The ability to strike the delicate balance between traditional and contemporary–and do both well–helps give Byers Butterflake Bakery, a family-owned and-operated business with annual revenues of about $750,000, a competitive edge over other independent and in-store bakeries that abound in Pennsylvania Dutch country. It also is the willingness of founders Dean and Naomi Byers to take their products to where the customers are instead of waiting for customers to come to them. “On Tuesdays and Saturdays, we sell our products at two local farmers’ markets, which are a big deal for locals and tourists in our area,” says Naomi Byers. “At the markets, customers are looking mostly for cookies and other small items they can eat as they browse. We do offer some decorated cakes at the markets and display dummy cakes to show our design capabilities.”
For farmers’ market customers, Byers is a preferred source for old-fashioned sugar cakes, raisinfilled bars and sticky buns. A little more than 41 percent of the bakery’s business comes from the two farmers’ markets.
For customers who come to the bakery’s retail store in Leola, Pa., it’s mostly the sophisticated pastries and custom-designed cakes that are the draw. For both groups, Byers has been the go-to place to satisfy sweet cravings and celebrate special occasions for more than 58 years. Some of the best-known products include pillowy buttermilk sugar cakes (“we bake about 60 dozen per week,” Naomi says), spicy buttermilk molasses cakes, raisin-filled bars, whoopie pies, decorated sugar cookies, Danish and a number of regional specialties.
“People come in looking for these oldfashioned items, saying they remember when their grandmothers bought them from Byers,” Dean explains.
Byers Butterflake Bakery, at a glance
Location: Leola, Pa.
About 80 percent of the formulas used to make the traditional cookies, cakes and pastries were passed down from Dean’s father, Wayne, who began his baking industry career delivering bread in a horse and wagon. Wayne and his wife, Emma, opened the family’s first bakery in 1953.
Dean began working in the family bakery making boxes. Later he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and went to baking school. During his military service, he baked for then-President Lyndon Johnson.
Dean and Naomi established their own bakery in 1966. Daughter Diahann Byers-Cascarella, who holds an international pastry arts degree from Johnson and Wales University and a bachelor’s degree in food services management, joined the business in 1993.
“With her artistic design and decorating abilities, Diahann make it possible for us to take our business to the next level and give today’s customers what they’re looking for,” Naomi says.
In 2003, the family opened the current bakery location, turning an old house into a 1,280-sq.-ft.retail area and adding on 6,200 sq. ft. for production. The 1,500-sq.-ft. basement and attic areas are used for offices and storage.
During peak holiday seasons, half of the basement space is used for production. Another 1,500 sq. ft. of the bakery’s upstairs space is dedicated to Byers- Cascarella’s wedding cake gallery and consultation room.
Known for cakes
Displays of Byers-Cascarella’s decorated cakes also are prominently featured in the bakery’s retail area, and an interior window with a view of the finishing area allows customers to witness first-hand the artistry of Diahann and her decorators.
Byers sells between 85 and 100 decorated cakes per week plus about 15 wedding cakes during peak season. “The customer will first buy from you because of looks and the second time because of taste,” Dean notes. “We are able to deliver both so we get many, many repeat customers.”
An 8-in. round decorated buttercream iced cake is priced at $25 unfilled and $31 filled. Customers can choose from seven traditional flavors, including yellow, red velvet or spice with maple icing or 13 specialty flavors, such as key lime mango mousse, orange frommage or five-layer strawberry cream cake.
Customers who register for the bakery’s “Birthday Club” receive a coupon redeemable for $3 off their next birthday cake.
Byers’ top-selling cake is its white rhapsody, a moist white cake speckled with chocolate shavings layered with raspberry marmalade and mousse and iced with house-made buttercream.
Pink and blue colored “baby gender reveal cakes” are becoming an increasingly popular trend.
During the past few years, a growing number of customers have been requesting smaller portions, Dean says. “Part of the reason has definitely been the economy; people still want to treat themselves and would rather have a smaller portion of something that’s very good rather than a larger portion of something that isn’t as good,” he notes.
Even wedding cakes are scaled down, he adds.
“Before 2008, the sky was the limit, but now people are on a tighter budget,” Dean explains. “But customers know we’ll work with them to create something beautiful.”
Scaled down options
Half cakes, slices and filled, elaborately decorated “gourmet cupcakes” provide plenty of options for price- and portion-conscious customers. The bakery produces about 35 dozen cupcakes per week. Fancy mini pastries,
such as cheesecake bars, filled chocolate cups, fresh seasonal fruit tarts, cream puffs and éclairs, round out the selections of smaller-size treats.
Two three-tiered table displays of packaged items including barrelshaped cinnamon breads with or without raisins, quick breads, coffeecakes and white and wheat dinner rolls encourage grab-and-go sales.
On an average weekday, the bakery produces about 325 SKUs. Each day, Byers makes between 35 and 40 different varieties and sizes of cakes, 12 kinds of pies and four to six types of cookies, including the traditional oatmeal raisin, chocolate and peanut butter.
On weekends, the pie count rises to 18 to 24 varieties. During holiday seasons, the store carries around 35 to 40 different kinds of cookies per day. “Throughout the holidays we bake a total of around 60 varieties of cookies from our favorite family recipes,” Naomi says.
Big day for donuts
One of the busiest holidays of the year for Byers is not even on most calendars. It is Fastnacht Day, featuring a fried donut-like pastry that is traditionally eaten in Pennsylvania Dutch homes the Tuesday before Lent (known as Mardi Gras or Paczki Day in other parts of the country). Head baker Andrew Martin estimates that that Byers sells an average of 800 to 1,000 dozen plain and confectioners’ sugar fastnachts every year.
“Last year, one customer ordered 2,000 of them,” Martin says. “We have only one fryer, but we always get it done.”
Aside from Fastnacht Day, donuts are no longer a large part of the bakery’s business.
“Our donut sales dropped when a national chain moved into the neighborhood a few years ago,” says Dean.
“But it didn’t cause us any big problem because we just focused on other items, such as Danish and sticky buns, that the other shop doesn’t carry.”
Walk-in business booms from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for breakfast pastries and again from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. for cakes. Tuesday is the busiest production day for the bakery’s small crew (nine full-time staffers including sales personnel). That’s when all the cookie doughs, pie shells, some specialty pies and quick breads are mixed. Cookie doughs and pie shells are pulled out and baked as needed. Quick bread loaves are baked and frozen. Breads that are sold only at the farmers’ markets also are made.
Thursday is another big production day for numerous items including Danish, sweet doughs, sticky buns and éclair shells. All except the éclair shells are frozen unbaked. The baked frozen shells are filled and finished as needed. Cake layers are baked and frozen on Wednesdays.
While scratch baking has been the foundation of the company’s reputation from the beginning, the couple has noticed a recent increase of younger customers who are more attuned to where the products they eat come from and who’s making them.
“We have always used a majority of locally sourced ingredients and change our pie and pastry fillings with the seasons,” Dean says. “One of the orchards peels and slices the apples we use in our dumplings, and we grow our own black raspberries.”
Training on the job
For the production crew, Dean prefers to hire graduates from the pastry arts program at a local technical institute. Most start with an externship while in school during which they begin onthe- job training. Martin, who has been with the company for seven years, and decorator Tawnee Sullivan, are both graduates of the school.
“My dad taught baking at technical schools after he retired, so I feel that we get candidates with good training and skills from them,” Dean says. During busy times, the bakery supplements its sales team with students from nearby colleges. The Byers’ children and grandchildren also are often drafted to work the market stands. The farmers’ markets can require between 22 and 30 sales staffers at a time, Naomi says. For more information, complete Fast Fax on page 36. “We’re fortunate that many of the same students come back to us year after year after school, on weekends and during holidays and summer,” she notes. “They come in ready to go without the need for further training.”
Expansion plans are farmers’ market oriented. The Byers are in the midst of a makeover of their 70-ft. stand at one of Lancaster County’s most popular and historic markets. The expansive stand consists of three dry cases, two refrigerated cases and two cases for bread and bagels.
They also are looking for a third farmers’ market location in the area. “Having both the market stands and the retail store allows us to keep up with what products consumers of all ages really want,” says Naomi. “That’s what has kept families from grandparents to grandchildren coming to Byers for almost six decades.”