Modern thought leadership is pretty divided on the question of whether or not you should follow your dreams. On the one hand, what could be better than spending your precious time doing something you truly love? On the other, should love be the goal of our professional lives?
And what happens if we fall out of love?
Otto Kramm is going for it. In early 2021 the Salinas native quit his day job and went all in on Otto’s Bread Company, a cottage food business selling sourdough loaves and pretzels baked in his 700-square-foot apartment (the “bakery”).
“If you were on the outside looking in you’d think that this was really out of character for me,” Kramm says.
He’s not the impulsive type, so he had a process—one he likens to his formula for buying art. It goes like this: If he sees something he likes he’ll make a note of it, walk away and wait a month. If at the end of that month he’s still thinking about the work, he’ll buy it. Starting his own business to bake bread full time? He thought about that for more than a month, sure, but the general idea was the same.
Kramm first started baking in 2016 when living and working in Santa Rosa. He was a recent college graduate and new to the area, so he had few friends and lots of time on his hands. He’d spend his weekend baking and then bring the bread into the office—“it was just a really rewarding hobby,” he says. Working with his hands was a nice balance to his day job in agricultural finance, too. And from the get-go, Kramm was serious about his hobby.
“I knew this was something I wanted to do full time,” he says. He kept baking, for fun and for friends, even after a new position at work brought him back to his hometown of Salinas. In the beginning of 2020, he sold his first four loaves.
And then Covid hit. Working from home, Kramm found he could bake more on weekdays. “I just kept baking and baking,” he says. He got to a place where he was producing 35 to 40 loaves a week, and delivering them for preorder. As 2020 wound to a close, “I kinda took a step back and looked at my studio, or at least what once was a studio, and kinda realized—this is a small bakery.”
On Jan. 6, 2021 Kramm quit his job. “It’s been good ever since,” he says. He moved from selling direct to consumer to selling wholesale—his bread is available at places like The Beerded Bean, The Salad Shoppe and Wedo’s Food Truck. He posts a schedule each week on Instagram (“Happy Monday, Bread Heads”), and uses social media to do the vast majority of his marketing.
These days he bakes about 110 loaves and 250-300 pretzels from his cottage food-licensed studio bakery. He’s got three fridges, a Belgian bread oven, a couple of Italian mixers and an L-shaped workbench where his L-shaped couch used to be. He works seven days a week, making and shaping dough on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and baking on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Seven months into his dream job, the goal is to get out of the studio. As the business grows, the small space is starting to cramp his style.
“I’m turning people away now, unfortunately,” Kramm says. “I have to tell people that I don’t have the capacity to fulfill their need—restaurants or grocery outlets.”
A retail space, or even a commercial kitchen, would allow him to hire people and expand the menu.
Right now he’s a one-man operation—doing the baking, of course, but also the sales and packaging and dish washing. (His mom does help with deliveries.) And despite the long hours and early mornings and cramped quarters—he loves it.
“It’s a busy job,” he says. “But it’s good. Because if I wasn’t doing this I’d just be sitting at a computer all day doing something I don’t like.”