The Automne of Seth Gabrielse from Automne Boulangerie
You are certainly wondering why in an luxury magazine I come to talk to you about a bakery in Rosemont district of Montreal. The subject is simple. While the majority of Canadians buy bread with far too many ingredients, which they do not know where they come from, luxury is in these neighborhood bakeries that use fewer than five ingredients in their products. Bring the product back to basics It is luxury, a simple product, without artifice, to its simplest expression. Here is my interview with Seth Gabrielse, co-owner of Automne Boulangerie.
The Automne of Seth Gabrielse: The interview
How are you Seth?
Things are going well
Yes, but in a good way. We cannot complain.
So it’s going to be two years since you’re open?
Yes, at the end of October, the 24th. It’ll be two years.
Many things have happened since the opening.
It’s amazing, it’s a little crazy.
I guess you did not think it would be so busy.
We had a lot of confidence in our business plan, and we believed in this neighborhood. Julien and I live in the neighborhood. We worked hard to bring our bakery to this level, with our vision, despite the presence of competitors. We work with local products, we work in a more transparent way with our products, with the origin of the ingredients. We were confident that the neighborhood wanted something like that. But the answer we got was really more than … in fact, we saw this answer in a 5-6 year horizon. I would say that the Petite-Patrie – Rosemont neighborhood gives us an incredible answer even though it is about 2 square kilometers. But we work hard. Julien (Editor’s note: Roy, his associate) and I spend a lot of time here, our staff is exceptional, invested, lit, they bring us a lot of ideas, it helps enormously. When you have a lot of fun going back to work every day, it changes everything.
If we compare to the life of a restaurant (Seth was at the FoodLab SAT and Laloux among others) is this a big change for you?
On the personal side, yes that’s certain. It changes the dynamics at home to be present at night. It changes for me, before restoration, I was always waiting for customers, the first part of your day is the preparation and the second is the dinner service. You’re still waiting to see what he’s going to order. Here it’s different, we have hours where we have to have things coming out, but it changes the planning, I can put my work in an order that makes more sense to me. I am more in the production side now than in the service. It changes my approach, my planning, but I like that. I’ve always been a morning person, more than someone who loves parties, it really brings more to my personal life.
Do not be early, it would not go well;)
It’s a habit, 25 years in a kitchen, in catering, you finish at 12-1 am, it’s hard.
To get up at 4-5 hours is not more obvious?
This morning, I started at 4, the weekend is 2-3 in the morning. But it’s really a time, soon it’s certain, but I love that time, it’s quiet. I can really have focus.
You meet people from Isle de Garde next door 😉
It’s funny, because I meet people next door when they get to work and they meet me when I get back here in the morning. It’s a completely reversed schedule. It’s quiet and zen. People do not speak much at this time in the morning. Some music.
You talked about ingredients, local a little earlier, you do business with local mills, right?
Exactly, our goal is to do business with local products, by local products, I would say yes, Quebec products is very important for us, but we look as a Canadian, there are parts of the Ontario that is closer than eastern Quebec. So, it’s really about looking closer before and after. We work with the local, before the bio. The local comes first. Not all farmers and mills have the means to change their operations to be organic, which represents a huge investment on their part, and so on. We do our research to work with people who are like us. We also see a direct link between our investments with these farmers, with these mills and their ability to produce better and better products.
There is an apprenticeship between the two.
Yes, it’s really a cycle, we invest in them, and they can invest in their fields, that’s why we have a better product, and it is the customer who is the winner in the end with a product more nourishing and more tasty.
This is not the normal white bread that we will find here?
No, but we still have a white bread, we must meet all tastes.
He still has a little twist
Yes, it is not processed flour from an unknown source, etc.
This is not what we find in groceries.
Indeed, but it’s still important these companies, there are not all people who can buy a bread at $ 5, so these sliced bread, it feeds many people for a low price. It’s still important, but you have to look at the number of ingredients, it’s always a balance. It must remain accessible. The number of chemical ingredients, and it’s impressive, we often have 3-4 ingredients in our breads and these breads have 20-25. You have to think with what you want to feed your family. There is that too, and it’s a big challenge.
How do you see your role here compared to what you did in restaurants?
It’s not so different you know, on one side. After being a leader, the parallels are really similar, with the team management side. The creation side, the testing side, is very similar. Yes it’s another side of the business, it’s not very far. We feed people. Our goal is to have a bakery that brings together, in a restaurant mentality with precisely the transparency on the origin of the products, working with the seasons, etc.
It is often rare that we see people catering in a bakery actually no?
It is certain that with our salty side soups and salads we stand out. But it’s still important for us to be a bakery first. But after that, we play a little with the products. It’s natural for me.
That’s what made you successful. And precisely, how do we handle this explosion of people.
It accelerated things. Our challenges that we saw in the long run are happening now. We must find the staff, we are close to 30 employees, and it was not in our business plan all this administrative side. We just saw Julien and I early for 6 days. And this is not our reality, I’m here, but Julien is more on the administration side. It has evolved. But in a good way.
What’s coming in the future, do you have projects that you can reveal.
We are currently working on a mill, it is not necessarily an original idea, there are already bakeries that have. We are talking about a mill on site, to grind our flour and use it the same day or the latest the day after, or fresh flour. It’s something in another bakery here in Montreal, which I will not name, but in the United States it’s something we’re seeing more and more. We hired an engineer to make a drawing of a mill, quite compact, but a stone mill, made in Quebec. Ideally, it should be up and running by the end of 2018.
It will change what in your way of doing things.
It will bring a challenge for us technical side. We are used to, when you grind, it is 12 to 24 hours that the barrel remains stable, then the enzymatic activity goes in full in all directions, so the flour is really not stable and you do not know what that you will have. But at the same time, it brings a product, with a better taste, more nutritious, even the aromas that is really interesting. We do not realize how the flour found in groceries is old, or lacks things, when you see the two flours side by side. It’s been 6 months that she is in bag. It loses a lot of things.
It’s interesting, the space is pretty tight.
Yes indeed, we get pretty stuck, we need staff, time, etc.
And the microbrewery took the space next door.
Yes, at first it was a little pricey, but we would have taken this 1000 square feet more.
At the same time, you develop projects with people like the Guillaume Bakery, for example.
Yes, we wanted to show, that it’s friends, and that it’s not a competition. The competition is really sliced bread that is found everywhere in Quebec, which represents about 80% of the market. There is room, but there is also accessibility.
Speaking of these projects, there are many of your products that are offered in the neighborhood as at Pista, L’Isle de Garde, it is interesting to have developed these contacts.
Yes, cafes, the Tradition grocery store that sometimes has our products. We often see this in the United States and in Europe, the big chains that distribute the products of the premises.
It’s the production capacity too.
Yes, exactly, we want people who come to see us to have their products first. We want a sustainable business that has a good reputation. I see one of my 3 children taking over in a few years.
When we talk about children, it’s good to educate people too, no?
Yes really, people are getting more and more interested at the same time, it’s funny, but the gluten-free mode had a big negative impact, but in the long run, it’s not that bad because people get information, why it’s easier to digest, etc. Bakeries needed to evolve too, it’s not just the end product that counts, but it’s really from A to Z. And I love this area where people like to share our techniques, know.
But it’s not like the restaurant competing, the customer waiting after his bread, etc. you can take a little more time.
Yes, but at the same time, when it rains, we have fewer people, or when there is a TV show, we are overwhelmed. In the first 48 hours, it’s difficult to manage.
It’s interesting to see that, and to have a little changed the habits of the neighborhood.
Yes, and this is where we want to stay. We do not want to open another location.
Now let’s go to our small RDPMAG questionnaire
Your favorite city in the world?
It’s a difficult question for me, I come from Toronto, I spent half of my life here in Montreal, but I do not necessarily feel connected to another city as such, but I have a lot of appreciation to Amsterdam, my family comes from the Netherlands, but it’s not in my personality. With my family, we often make small trips not too far. But we returned to Charleston in South Carolina and really loved it. We are always looking for the culture of cooking, art, architecture.
Your favorite restaurant?
It’s really not easy. I have a long list of restaurants where I want to go, but I always go in the same. I really like Super Qualité, Impasto, we do not travel far, but we cook a lot at home.
What is your favorite bar?
I do not go out much, I must say, I’m not a big consumer of alcohol, but I like Isle de Garde next door. But I fell in love with Parasol, which I discovered because they came to buy their bread here. It’s excellent. Very creative, a beautiful evolution every year. Small card, but well chosen.
Your favorite car?
I currently have a Volkswagen Jetta and I love it. I dream of having a Tesla or an Audi, but I’m not in a mood to change. I use a lot of cycling I have to say.
What is your favorite airline?
I often end up taking the Star Alliance group (Air Canada, KLM), but that’s often where my research begins.
Favorite place to go on a trip.
As we are 5, it is not always possible to go far. We love the state of Vermont, Burlington. There are fine restaurants, microbrewers, distilleries, farms, producers, etc. We do not travel far, because access to ingredients, that counts for a lot for us. We begin to discover.
Your favorite place to shop?
I like Lee Valley, I think they will open in Laval soon. It’s difficult because you can find everything on Amazon or Walmart, but it’s hard for me, but my business is the opposite of this practice. So, we try to go into that thought. But the difference is in customer service quite often. We often go to Ottawa to go to Lee Valley.
Preferred place to disconnect
We are members of the Botanical Garden of Montreal, we go there every week, family to have a small picnic. Justa few hours, and Sunday is my first day of weekend and it starts well, no TV, no cell, we walk for an hour or two and that’s it.
Something you could not live without.
My wife. My partner Julien’s help here. I’m really lucky to be surrounded by people who have the same vision as me and who also work, if not stronger than me. After, I would say my iPhone. To stay connected with the family.
Thank you Seth, we find ourselves at Automne very soon!
6500 Christophe-Colomb Avenue