A Well-Buttered Machine
by Emily Kovach
It’s a sunny Friday morning in South Philadelphia, and the wide ground floor of the hulking Bok Building, formerly Edward W. Bok Technical High School, is eerily quiet. A ride in the creaky elevator to the fourth floor reveals a different scene: Though many of the large rental spaces on this level are vacant, there is a chatty group of folks congregating in the corner.
Gathered around a charming display of pastries, breads and a large yellow Igloo beverage dispenser labeled “Energy Drank” (cold-brewed Elixr coffee), they use the honor system, leaving cash and helping themselves to goodies such as “everything” seed knots stuffed with goat cream cheese and gooey cookies studded with hunks of chocolate. It’s one of Machine Shop Boulangerie’s pop-up bake sales, luring the other tenants of Bok with the wafting smells of fresh-baked deliciousness.
Machine Shop is a new wholesale bakery owned and operated by Emily Riddell and Katie Lynch, two industry pros in their early 30s who met through a mutual friend while both working as bakers for local culinary legend Georges Perrier. The duo had been scheming individually for years on how to break away from working for other restaurants and bakeries—and strike out on their own.
Lynch says the decision to become small-business owners came over time.
“I worked for a lot of people, opening a lot of places… Sometimes you can’t help but think, ‘If I’m going to work this hard, I’m going to do it for myself.’” Since meeting in 2011, she and Riddell had developed a mutual respect for each other and decided to partner up last year. Riddell was contemplating a move back to her home state of California, but she first called Lynch in February 2016 to discuss the idea of starting a bakery together.
“We went to Chinatown and ate some noodles, drank some beers, hashed some things out, and by the end of the meal we cheersed to opening a new bakery!” Riddell remembers.
They signed a lease at the Bok Building in January, loving the open, airy room that’s now their home, as well as the communal nature of the building. Their fellow fourth-floor neighbors include photographer Stevie Chris, who took a series of “pastry portraits” for them, and across the hall is woodworker and furniture maker Brian Christopher, who created a beautiful Machine Shop pastry display box.
“Every time we think about what we need, there’s someone here who can do it!” Riddell says.
After the build-out, they stocked the space with used equipment and their personal collections of baking tools, and after licensing and inspection in mid-April, they sent their first order out to Elixr Coffee Roasters on May 8. Their other current wholesale customers include both locations of ReAnimator Coffee, Menagerie Coffee, Res Ipsa and Alchemy in Northern Liberties.
They chose to pursue a wholesale model primarily to avoid having to raise as much startup capital as they would have needed for a retail space, and to be able to have unrelenting daily oversight of the operation, a feat that is much harder to accomplish in a retail setting. To maintain that level of control, they’re committed to starting small and slow.
Lynch brings bread experience to the table, while Riddell is trained in pastry. Together, they name quality as their No. 1 focus. “We like things made well,” Lynch says. “We’re French-inspired, but we use Pennsylvania or East Coast grains, and [use] organic products when we can.” Seasonal produce is a source of inspiration as well—savory danishes and strawberry pastries on their bake-sale table are made with items from their CSA. “I’m from Philly,” Riddell says, “and I’m not going to use pineapples. I want to make things that are unique to this place as possible.”