The fading scent of freshly baked bread
The aroma of freshly baked bread is like no other. In my old neighborhood, the local baker used to make dough in a big barrel for donuts and buns. I can still remember the drool-inducing scent of his creations.
Recently, a popular local bakery from Daejeon called Seongsimdang was a big hit at a Lotte Department Store pop-up shop event. Over 17,000 people visited the shop in a week. I was curious about what they had to offer at their home location, and as the National Commission for Corporate Partnership was mulling designating bakeries as a business category reserved for small- and medium-sized enterprises, I decided to go check it out.
I wanted to see how local bakeries differ from franchises. As soon as I opened the door, the smell of the bread brought me back to my childhood.
“Yes, this is the way bread should smell,” I said. Somehow, I had forgotten. As bakeries become ubiquitous, they grow fancier and farther from their roots. These days, you can find multiple bakeries on almost every street. They sell perfect buns and angular frozen options. These brand-name bakeries have flooded the market and overwhelmed local businesses.
One franchise bakery owner told me his story.
He used to have his own bakery, and business was okay. One day, a representative from a big bakery brand visited and offered him a franchise. “Your own recipes can’t win over brand-name breads,” he said.
He kept coming back and pressuring the owner. Eventually, the baker relented, convinced that he couldn’t stand a chance against a big conglomerate. He had to change the interior of his bakery to the specifications of the main office and purchase the promotional items it came up with as well.
In the meantime, his own creations were nowhere to be found. He consoled himself by saying that if he hadn’t changed, he wouldn’t have survived.
Now, bakeries and restaurants have been categorized as businesses reserved for smaller firms. But the industry is fiercely resisting. The entry threshold for a small start-up is likely to rise, and efficiency will fall.
The classification is confusing, as the owners of franchises are still small business owners while the franchise headquarters belongs to the conglomerates. But the owners can’t run their businesses without the headquarters. As the old adage goes, the main office doesn’t teach them how to fish. They are selling bread, but they’re not bakers.
Yet consumers are anticipating changes. Once the umbrella of the conglomerates disappears, we may be able to taste original creations by master bakers who knead their soul into their dough. The bakeries may not have the same efficiency, and the environment will be returned to a state where the bread may cost a little more, but the small transactions of small businesses will allow them to stay afloat.
If these small businesses survive, the scent of freshly baked bread may return to our neighborhoods.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yang Sunny