The New Bakers Dozen
What qualities do sucessful bakeries have?

The The Bakers Dozen: What qualities do sucessful bakeries have?
By W.DeBord on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 09:54 am: Edit

I dream of opening my own bakery as do many of us. Tell people your a pastry chef and they say "oh I love good pastries. Why don't you open one, we need a good bakery around here". I try to ask them what bakery they like and I get fague responses like "I really like xyz but that are so expensive $1.50 for one eclair" or "they want $30.00 for a birthday cake... and it's just for a bunch of five year olds, that's way too much".

In the Chicago suburbs we have about three prominent bakeries and that's it. Quite frankly their not even anything special. They use mixes and frozen doughs much like a grocery store bakery. Their product doen't even look better than the grocery store items, yet they survive and flurrish.

We see bakeries come and go. There are bakeries we all pass and wonder how do they keep their doors open, "I never see anyone in there".

By W.DeBord on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 10:09 am: Edit

Is it a matter of location mostly? Each sucessful bakery has tapped a market. One is in a well to do area, another is in a very busy business area. Yet I see bakeries fail in heavy tourist areas.

They are all in their second generation of family ownership. So does it just require time to build a following?

It's a myth to say all you need is a great product and people will come. Are bakeries becoming a thing of the past in today's busy weight concience world?

Steak houses are flourishing in todays diet market.? Will we ever get people to see bakeries in the same "Oh the hell with it, I love a good piece of cake light"? How?

By Mikeh (Mikeh) on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 11:24 am: Edit

Maybe we need to get some scientists to do some bad research like the high-protein diet and then people will start to switch, of course this would be a short-term fad.

While I've never visited Europe -- going this summer, -- I've been told that the number of patisseries in France and elsewhere is astounding. I think there is a problem in educating our customer's palettes to appreciate good food. For instance, I don't drink expensive wine because I can't appreciate the difference between good and great, but I can tell a poor wine. With chocolate, I love Sharfenberger and Valhrona for my home baking, but I don't use them because they're too expensive and the friends and the family and friends I serve the desserts to can't appreciate Sharfenberger vs. Callebaut. However, like me with wine, they can tell the difference between a supermarket brand and Callebaut.

Going back to the wine industry which is skyrocketing, I wonder if it isn't because of the number of accessible wine magazines and wine tasting courses that people are going to. Yesterday, my mom was telling me about a great piece of steak that she had and how it melted in her mouth. I had to explain to her that it wasn't an accident and tell her the difference between marbling in Choice, Select and Prime beef. Now that she knows she says she will seek out the better cuts at the market and in restaurants because she has experienced the higher quality in some sort of transformational way.

Perhaps we pastry chefs and cooks need to make the same kind of effort. If people don't know the difference between a exceptional product and a mediocre one, then why should they shell out more money?

Finally, I think there is a trend throughout the public toward more sophistication, likely because of the booming economy and globalization, and it is this trend and my love for baking that have caused me to learn how to bake professionally.

Cheers, Mike.

By Panini (Panini) on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 12:03 pm: Edit

Culinary Arts in Europe are a respected profession. You must qualify and train to practice. There are few Large Grocery stores.Mostly local markets. My wife and I have family in Europe. When in Paris, we walk to the bakery in the morning for breakfast, we walk again for a lunch baguette,again after school for another baguette, and again at dinner for bread an dessert. Food is a part of life.
You will certainly be impressed with the pastry and chocolate shops there. I also visit Sprunglee
bakery in Zurich when we are there. We usually take TGV from Paris to Zurich. Its a pleasant trip. Train Food! we have toasted batard with melted goat cheese, wine.can you imagine!

By MarkG on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 12:40 pm: Edit

I just opened a small wholesale bakery outside of Richmond, VA and have developed some loyal, though small clients. One of my biggest problems is competition, not from other bakeries but from the likes of Wal Mart and other super stores who sell "pastries" and other breakfast items. I make an incredible honey pecan scone, dried cherry scone and more but a nearby cafe would rather spend a litle less and buy a dozen "danish" from Wal Mart. They look at the bottom line rather than the quality of their products. It's tough to educate the public on how good product should taste when the stores on selling terrible tasting baked goods.


By Panini (Panini) on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 01:01 pm: Edit

location!location!location! place yourself in an educated enviornment. I'm paying $22 sq.ft. retail.That might not be alot in other places but here it is high. But I don't have to educate the customers. I'm paying $6 for my wholesale space and would never dream of retailing there even though I'm surrounded by apartment complexes.

By Ramodeo (Ramodeo) on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 08:37 pm: Edit

My husband (a chef) and I (a pastry chef) are currently looking to open a restaurant/cafe/bakery. As we discuss the possibilities in order to define our concept, we are leaning away from the bakery emphasis. We think the level of sophistication/education is just not here yet - in our area, anyway. I hope to gradually introduce a pastry/bakery element to our operation in the future, but sometimes I get so discouraged when I see what people are willing to eat. Even many of the people we work with now, in a fine dining restaurant kitchen, prefer the look and taste of box-mix baked goods over scratch.

The European style of shopping at several different markets daily makes it much easier for bakeries to survive. Here in the US it would be very hard to get people to make an extra stop for baked goods on a daily or even weekly basis when they can get their bread, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, danishes and special occasion desserts at the same store where they get their shampoo, house paint, socks and tires! Plus, people here are so used to products with tons of preservatives that buying bread that doesn't last two weeks is unthinkable.

I agree that location is key. We have looked at and walked away from several opportunities because we know we've got to be in the right spot, near the people who will spend $30, or $40 for a cake, and those who know that a baguette is NOT that soft squishy bland thing the grocery store makes from a mix and labels "baguette".

I wonder what those of you who run your own places have found to be your most successful mix of products? Basic items vs. specialty items? Do you do anything unique/special to counteract the "get your danish at Wal-mart" mentality?

Enjoy, R.

By W.DeBord on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 10:25 pm: Edit

Off topic, personal... Ramodeo I thought you wrote in a past post your from my area? You don't have to say exactly who you are or exactly where you work but could you give me a hint. I thought you were a guy at a banquet place??? I got the gender wrong did I get the rest of it wrong too?

I'm at a private club on the north shore so I'm not your competition, but where are you looking at?

By W.DeBord on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 10:42 pm: Edit

What about all the coffee shops, bagel shops even bread stores that carry some assortment of pastries. I never see anyone buy the pastries. A major grocery store in my area attempted to have a "classy" bakery with fresh fruit tarts and the like. It lasted all of 8 months and now they have remodeled the area elimiating it. Tell me they did no market research?

I would agree with MarkGs' comments about convience but how do you explain why pastries failed to sell in a major grocery store? They didn't use price tags which I think was a big mistake. It intimadated the shy people. But there has to be more to it?

I don't really believe you can play the "I'll educate the customer" stradigy. I wonder if we need to go the other way and make "fun" items people recognize. Your fooling yourself if you think that more than 10% of americans have ever tasted a scone. I work at a exclusive country club and they don't choose to eat scones or biscotti over danish and chocolate chip cookies.

By Panini (Panini) on Tuesday, December 21, 1999 - 11:04 pm: Edit

You must blend your items to meet the needs of your customer. I am situated in a very high income area 7-10 figures. But i am also surrounded by 13,000 office workers with-in walking distance. You try to cater to the educated palate but not intimidate the admins.
You must be able to work brownies and rice krispies sq. in with white chocolate mousse cake with fresh rasp. and scones.
I've always said that the baking is the easiest part of owning a bakery. Never be turned off to the prospect of owning. There is no secret!
Best available ingredients and hard work!
Fun items are great to, our y2cake,and a pickachu sugar cookies are hits.Marketing and positioning!
You can have the best business plan for a bakery that specializes in chocolate cake, but if all your customers request lemon squares, guess what!!
your in the lemon square business.

By Mikeh (Mikeh) on Wednesday, December 22, 1999 - 02:37 am: Edit

I live in the SF Bay Area, and there are several upscale grocery stores that serve some medium-high quality pastries and baked goods. I guess this is an advantage of living in one of the culinary capitals of the world where there is so much money floating around that people can easily pay for good products.

Cheers, Mike.

By Panini (Panini) on Wednesday, December 22, 1999 - 08:00 am: Edit

Food is big in my area to,hell, there is an EATZIs
real close but I didn't let it stop me from opening my place. Be careful of all that money floating around, most of those customers are in a paper world and don't have two nickles to rub together when it comes to disposable income. I have never gotten a bad check from my dedicated middle class working customers.Most of them come from the affluent crowd.
Anyway I guess I'm trying to say, if you have a dream, go for it!
gotta go

By W.DeBord on Wednesday, December 22, 1999 - 11:41 am: Edit

HA! People must really vary from one part of the country to the other. At work we are so sick and tired of our clients(all of them are millionares) whining and begging for cheaper parties. "Oh we don't need TENDERLOIN on our buns you can use something less expensive" "Oh slice it really really thin".

They spend $50,ooo. on a tent and rental dishes and different folding chairs when it's not even needed (we have space and nice dishes)then complain that our cheapest bottle of wine is $25.00.

So what I'm trying to say is rich people don't part with their money any faster then anyone else. Actually I think the lower the income the faster they part with it for "Feel Good Items" like a cookie or slice of cake, etc...

By Panini (Panini) on Wednesday, December 22, 1999 - 02:16 pm: Edit

I think you summed up what I was trying to say perfectly.The affluent are the ones nickle and diming me to death!But they do represent a large portion of my business.
I'm really starting to enjoy this forum!

By Doucefrance (Doucefrance) on Wednesday, December 22, 1999 - 09:14 pm: Edit

I am really interested in all that you wrote. I am thinking of opening my own place (I had my own bakery in Nice, France for 8 years, and arrived in the US 6 weeks ago) but I must admit it scares me a little. Your habits are so different from ours, our pastry is very different too from your everyday pastry and I wonder if I'll fit in.
There are quite some french people here in baton Rouge where I am, but is that enough to start a clientele?

By W.DeBord on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 01:43 am: Edit

Back to MarkGs' comment I think I understand what your talking about. I don't think Americans look for quality, we look for value first. This explains why the supersize hype is exploding at fast food resturants. We also have more and more resturants serving buffets then ever before.

There are some items I want quality in, but I have to admit I buy looking for value most of the time. I tried a new chain resturant called Panera Bread. They sell soups, salads, a few sandwiches, breads and about ten different pastries. A simple cold chicken sandwich on focacia bread was $6.00 with tax and no drink. It was good but I won't be back when I can get a hot chicken sandwich from Wendy's for $2.50 less. Yet I'll pay top dollar for a new pair of shoes etc...

So why do we do this? How do we choose or place more value in one item over another? Is it the constant marketing? Who really markets any baked goods (other than cookies)loudly? Is this why we buy cheap in this area?

By momoreg on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 06:34 am: Edit

In and around New York City, people will absolutely pay more for higher quality. Especially with breads and bagels. I have often heard non-food people debate over the best breads, bagels, even pastries, in the city, and people will travel further to buy the better product. But I must say, the size issue has gotten way out of hand. I've never weighed a NY bagel, but it must be 5 oz. It's truly embarrassing.

By Panini (Panini) on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 09:03 am: Edit

Maybe focus on a smaller clientele, there our two affluent comunities where i am. I chose the old established one over the new gen-x one.
The new one is a sea of million dollar homes, computer and money market money,they are all house poor with no disposable income.
Where I am, its old money, once I established my quality, Mrs. Cleaver comes by to order small pastries for her Tea. She calls to order Wards,Wallys and Beavers cake and one of the house persons comes to get it.
I personally think there is a huge difference between old and new money. The old money seems to be a more dedicated customer.

By W.DeBord on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 10:05 am: Edit

Momoreg I was raised eating bagels when few people knew what they were. New York is a city with a large Jewish heritage so their introduction to bagels came well before most of the country. I would generalize that bagels are a new (less than 10 yr.s) product for most of the country.

Why do we drive for that favorite bagel? There are bagel shops now in every strip mall. What has driven their popularity? Their not low fat. Is this why Europeans appreciate pastries more than Americans...they have more bakeries providing more exposure/product knowledge?

I'm daring enough to say that there are differences in the spending habits between Christans and non in my area. When I was catering upper middle class Jewish customers really appreciated fine pastries. They would pay to have the best and they ate what they bought. Today I work for wealthy Christan clients who don't really know pastries and eat them sparingly.

It has to come back to exposure don't you think?

By MarkG on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 01:24 pm: Edit

I think one of the problems I face in the Richmond, VA market is that many people from "the South" don't appreciate the concept of a local bakery. I grew up in the Chicago area and remember walking a block to a corner bakery every Saturday to buy some pastry for Sunday ( and a ymmu for the walk back home.) Here, there are few bakeries, more in grocery stores than on their own, and those that are here are tiny storefronts that are always empty when I visit them.


By momoreg on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 04:24 pm: Edit

I think that Europeans love for pastry has more to do with tradition and having a social purpose, rather than product knowledge. I think that Americans know plenty these days about what goes into their food, and some continue eating Wonder bread. I think that's also tradition, and what they remember from childhood. Trying to break people from that habit is hard, especially in smaller towns, where the thinking is not as open. But if bagel shops are opening all over the midwest, that's a sign that times are changing, slowly, right?

By momoreg on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 04:30 pm: Edit

By the way, when we cater a Jewish party, we send a lot more food. It's a generalization, but it tends to be true. All of our clients care about quality, but they don't all love to eat. Some of them just want a table that looks full and pretty.

By Panini (Panini) on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 05:50 pm: Edit

Jewish, Italian,French,Spanish, its all the same.
These ethnic groups view food as a time to be at the table. The table is a forum for the family or guests. My son is eight and the parents of his baseball friends think we are NUTS!! for planning
our meals around games.The just run by Mickey Ds.
The family unit in the US is diminishing along with the table. I think the older generation appreciated the food where the new generation has an appreciation of food.
I know this is mushy but I personally think its relevant.

By Ramodeo (Ramodeo) on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 09:37 pm: Edit

W., personal, off topic
Hmmmm, never meant to sound like a guy :). Actually, I have wondered about the gender of many posters, and I also find myself making assumptions having no idea if they are accurate! I guess that's all part of the fun!
So here's my little bio for anyone interested. I'm from west Michigan. I think I referred to the midwest or Lake Michigan or humidity in other posts that may have given the impression I'm from your area. I am a female pastry chef at an Italian restaurant which also has a banquet/catering facility, so I do both kinds of baking. My husband is the exec. chef of the same operation. I have dedfinitely enjoyed your input on the midwestern palate - I find most of what you say to be true here as well.

By Panini (Panini) on Thursday, December 23, 1999 - 11:34 pm: Edit

Females posters bonding, Martha would say "its a good thing"
only kidding!! I enjoy both of ya'lls input.

By ramodeo on Friday, December 24, 1999 - 07:59 am: Edit

A thought about the bagel shops opening all over the in West Michigan we've had those bagel shops opening all over - and bagels made in every supermarket. Up to a few months ago, we had at least one in town that knew how to make a real with a crust and some chew, one you could eat with some lox and a schmear of cream cheese and red onion, maybe a little tomato....mmmmm.

By Ramodeo (Ramodeo) on Friday, December 24, 1999 - 08:06 am: Edit

Sorry, I got a little lost in a memory there...
The people in this town have systematically put those shops out of business so all we have left are places that sell big soft undercooked circles of dough that are closer to muffins than bagels. Sorry about the rant there, but it gives you an idea of the consumer we face here.

Happy Holidays everyone! R.

By Panini (Panini) on Friday, December 24, 1999 - 09:00 am: Edit

What is it? Why are those little shops going away? Is it one stop shopping? Convience?Is it the people or these large franchises changing habits.
I have not had a good bagel in 30 years! When i was comming up I worked in a Deli in Brighton
Beach NY, Bagels were delivered every morn, hot from the bakery. Health issues were not a concern at that time so i had my bagel and a schmear right next to me as i made 500 more for the customers.Its funny, all those Jewish ladies screaming at me every day, Thats a pound???
I better be able to read a newspaper through those lox!!!They all tipped the little italian kid behind the counter all the time.
Thanks for the memories.
Everyone have Good Health and a Happy Holiday!

By pam on Sunday, December 26, 1999 - 02:15 am: Edit

i'm in a chicago suburb. i also grew up eating bagels. now they have these huge softy bagels tha t prove people will eat anything. i've has people tell me they like jewel store cakes better than bakery, freshly made with good ingredients. alot of the bakeries use mixes and their stuff isnt very good but people think if it looks good thats all that matters, it must be good. people have no taste anymore. it makes me mad when i use the freshest & best ingredients and people have no idea. my on sister told me she likes cool whip better than my sweetened whip cream on her desserts. i still can't make crap even though no one seems to care. i turned my friends and co workers at non food jobs onto good stuff. there is hope for some but people always ask me why i don't open up a bakery. they have no idea what goes into baking.sorry i'm venting,butyou all seem to understand.

By W.DeBord on Sunday, December 26, 1999 - 01:44 pm: Edit

There has to be more to all of this. How do we adapt and regain a following for baked goods?

Which one of you ever thought a bakery only selling cookies asking premium $ located in shopping malls would be a giant hit? Or a bakery with oversized cinnamon rolls (breakfast rolls) would have a line at all times of the day? How about the stores selling (horrible tasting) pretzels with canned cheese dip? Or popcorn shops asking crazy prices for miniature size boxes of plain popcorn?

My point is they worked! Why are people spending alot of money at these stores? Their not inexpensive! People buy them when shopping at malls, is it because compared to other items they've looked at these are affordable and comfort them? Should bakerys relocate to malls?

How can we not just complain but learn from each other how we all can profit and prosper as pastry chefs when it seems our market is a thing of the past?

By Morgane on Monday, December 27, 1999 - 11:55 am: Edit

Funny you mention the store that only selled cookies. There was a chain here that selled only cookies for about 7$/pound it was the big craze a few years ago. This chain had stores in prime locations so they must have been doing pretty well for a number of years. The craze just died and they all vanished....


By Ramodeo (Ramodeo) on Monday, December 27, 1999 - 01:22 pm: Edit

I don't particularly like the idea of high quality bakeries being in malls, but I think you've got something there. Location is obviously key in any business...but when I think of where I'd like to have a bakeshop, it's always in an older, neighborhood, pedestrian shopping district, etc. Very much the European style. I'm begining to think that may just be a fantasy, especially in my mid-sized midwest city. As discussed above, Americans just don't shop like Europeans and probably never will (except for in large cities, perhaps).

Maybe a successful bakery needs to be located in a place where people do almost all of their other shopping, and what are those places these days? Mega-grocery stores and malls. Really, you could meet 98% of your basic needs for food, clothing and shelter at these two places, couldn't you? It may even be too much work for some people to stop at the strip mall 1/2 mile down the road from the mall (especially if it involves a left turn :) ).

By W.DeBord on Monday, December 27, 1999 - 06:14 pm: Edit

It's where people see you and have the time to stop in look at what you sell. I'm one of those people who stops at as few places as possible when driving.

Once I'm out of the car shopping I'll take the time to look in a new store. You have to get me out of the car for another reason. There are times when I've stopped in that small mom & pop store where I felt very uncomfortable being the only person in there with a sales person staring at my every move waiting for that sale. So unless I know that store has something I want to buy I'll avoid stopping there just to check it out unless it's darn convienent.

By Panini (Panini) on Wednesday, December 29, 1999 - 07:31 pm: Edit

There is that damn word CONVIENENT again. Thats the problem. Nobody will take the time to go out after quality. WHATS THE RUSH now a days. I grew up in a major city where a watch was a necessity.
I now live in the south and have not worn a watch in 12 years! I don't know. I'm going to open this retail location, work smart,and hope I'm sucessful.
gotta go

By Morgane on Wednesday, December 29, 1999 - 08:10 pm: Edit

Once upon a time there was a succeful french pastry shop. They had beautiful cakes and pastries and a little cafe where hungry people could have soups, sandwiches, quiches, etc. The owner fell ill and was forced to sell out her business. A Man from Northern Africa bought the succeful pastry shop and hired a new chef. Disaster! The customers left never to return, within a year the business close.

I don't care how convenient it is to go to the shop next door, if the products are below standards, your business won't last.


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