Tova du Plessis

Tova du Plessis


Owner at Essen Bakery


I know this is my true passion. I’m lucky to have never experienced those moments where I think this industry wasn’t for me and I am so thankful that I found it. This is what motivates me. Being an entrepreneur and having a vision of what I want to create is what drives me as well.


EXPERIENCE
The most valuable advice that I’ve received was from my first boss in the industry. He is a small business owner and he would talk to me openly about what he had learnt about the business. His piece of advice, which is one of the biggest challenges of a small business owner, is to not be too integral to the day to day operations. You can easily find yourself caught up in the daily projects of the operations and not the parts that will help you expand. You have to be able to step away and train your team to the do daily tasks to be able to effectively grow and expand your business.
I look for people who have spent time in other small restaurants like ours. If all your time was spent at a large company with advanced equipment, they may have never learnt the skills that we require in our bakery.
We have a somewhat set menu but when we do add a new item, I ask my team for suggestions. I want them to feel like I’m a resource for them to come to to find a recipe and ask for advice but I really want them to create new things on their own.
As a business owner, I cannot live without my laptop, but as a pastry chef, I cannot work without a small offset spatula.
As a baker, you have to have a feel for your product. Baking can be very methodical and you can have machines to guide you through every step of the process, but not everybody has the budget for high tech equipment. In our bakery, we don’t have a proofer so everyone needs to know what the dough looks and feels like when it is ready. We rely on those skills of a trained baker.
Today it is easier to find inspiration because of social media. I sometimes find myself going down a rabbit hole thanks to that, but then I immediately start researching recipes. A lot of my inspiration comes from talking to other people from all different cultures. I go back to research the foods from the past, as opposed to new cookbooks.
I keep my team motivated by remaining transparent. I like to get them involved in the direction and bigger picture of the business. I sometimes overly communicate with my team but I want them to have something to look forward to and reassurance that we are growing. People are naturally more motivated when there are opportunities for growth in their near future. I also plan staff meetings. I treat them to lunch every Saturday, and make sure it’s something different every week. I hope that this creates a hospitable environment where people want to work.

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James Beard Award