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DETROIT – It’s become a local institution. But since opening in 1997, Avalon International Breads has always been an institution you can only visit and patronize five days a week. Having studied under Geri Larkin, Zen priest, corporate management consultant and author of Building A Business The Zen Way, owners Ann Perrault and Jackie Victor always kept the shop closed on Sundays and chose, instead, to consider it a sacred day of rest.
But you can’t stop progress, as they say, and to make a mountain out of a mixed metaphor, let’s add, “the times, they are a-changin’.” Starting this Sunday, Avalon is open for brunch from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“The reason we weren’t open on Sundays before is because we didn’t feel like we could do it in a healthy way,” said Victor. “When we started there were four of us, and two of us were Ann and I, so being open five days a week meant we were working six days a week [including prep time]. So we felt it wouldn’t be sustainable if we were open another day.”
You’ve come a long way, baby
In the beginning, Perrault and Victor sold “bread coupons” to friends and family to help raise startup costs for the business, which they opened in an unlikely spot in the Cass Corridor. But the shop turned a profit its first year. Now, their annual sales exceed $1 million – a feat that earned them a feature in Forbes magazine – and they employ a staff of 35.
“We have highly trained employees with high levels of responsibly that do a lot the jobs that we used to do,” said Victor. “They have the authority to hire as many people as they need. It will be hard. It will be intense. There will be some seven-day weeks for some people, but it wont be that way over the long haul.”
Even Victor and her partner are replaceable – or at least interchangeable. When Victor gave birth to the couple’s second child in 2005, the couple hatched a plan to protect their business, their family and, most importantly, their relationship.
“When I was pregnant with Arie we had been working together at that point for seven years, and we had been together as a couple for 12 years, and we’d had a child for five of those years with the business, so it was a lot on our relationship,” said Victor. “In January 2005, I left the shop and the idea was that I would be off until January of 2008. I would have the baby, nurse the baby, and be home with the kids. Then Ann would come home in January 2008 and have a few years to be the parent at home, and I would go back and run the business.”
Victor doesn’t mind admitting that the business hasn’t suffered at all in her absence.
“It’s been actually very wonderful, for our home life and, interestingly, it’s very good for the business. I think we really couldn’t have predicted that one. I didn’t think the business would do so well without me. I like to say that if I knew it would do so well without me, I would have left long ago.”
But she still looks forward to returning in 2008, and for now she has much to be proud of. The schedule for Bakery Sundays includes themed brunches, starting with a love themed brunch this Sunday. Then, on Feb. 25, Perrault’s mother will debut her new line of homemade pies, which will be available daily for wholesale and retail from the store, and on March 18 Avalon pastry chef Jeff Tatum will present his cake and torte line. Plus, the signing of a new wholesale customer has sparked rumors that the store might soon have to consider switching to seven days.
In the meantime, Victor happily recommends trading time off to any couple finding that working together is causing conflict in their relationship.
“In the beginning, we weren’t open on Sundays to give ourselves a break,” she said. “Then, this plan was a chance to give ourselves a break on our relationship. Working together makes having kids together look sexy. It’s hell on a relationship. Some people do it well, and we did it well and we created something amazing. But I think we felt like our relationship needed a little attention, and part of that was just taking the pressure off.”
Avalon International Breads
422 W. Willis, Detroit
New Sunday hours will be from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.