I called the former owner first thing on Monday, and drove to meet him at his garage. That day changed our whole life. By Wednesday I started showing up to Jared Allen's garage and learning how to bake for the first time. Within two weeks the bakery was in our home garage, and we were on our own.
We have been baking under Arizona Cottage Food Laws, and the bakery has transformed over the past three seasons. In the beginning, we didn't even have a mixer. We were baking as though we were in the Middle Ages.
We made this space work. In fact, little by little we began to build a sustainable business. Amanda and I left our other jobs within the first year. By year 2 we had taken Proof from one Farmers Market to three, and desperately needed to buy equipment as we worked literal 20 hours days trying to keep up. In the past two seasons we have also built onto our garage ourselves with the help of my dad. We have been careful to be good neighbors, and good community members. You can drive by our bakery and have no clue that its anything other than a house with a big garage, a pretty common thing in our neighborhood.
Unfortunately, one neighbor began phoning in complaints to the City of Mesa about a year ago. He was upset that there were regularly 3-4 cars parked on the street in front of our home, and that our delivery truck was in our driveway. I did my best to make it right. I had to make it right. By this point we were employing a number of people, serving a large amount of customers, and making a future in this line of work. We were also facing large personal issues. Our daughter has a rare genetic disease called Friedreich's Ataxia. Working from home gave us a sense of peace that we could meet her needs, but still do something that we love.
During the early days of COVID, Proof became a safe-haven for a number of people that had worked with us part time on Saturdays, and then lost their regular jobs. Our crew members receive full health benefits, and get a chance to bring products of real value to the community. As a business, we are big contributors to a newly created local grain economy. The majority of our flour comes from Hayden Flour Mills, a local stone mill in Queen Creek. The grains they mill are grown here in Arizona. Our business supports many other small businesses, in some cases almost exclusively, like our chocolate partner DNA Chocolate out of Chandler.
I poured a parking pad for my employees on my property, and planted 14 large Ficus trees around it. I moved our delivery truck to a nearby storage facility, and now only pull it here once a week to load up for Farmers Markets. Unfortunately, these efforts weren't enough. Our neighbor had discovered an old city ordinance that did not allow for non-resident employees in our zoning district, and focused his attention on that.
Back in August, the Vice Mayor and Head of Code Compliance came to our home bakery, sat at our table, ate our bread, and offered support in our inevitable transition. We knew that one day Proof will have to move, but we also knew that financially we simply weren't there yet.
In year one Proof wasn't bringing in enough even to support our family. In fact, Amanda sold her first home in Tempe, and used the proceeds to pay for Proof's 2018 season. In year two, we spent all our profits buying proper ovens, mixers, and necessary equipment to actually have a shot at doing this business. We also built our first addition onto the garage. Just this past winter, my dad and I built an RV garage that gave us all the space we need to continue our work comfortably.
As we sat at the table with the city leaders, we told them of our daughters situation, and also of the fact that we really needed another 18 months to move on our own. Even though at that meeting they offered verbal support and encouragement, just 4o days later they determined that in fact we couldn't have the time we needed, and that Proof needed to be out of this facility by mid January...just 4 months away.
We were devastated. Having worked so hard for three years we started to see our dream slip away. Commercial buildings are expensive. We didn't want to work with a big property developer. We always had an idea to save and buy a place. Then last Sunday I took a drive, and saw a space that didn't have the commercial real estate signs...just a phone number to a man. Miraculously, it is a space that we could see ourselves in.
Turning the corner we have decided that we must move forward. Proof has a value in our life, the lives of our crew members, and the community at large. We are taking the plunge, and building a retail bakery in Downtown Mesa. It'll be a place where you can walk in, have a hot beverage and enjoy a pain au chocolat while you overlook an open concept bakery and watch us make sourdough breads and pastry. It'll be a community space geared towards bringing everyone closer to the source of their local food. The space itself is suitable for us to continue serving Farmers Markets around the Valley, and performing the home delivery program that we started during COVID.
However, between us and the building is a daunting expense, that we didn't have sufficient time to prepare for. Your help will allow us to keep Proof as special as it has been. It will prevent us from having to make compromises that change Proof's identity, like cheaper ingredients, or less compensation for our crew. It will prevent us from having to take on a second mortgage of debt to outfit a new building, when we already have a perfectly functional one.
The funds raised will be put to use to transform the building in Downtown Mesa from its current state, to one that can accommodate the bakery. Architecture will come first, followed by permitting, construction, and finally the expense of moving the bakery. We will complete the project by early 2021, and smoothly transition Proof from cottage to commercial.
You help will save our livelihood, and the livelihoods of over a dozen families that rely on the company. Your help will allow this local food economy to have a small light in this catastrophic year. Our business was fortunate to remain stable in recent months, but now we face existential crisis. Words cannot adequately describe the great level of appreciation we will all have for every small offer of help we can receive in this time. We are a community bakery, and in this moment we desperately need our community's help.
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- Matthew Evans-Koch
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