From Big Business Job to Small Business Career

From Big Business Job to Small Business Career

Matt Monson is a bakery owner in Charlottesville, VA with his wife, Katherine Younger. He describes himself as a nerd who has overcome social ineptitude. Matt loves the clashing of the scientific and artistic when it comes to baking, as well as owning a business. He believes that baking a loaf of bread is simply a microcosm of our existence -- no matter how much careful planning, measuring, and attention to detail you put into your loaf, there will always be some chaotic yeast that turns it into something exciting. When he's not pontificating on existential nonsense, Matt likes to homebrew, cycle, and cook delicious and healthy food with his wife.

When I graduated from Davidson College in 2005 with a B.A. in Anthropology, I think I felt like a lot of other grads do – that the world had been waiting for me to show up.  I expected that I would quickly find some sort of corporate job, the interviewers would recognize my obvious brilliance and critically evaluative skills, and then I would be an adult!  It didn’t take long to realize I was completely unprepared for the difficulties of job searching when you have very little experience or applicable skills.

Eventually I did find that job.  I worked it for a couple years.  I found another one and worked it for awhile too.  I thought that I was taking the career path I was supposed to take – you build up some skills here and there and then eventually you find a company you really like and stay there until retirement.  Well it turns out my second job was a startup company that was pretty close to failure.  When it did fall, I found myself practically back at square one, except now I was in the middle of an economic downturn.

After a few months of unemployment, my wife Kath said, “That’s it!  When I come home from work today, you need a list of five careers you would choose if money weren’t an issue!”  By that afternoon, I had applied for a job at the Great Harvest in Charlotte, NC.  You see - we’re big foodies, in case you didn’t catch that from Kath’s blog.  I got into bread baking because I adore sandwiches, and I believe that a sandwich is made by the quality of the bread.  Through reading Peter Reinhart’s and Jeffrey Hamelman’s books, I gained a great knowledge and skill base in science-based bread baking.  Finally, a marketable skill!

Interviewing with Jeff and Janet Ganoung was the most natural thing I had ever done.  We were joking around, I felt I could be completely honest, and their combination of science, art, and passion was something I admired and Great Harvest Charlotte bakery owners photorespected.  Luckily, they happened to be on the verge of opening their second bakery and they wanted to hire me directly into the Sponge and Dough position.  I was really proud to be part of the opening of that bakery – it was a chance to fulfill that deep human desire to leave something for posterity.  I could instill a part of me in the new business.

Quickly I realized that the same drive I had to BE the bakery was exactly what motivated the Ganoungs.  I began to observe how they ran their business, interacted with employees, managed inventory, concerned over bread quality, loved their customers, and dealt with crises.  Eventually my thoughts turned from “I could do that” to “I SHOULD do that!”  And so the idea for Kath and I to open our own Great Harvest was born.

The path that led me to Great Harvest seems so inevitable when I look back on it that I feel like I’m cheating when I give college graduates career advice.  Too often people hear “follow your passion” or some similar cliché.  While I think that I’m a living expression of that idea, I prefer to tell them “do what you SHOULD be doing, not what you THINK you should be doing.”  Baking bread may not be the prestigious job that I imagined when I was in college, but being an entrepreneur is one of the most enviable careers out there.

You can have your widgets – I’m gonna go eat some hot bread out of the oven.


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