With more than 22 years of night shift experience in his own bakery, Kurt Zoss, of Zoss the Swiss Baker in Cleveland Heights, has had a bit of time to figure out how to balance a family, a healthy lifestyle and a demanding business.
The start time for Zoss' quotidian night-owl stretch varies based on the volume of baked goods expected to leave the tiny workroom, but it's always sometime between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. And while Zoss has help in the bakery during business hours, it's a one-man show overnight.
At the beginning of what usually ends up being a 12-hour day, Zoss mixes, shapes and bakes dough for flakey pastries, hearty breads and tons of Bavarian pretzels.
"The night shift is really special," he says with a smile. "But you get used to it." He's had plenty of time to adjust, after all, since starting the business in 1996.
"You have to be very strict on the sleep schedule," Zoss says. "I figured out if I have to work at midnight, I should be in bed about 6 at night. So whatever time I start, I sleep six hours before."
If Zoss isn't in the bakery, you can probably find him riding his bicycle or motorcycle. He also loves traveling whenever he gets the rare chance. But most times you'll find him in his shop, the final destination of a trip that began when he apprenticed in his home country of Switzerland at the age of 16.
When Zoss moved to the States in the 1980s, he got a job at the highly respected La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles. After that, he moved to Cleveland Heights where his wife, Barbara, grew up.
Fast forward a few years, and Zoss is no longer the only one in the bakery who grew up in the business. Barbara handles all the savory tarts that line the cases, and their sons, Roman and Ryan, started working in the shop as soon as they could, helping their dad make pretzels for local bars and breweries. In the summer months when his sons were growing up and helping out at the farmer's market stands, Zoss says "they learned that money doesn't grow on trees."
His sons are now grown, and family time is not what it used to be back in the day, but the bonds and lessons built over bread will never be lost. And that past, present and future of his business continue to drive him every day.
"You're doing something that you can see," Zoss says. "You get to hold it. It's instant, more or less ... I always like that aspect. And, you know, it makes people happy."