, Sum： 8am – 2pm, Memorial Day： 8am – 2pm
Mon – Fri： 8am – 5pm, Sat – Sun： 9am – 5pm, Memorial Day：Closed