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How Commissary Kitchens Work: The Night Shift With a Vancouver Bakery

freshly baked sourdough displayed on a counter top at coho cafe

There’s a lot you won’t see behind-the-scenes in a commissary kitchen. The 150-plus small businesses at Coho Collective are often run by solo entrepreneurs who take on the role of chef, delivery driver, customer service, marketers, sales, and more. Tall Shadow Bakery is one of these businesses. Owned and operated by Cass Helps (they/them) and Dayle Kennedy (she/her), the co-owners and partners live and bake sourdough in East Vancouver. The couple operates their micro bakery from a “shared full-time station”. In other words, they have access to the commissary kitchen and all of the commercial equipment and storage for 40 hours a week. Although you may never see Cass outside tracking satellites at 3:00 a.m. in between rounds of baking, or the amount of work that turns a mass of dough into their iconic table sourdough. In November 2021, our content producer Taeyoung Chang shadowed the two at our Powell Street kitchen, where they prepared for a night of baking and a day of deliveries.

Here’s how it went.

baguettes being baked in an oven

11:45 p.m We arrive at the kitchen, and like clockwork, Cass and Dayle get themselves ready for the next eight hours of baking. Cass immediately unloads their delivery van from the day before. They then gather ingredients stored throughout the commissary - flour, yeast, butter - items that will soon be turned into all of their delicious baked goods in the hours to come. Dayle heads over to their station and begins scaling recipes for the day-of production. Simultaneously, she tempers water for the yeast to thrive while organizing and sanitizing future and potential work surfaces.

12:30 a.m

They are both in full production mode, weighing ingredients and mixing doughs for their retail and wholesale orders, including potato buns, brioche buns, and baguettes. It’s a harmony of measuring and mixing to the sounds of whoever has control of the speaker, which was either Abba or A Tribe Called Quest.

1:15 a.m The sourdough process begins with Cass weighing out the flour and mixing water into their starter (affectionately named “Eustice”). Shortly after, they start mixing doughs for their cheese buns, pretzels, as well as bagels. At the same time, Dayle begins individually portioning the hundreds of potato buns and brioche buns.

1:45 a.m

They both start to tackle shaping potato buns while coordinating the first of three folds of Eustice every half hour.

the first folds of sourdough before being baked

2:15 a.m

The gentle harmony of 12:30 a.m has increased to not only measuring and mixing but folding, shaping, resting and around this time, baking. The song choice had shifted to Crocodile Rock by Elton John. 3:30 a.m Amidst the controlled chaos, it was somehow lunchtime. Maybe it was the delusion kicking in, but there was nothing, except a warm bed, better than freshly baked sourdough with butter and flakes of Maldon salt.

3:35 a.m

Cass slowly begins to fill up the double deck ovens as Dayle begins rolling bagels, all while adding the final touches to their cheese buns.

4:00 a.m Now with both ovens at full capacity, the day’s labour is slowly coming to fruition with sheet tray after sheet tray cycling in and out, filled with pillowy potato buns, cheese buns, pretzels, baguettes, and bagels.

Over the next three hours, both Cass and Dayle jump between: cleaning the kitchen, packaging orders for deliveries, drafting emails with future retailers and wholesalers, and fulfilling their parental duties to Eustice.

7:00 a.m As night turns to day, baking tasks become day-time deliveries as the duo wraps up any final shaping, while ensuring their station is cleaner than they left it. Dayle is wrapping the final packages for their retail partners, while Cass is loading their delivery truck only to return later that night to repeat this whole process again.

Owners of Tall Shadow Bakery waving enthusiastically

Sourdough is a physical and humbling process which requires time, patience, and a sense of humour.

Whether you’re a baker, a ghost kitchen business or an artisanal chocolatier, if you care enough about food to wake up at 11 p.m., or are interested in being a part of a community that does, please click below to sign up for a tour at one of our commissary locations.

1 Comment

Jul 09, 2022

Beautifully written! The love that Cass and Dayle pour into their products shines through in every bite

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