Charles Feder, president of Rossmoor Pastries in Signal Hill, Calif., went “green” with natural gas-powered delivery trucks before it was hip. Staying physically fit and paying attention to new opportunities are key to Feder’s strategy for a better life in bakery.
Charles Feder, president of Rossmoor Pastries in Signal Hill, Calif., went “green” with natural gas-powered delivery trucks before it was hip. Staying physically fit and paying attention to new opportunities are key to Feder's strategy for a better life in bakery.
How did you get into the baking business?
I was in the restaurant business before. My friend Werner Simon asked me if I wanted to go to California to represent Abel & Schafer. After working there for a year or two, I bought Rossmoor Pastries in 1988. Werner taught me how to bake these wonderful German breads. That's how I got into baking.
What sets your bakery apart from others?
We are a multi-layered bakery. We're a retail shop at the front. And, we have a wedding cake department that does an average of 60 to 70 wedding cakes a week. Another significant part of our business is the wholesale side, which reaches all over L.A. What's unique about my bakery is the diversification. I like that it's all balanced.
Why did you begin using natural gas cars?
I bought a natural gas van to help replace my aging fleet of vans. At the time, I bought a ‘99 Dodge Maxi Van with 14,000 miles on it for $4,500. It was natural gas, so I had to figure out what that was. Gasoline was $3.35 at that time; I was able to buy natural gas fuel then for $1.40 per gallon. Finding out about that kind of savings, I bought five more vans and a car.
Then, I investigated how to put my own compressor to produce natural gas behind the bakery because I'm in an industrial area. I wouldn't disturb anybody with the noise, so I did it. It turned out to be a Godsend. Now, I'm only paying 75 cents a gallon. Plus, 15 natural gas vans emit less pollution than one regular gasoline van.
What are some of the other advantages to this green initiative, since you're in L.A.?
Customers here like it of course. And, natural gas vehicles have access to car pool lanes. That's a huge advantage for our delivery trucks. What used to be three hours, now takes an hour and a half in the car pool lane. My general manager uses one of the natural gas cars to commute and saves 14 hours a week driving in the car pool lane.
What are some disadvantages to using a natural gas fleet?
You will lose a little bit of power in the vehicles, about 10 percent. But you can hardly tell with these big V-8 engines. You also have a limited range, which is limited by the capacity of the tanks. Gasoline tanks give you about 250 to 275 miles per tank; these vans give you 180 miles. I've added additional tanks on a couple of our vans. Maintenance can be another issue because not all mechanics are certified to service natural gas components.
What about explosions?
As with any vehicle, when you're in a major accident, all components need to be checked. There really is no more danger with compressed natural gas than there is with gasoline; you just need to do due diligence to make sure your tank is checked. In fact, some people consider it to be safer.
Obviously using natural gas has helped your business greatly, but what about the global picture?
It is a better choice than this ethanol nonsense that is causing food shortages around the world. We have 200 years of natural gas under the ground, why aren't we using it? Because oil companies are profiting from ethanol. The farmers profit, car companies profit, everybody profits.
Car companies can modify the cars at very low expense to handle ethanol, which is highly corrosive. Then, they put a little sticker on the car that says, “we're green.” Ethanol is sustainable, but it is still polluting. Fire departments need new equipment to put out fires caused by ethanol, which is going out in tanker trucks instead of pipelines because it is corrosive. We have big tanker trucks driving around with ethanol, but the fire departments can't put out the fires.
What other new initiatives have you have started getting involved in?
We built a bakery in Dubai with an investment partner who saw potential opportunity for a bakery with the Rossmoor business model. We're supplying a chain of cupcake stores there called Sweet Stuff. We're also producing cheesecakes and want to get into wedding cakes, but haven't yet.
The bakery is in an area that is being built up with villas, apartments and small businesses, but right now we have to bring in our own water and have a generator for electricity. The focus is to do high-end wedding cakes and so forth. I mentioned to this wealthy investor that it is time to have a $100,000 wedding cake. He got all excited, and said, “You know over here they have four wives.” I said, “Great, we can give them a coupon. Buy three and get the fourth one free.”
Who is your role model?
The guy who really brought me into bakery is Werner Simon. He knows the business. I've never seen anybody who had more answers to problems than him. Not only is he smart in bakery, but he has a lot of wisdom. If I ever have a problem in the bakery, I call him.
Another role model for me is Lance Armstrong. I'm a cyclist and his attitude about life inspires me. I have several photos of him on the wall in my office.
If you had to do something other than own/operate a bakery, what would it be?
Right now, I'd be touring on my bicycle with my partner Janice. I'm 72 and still in there. I don't think about it. Maybe I shouldn't have revealed that to you.
I think fitness is really important. If you go to bakery conventions, you look around at bakers, and what do you see? A bunch of big guys way overweight. It is easy for me to gain weight too because I love bakery, but fitness is important. You have to exercise. You have to take care of yourself.
What advice would you give to bakers just entering the industry?
Get out of the bakery and go for a bike ride. I think mental and physical fitness is a very important thing.
As you look at younger bakers coming in, they're coming from a different platform than people my age. We worked hard. We dedicated our whole, entire life to our career, and the families, marriages and life suffered. Physically, we suffered. That's how my generation approached post-war…get in and work hard and be a big success.
The new ones coming in are a little bit more self-focused. They're more caring about their family. They want to make sure that whatever they do, they still have time for themselves and their own pleasure. I would like to remind everybody to make time for their own life; pay attention to their children. The bakery shouldn't be so overpowering that they forget taking care of the family. And you can't do that if you're not fit.