Persephone’s bread manager Wade Taylor just returned from a stage (chef lingo for a short-term apprenticeship) with Seven Stars Bakery in Providence, RI. The Seven Stars crew – including owner Jim Williams and production manager Sarah – welcomed him warmly, teaching him a ton in his two-day stint.
Seven Stars abides by a simple mission – “bake great stuff and treat customers well” – a commitment Jim and his wife Lynn remain true to even after 13 years in business. When they first opened, the Williams did nearly everything themselves, baking every loaf, shaping every pastry. Now, they run three retail locations, supply large wholesale accounts, and support a staff of 60. “All of that has come together into a bakery that operates 24 hours a day,” Wade said. “They make around 13 different breads daily, as well as numerous pastries and sweets. I was excited to see how a place could produce as much product as Seven Stars at such a high level.”
With only two days to spend in Providence (we’ve been super busy at Persephone), Wade wanted to get the most out of his stage. So when Jim told him to come in at 1:30 p.m., he was bummed because he thought he was going to miss out on a large part of the bread production. Not so: “Turns out that their mixing shift starts around the time our day ends at Persephone. They work backwards from the time everything has to be ready for delivery, around 3 a.m. Bread mixing begins in the afternoon, followed by shaping through the evening, and finally baking around 8 p.m.”
Even though Seven Stars and Persephone share a core commitment to making the best artisanal bread possible, they go about it very differently. For Seven Stars to produce such significant volume, an entire shift is devoted to running the oven. For Wade, a typical day at Persephone finds him mixing, shaping bread and pastries, and baking. In contrast, “each shift at Seven Stars is more narrowly focused, which coupled with their strict production schedule, helps keep them consistent.”
At Seven Stars, Wade spent most of his time shadowing Sarah, the production manager. Having studied culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University – Rhode Island, Sarah joined Seven Stars at the start. A great baker and a generous teacher, Sarah showed Wade the full scope of Seven Stars. “It was a good learning experience to watch her manage the staff towards the common goal of creating beautiful bread and pastry.”
Seven Stars is famous for its Durum Stick. Years ago, Jim received a bag of durum wheat flour by mistake – traditionally used to make pasta. Undaunted, he began to play around, “and ended up creating something truly awesome,” Wade said. “I have never had anything quite like it…The high protein content in the durum flour creates a chewiness that really compliments the bread’s open crumb and crackly crust. It tastes faintly of pasta and is tinted gold by the durum.” The sticks are Seven Stars’ most popular bread; they sell hundreds daily and ship them as far away as Boston.
Wade also marveled at their Country Bread. Made with two different natural leavens – whole wheat and rye – Wade described the loaf as “beautiful with loads of flavor.” Even though the Country Bread is Jim’s favorite, customers have yet to catch on; sourdoughs and whole grains are far less popular than white breads. As is the case at Persephone: our baguette is our top seller. As the artisan bread movement gains greater traction, Wade hopes people will wise up to the wonders of naturally leavened breads. “They have more flavor, are easier to digest and keep longer,” he said.
Wade walked away from Seven Stars wholly inspired. “Seven Stars lived up to its billing,” he said. “From their storefronts to each individual item they make, it is clear that a great deal of hard work and care is involved. Jim, Sarah, and the rest of the Seven Stars crew have their production so dialed in that it almost looks easy to an outsider. Having made baking my profession for the last several years, I understand how much sweat, and how little sleep is involved in achieving what they have.”
Experience a day at Seven Stars for yourself by watching their video.