Ezdan Fluckinger and his family pose at their bakery in Torrington called, The Bread Doctor.
By Tom Lacock
Wyoming Medical Society
Ezdan Fluckinger is a lot of things and he isn’t about to let the initials “MD” define him.
After serving as a doctor in the southeast Wyoming community of Torrington (population: 6,800) for 16 years, Fluckinger has opened a bakery on Main Street called The Bread Doctor. He had two major reasons for opening the bakery: He has never been the type to let his profession dictate his identity; and he wanted a way to be a part of his 18-year-old daughter Eleanor’s professional life. .
Fluckiger’s life in medicine now consists of one 48-hour shift in the Emergency Department of Torrington’s Community Hospital and four days baking up to 25 varieties of pastries, breads and other desserts in his downtown bakery, which is open 6 a.m.- 2 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
“About five or six years ago I was sitting in my office and I was like, ‘Self, what is the 30-year plan,’” Fluckiger says with a laugh. “I remember saying to myself, ‘Maybe we should open a bakery…’
“I’ve always liked baking at home – just hobby stuff. But I was also thinking about what Eleanor was going to do. I didn’t want to spent her adult life with me working 50 hours a week at the hospital and her floating somewhere in a job. I wanted to be a part of her adult life and I wanted to be with her.”
A Family on The Move
Spend some time around the Fluckiger family for a few minutes, and you’ll understand this group isn’t willing to do one thing at a time. Ezdan says he was a semi-professional singer during his time in medical school, and he and his wife, Lisa, were both part of the University of Utah ballroom dancing team. They also helped start the Goshen County Community Theatre in the early 2000s while he worked in the emergency room and began a career in which he delivered more than 800 babies in Torrington.
For this family, having a child with special needs was not a hinderance. Lisa earned her Master’s degree in inclusional student curriculum instruction while Eleanor was in grade school. During Eleanor’s school career, Lisa spent time developing study guides to help Eleanor better understand what was being taught with an eye toward keeping Eleanor in the classroom. Eleanor is considering attending colleges that have degree programs in place for students with special needs. The long-term plan involves her coming back to Torrington to work in the bakery that was opened with her in mind.
The Idea that Wouldn’t Go Away
Ezdan said he sort of shelved the idea of starting a bakery multiple times only to have it come back up. Torrington was no stranger to bakeries – Castle’s Bakery sold donuts and cakes for 30 years before it closed – but Fluckiger admits he had no idea how to run a business. When the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation offered a class in entrepreneurship taught by instructors from Eastern Wyoming College and Western Nebraska Community College, Fluckiger fit it in on his off nights – and he no longer had an excuse to not start his business.
He then addressed the question of learning to bake for the masses of Goshen County while working full-time thanks to a customized course taught by the International Culinary School in Bend, Ore. That let Fluckiger break his course schedule into chunks of eight-to-10-hour days where he would bake four or five products a day.
“I loved it,” he says. “I have never had so much fun going to school.”
He got back from Bend in October 2013, built a website and a Facebook page and incorporated the business. The Bread Doctor started offering one product-a-week to try out his formulas made from his home’s kitchen. One week he had an order for 800 bagels. Another week it was 100 loaves of bread. For Valentine’s Day last year he sold 500 croissants and 500 valentine’s cookies on back-to-back days. Plans ramped up for the bakery and he started slowing down as a physician. Discussions about renovating the kitchen in the house turned to renovating his garage into a commercial kitchen until he went downtown to pay a bill for the theatre group.
“I came down to this building to pay a bill and the business that was supposed to be here vacated the building,” he says while sitting in his office in the back of the bakery. “It was a cosmic intervention. I called Lisa and said, ‘Let’s just look at it. Everything sort of cascaded from there.”
After convincing the bank and Lisa, The Bread Doctor moved downtown where he remodeled a building built in 1925. On July 30, 2015, the doors opened for the first time. The hope had been to have the bakery make enough money to keep the lights on with Fluckiger working in the ER two days a week. That lasted two weeks and the first part-time worker was hired. Now, Fluckiger has three part-timers helping as he bakes a weekly product line of around 30 types including cheesecakes, croissants, sweet rolls, tarts, breads, english muffins and cookies.
“We make all of our pastries from scratch,” he says. “Nothing comes out of the package pre-made.
Lisa Johnson is the Interim Director of Agribusiness at the Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development entity. Before her time in Cheyenne she served as the Goshen County Economic Development Director and said she enjoyed watching the Bread Doctor develop. She said, just as importantly, Fluckiger wisely took his time in developing the business.
“Many entrepreneurs jump in and start their new ideas right away, but in this case, Ezdan spent time researching, learning the art of baking products that are truly unique to the area,” Johnson said. “He did a lot of things right… like consulting with experts and working out his financial projections. Then – what every banker on an economic development board likes to see – he had skin in the game to demonstrate his commitment to the business.”
Eleanor joins her father on weekends folding to-go boxes, putting together silverware, running the cash register and attacking other duties around the bakery she inspired. Along the way she answers the question that seems to be a constant from out-of-towners, “how long have you been open here?”
“I wanted people to come here and think it was a cool place and bring their friends and families and be surprised. I wanted it to be Willy Wonka meets bakery,” Fluckinger says.
Fighting Off Burnout
Google the word physician and it isn’t long before “physician burnout” pops up in the search results. Small town physicians can have trips to the auto parts store or gas station turn into impromptu exams. Fluckiger refers to himself as “whole-brained,” and says the need to explore other interests was pivotal for his performance as a physician.
“I never felt like being a physician was my sole identity,” Fluckiger says. “I felt like that was my vocation and I wanted to do a good job and I wanted to be respected. Medicine is so demanding. Perfection is the goal in medicine and nobody is perfect. If you spend your whole life pursuing the perception of perfection in the clinic, perfection in the hospital, never doubting yourself, it felt like that wasn’t going to be fulfilling. I would never achieve that.”
Making the change from full-time physician to part-time baker took some buy-in from Fluckiger’s clinic and his hospital. Sandy Dugger is the Chief Operating Officer for Community Hospital and said the facility recognized what Fluckiger was looking for in terms of work-life balance.
“He is a wonderful provider in our community and has worked in a number of settings – our clinic, obstetrics, as a hospitalist, the emergency department,” Dugger said. “We have been able to partner with him to really find a fit to figure out what he was looking for to support him to open the bakery.”
Fluckiger and his wife, Lisa, moved to Torrington in 1999 after he completed medical school on the Wyoming contract. After a residency in rural medicine in Wray, Colo., they moved to Torrington. After a career spent in rural medicine, he continues to preach the need to branch out with interests to avoid burnout. It is a message he gives to his son, Andrew, who is a third-year student in the WWAMI program.
“You have to find out where your identity is,” Fluckiger says. “And if it is ‘I am a doc, baptize me, I will wear the doc frock to bed and in the shower and call me anytime…’ If that makes you happy and your happiness far outweighs the problems we have in medicine, great. But I think people need to find out what drives them and that takes some introspection.”
For Fluckiger, that is where theatre, singing and the bakery came in. Although there isn’t a moment’s rest, he says his creative side enjoys the baking while not having to leave medicine entirely. He said he has also noticed another side effect of his career change.
“Suddenly people on the streets started talking to me,” Fluckinger says. “After 16 years of being in town people would stop me to ask me about the bakery, and it really felt like I became a part of the community.”