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Carbo Offloading 

City bakers thrive on having fresh products every day: Here’s what happens when the previous day’s goods don’t sell out like proverbial hot cakes.

click to enlarge Montana Gold Bread Co. owner Sher Lahvic displays a pan of freshly-baked Irish soda bread.

Scott Elmquist

Montana Gold Bread Co. owner Sher Lahvic displays a pan of freshly-baked Irish soda bread. 

Ponyboy and Robert Frost were right: Nothing gold can stay. A bakery's currency is delivering fresh, delicious goods, and how it sustains that enterprise requires waking up insanely early and, before it closes up shop, moving a constantly varying amount of excess product with a short shelf life.

"That's a challenge for us," says John Wladar, who co-owns Red Cap Patisserie with his wife and master baker, Martine. "Because we don't hold anything over, we try to match production with what we anticipate demand to be by using historical data, but it's hard to predict. Between the weather and construction on Broad Street, you never know."

Food waste is no joke. Two years ago, France banned grocery stores from throwing away edible food, instead requiring it be donated to charity. Americans, maybe not surprisingly, lead the world in food waste. Each year, we cast off an estimated 133 billion pounds of food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's roughly 30 to 40 percent our food supply according to the department.

But fret not. Richmond bakeries are doing their part to reduce waste, even if the overall result may increase our waists. The cookie crumbles in different ways, but rest assured that our city bakeries are inventive when it comes to moving extra inventory and keeping some of the city's best baked goods accessible to complex carb lovers of all stripes whenever their hankering strikes. This list is by no means exhaustive. Wherever you get your fix, enjoy responsibly and share the joy.

The deal lover's delight

One way to move some dough is to slash the price as the clock ticks. "It's definitely a dance," says Dave Rohrer, owner at WPA Bakery. "The goal is always to run out at the end of the day." At the bakery's Church Hill and South Side locations, someone can pick an item from a rotating assortment of delicious day-old items, known as New Deals, and it will cost all of one George Washington plus tax. The New Deals are on-point for WPA's identity: They help recover food costs while increasing the daily variety offered and making treats affordable and accessible to the neighborhood crowd. Gluten-free and vegan carb lovers can usually find things too among the usual muffins. On occasion, the bakery has options on the counter from staff experiments or leftovers from its vaunted by-the-slice cake and pie service. This morning pit stop is perfect for plying your co-workers with guilt pastries.

Over at Lift Coffee Shop and Café in Jackson Ward, there's a happy hour each day that boasts two-for-one baked goods and $1 off drip and tea beverages. While there are no state laws governing the marketing of discounted sweets, sometimes these deals are gems at your neighborhood spot. The discounts inspire customer loyalty and can also be a gateway to buying more.

The sweet surprise

Richmond's food scene is perhaps too low-key about some of its everyday philanthropy. Both corporate operations like Panera and local shops like Red Cap Patisserie have a regular routine of donating excess products. At Red Cap, the co-owners built their business model around never keeping anything in stock. That's their recipe for magic: Everything is made fresh daily.

"We actually encourage customers to call and request an item or two in the morning if they want something specific," owner John Wladar says.

If any of the day's items are left over, the owners and staff will often take them to a rotating list of organizations that deserve the delight of a fresh pastry, whether the WRIR radio station, an animal shelter or a firehouse. At the end of the St. Stephen's Farmers Market, it donates any leftovers to the church's food ministry.

"I love the idea of someone who maybe can't always buy a treat whenever they would like to experience the joy and craft of fresh baked pastry," Wladar says.

Finally, the bakery also allows workers to enjoy the perk of leftovers if they want them. On a perfect day, the bakery matches production with demand and closes empty handed, but that's an exception.

The reinvestment model

Some bakers worry that discounted goods might translate over time to cheaper regulars.

"We tried it," says Bridgette Garber, a manager at Montana Gold, "And that's exactly what happened."

Rather than see depreciating returns from loyal and thrifty customers, Montana donates a lot of its products to good causes through weekly partnerships. Also, it's creative with leftovers, re-inventing some breads into other forms. Today's challah and cinnamon swirl might be tomorrow's bread pudding for the customer with a sweet tooth. The bakery also makes croutons to sell to customers and use in salads at the Carytown store. S

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