What is in this article?:
- How Kneaders meets the needs of Utahans
- European tradition, American flair
With 21 locations, this Orem, Utah-based foodservice chain focuses on quality bread to form the basis of its popular sandwiches. Top-notch pastries and candies satisfy diners’ desire for sweets.
For most people, retirement means days spent golfing or fishing. For Gary and Colleen Worthington, retirement meant another shot at the foodservice business. In the late 1980s, the couple sold their nine locations of a franchised national sandwich chain and spent eight years in retirement, but “we were bored. There’s a lot to be said for contributing to the world instead of just being a taker,” Colleen Worthington says.
The couple needed something to do and began talking with friends who own a flourmill. The mill’s owners had toyed with the idea of opening a bakery, and the Worthingtons thought the future was in European hearth bread. Colleen went to AIB International, Manhattan, Kan., to take classes and Gary attended both AIB and the San Francisco Baking Institute. They decided to open a bread bakery supplied by the local mill with a flour blend developed exclusively for the bakery.
On Dec. 2, 1997, the Worthingtons opened the first Kneaders in Orem, Utah. “We were so naïve to think we could open on Dec. 2 and that it would be fun. But we were overwhelmed,” Worthington says. (They have since learned their lesson. No new stores are allowed to open October through December.) Although the timing might have been overwhelming, the Worthingtons weren’t daunted and quickly began to plan ways to grow their business.
The first location opened as mostly a bread bakery with a few pastry items, such as cinnamon rolls, with four small tables. Those tables were always full and they knew they were on to something. Within months of opening, the Worthingtons added sandwiches to the product line knowing that Kneaders’ bread was the perfect basis for freshly cooked meats. “Our turkey sandwich is our very best-selling sandwich. You cannot beat fresh bread from the oven and turkey from the steamer,” Worthington adds.
Today, Kneaders has 21 locations (half corporate owned), mostly in Utah, but with plans to expand into Colorado, Oregon and Texas as well as add units in Idaho and Arizona. About four years ago, the company entered a growth phase, and six stores were added in 2012 with plans are open 12 more in 2013. All but two locations feature drive-thrus and nearly 40 percent of sales are conducted through the drive-thru.
Whether the store is corporate owned or franchised, the corporate bread baker and corporate pastry chef spend the week before opening in the location making sure the ovens are working properly and the procedures are in place in addition to the new franchisee spending a month working in another Kneaders location. The corporate bakers remain for another week after opening. Then, an inspector from the corporate office reviews each location once a month to ensure standards are kept. Twice a year all owners gather at the corporate facility in Orem, called the Bakehouse, for additional training.
Almost all products–42 varieties of pastries, such as cheesecake, cakes, brownies, pies, and cupcakes, and 11 flavors of bread, such as asiago cheese, 100% whole wheat and French country–are baked fresh in each location. The Bakehouse produces only a few items, such as éclairs and piecrusts, which are shipped to each location through the chain’s ingredients distributor.
“What I like best about not having a commissary is that a customer can call at 10 o’clock at night and ask for 120 fruit tarts for tomorrow and we can do that for them. If I had to depend on a commissary, I couldn’t do that. It makes us feel a lot more connected with the customer and what we can do for them,” Worthington says. The caveat is that Kneaders can only fill customer requests for variations of products it already offers. Mini cupcakes can be produced but a salmon dinner for a catering order can’t. “We find that we’re better and can perform better for people if we stick to what we do. Let’s do what we do and let’s do that the very best we can,” she says.
Croissants also are ordered from a supplier for bake off in the stores. “The moment we can do the croissants better than what we can buy, then we’ll make them, but right now, [the supplier] is much better than we are at making them,” Worthington adds.