Sandwiches can be a natural way for bakers to increase sales. You have the bread; simply add some flavorful savory ingredients. Since sandwiches can increase mid-day store traffic, increase sales of other items, and be a vehicle for introducing customers to good bread, they can be the next step in creating a successful modern bakery.
Red Hen Bakery in Chicago has experienced growing sales since opening in 1996, but two years ago management noticed things slowed down after the morning rush. “Nothing was really going on,” says Rose Picchietti, director of retail operations for Red Hen. “So we said, ‘Why not try sandwiches?’ And it totally took off. People are lined up out the door.” She estimates that sandwiches now make up about a quarter of the bakery’s sales.
| Grand Central's Pig n' Pear features roasted pork loin, pear chutney and cream cheese on four-seed bread. |
Today, every bakery has to do some type of food service, says Tim Foley, owner of the Bit of Swiss Pastry Shoppe in Stevensville, Mich. “Because you can’t really survive by doing just bread or bread and pastry anymore. You need that walk-in foot traffic between 10:30 and 1 or 2 in the afternoon. You’re missing out on a huge thing if you don’t offer sandwiches or espresso or cappuccino or something like that,” he adds.
When Phyllis and George Enloe started the Village Bakery Café in Amarillo, Texas, eleven years ago, one of the very first decisions they made was to make sandwiches. It was, Phyllis Enloe says, “probably one of the best moves we ever made. Even though we’ve produced a lot of bread and pastry, and a whole lot of other things too, a sandwich has always been a big part of our menu, no matter what. It’s the big seller. You can change it up so easily. And you know you can sell a sandwich every day.”
Steady sandwich sales, she explains, can keep the cash flowing through the initial business-building stages. It’s so effective that she recommends the sandwich approach for all starting/small bakeries, no matter what type of baking business they plan on. For example, she advised a baker friend who wanted to begin wholesaling to start small and offer a sandwich. She credits that with helping him stay in business long enough for the wholesaling side of his business to succeed.
Grand Central Baking Company, with stores in Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore., began as a sandwich shop in Seattle in 1972, making its own bread for the sandwiches. The bread was so good that it was soon selling whole loaves in addition to sandwiches.
According to Piper Davis, retail production manager at Grand Central Baking Co., in 2004, sandwich sales comprised 17 percent of total sales, retail bread was 10 percent, pastry was about 20 percent, wholesale bread was 40 percent and beverages made up the remainder. On a daily basis, she says, close to 20 percent of sales come from sandwiches.
| Village Bakery Cafe uses ciabatta as the focus of its turkey sandwich with housemade champagne mustard. |
Sandwiches and bakeries are a winning combination worldwide. At this year’s Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, the organizers added sandwiches to its already arduous requirements for baguettes, specialty and ethnic breads, viennoiserie and artistic expression.
“I think the organizers of the Coupe du Monde felt the same way as I do,” says Foley, manager of Bread Baker’s Guild Team USA 2005, which won gold. “I think that [sandwiches are] the normal extension of what a bakery is [today], which includes creating a savory item that’s fast to go. So it was a natural thing to add that as a category during the competition.”
Before bakers jump headfirst into sandwiches, they need to understand some of the challenges they may face, says Grand Central’s Davis. First, sandwiches have much higher food costs compared to baked products. “You have to be more careful. Waste is more expensive than when you’re just dealing with flour and water,” she says. But they have lower labor costs because they only need assembly.
Second, she says that classic artisan breads made in roll form work best for sandwiches because the open crumb structure of loaves can be problematic for condiments, such as mayonnaise. Grand Central has learned to make its sandwich breads with finer crumb structures and to knock the air out of some loaves.
“I think you just have to steer away from open crumb, unless you do it as a roll. We have a ciabatta roll that makes an excellent sandwich. Or, we make what we call a sandwich baguette, which is a baguette that’s very open-crumbed and a little bit softer crust.” In contrast, she says they named the one sandwich they make on their very crunchy baguette, the “Jawbreaker.”
Finally, she advises bakeries to keep their sandwich menu short and simple. “Rather than trying to be like the traditional grocery deli, which has a thousand meats and a thousand cheeses and a thousand spreads, decide on three or four sandwiches and do them well. And if you add a new sandwich, you have to cut one off.”
The reasons for this are eminently practical. With too many offerings, she points out, there’s a need for more room for ingredient storage, it becomes hard to sell enough sandwiches to keep the inventory fresh, and there might be consistency problems. “People just basically want turkey, something vegetarian, and a [simple] variety of others, such as roast beef or ham or tuna. But you don’t have to have everything. The fewer, the better, especially if you’re a small place.”
Chicago’s Red Hen uses the same approach with its two locations, a café-type store and a take-out only operation. Both offer eleven types of sandwiches, based on the basics, such as roast beef, turkey and chicken. “They’re basic, but very good sandwiches,” Picchietti says. “We stick with what we know.
Everything is really, really, really fresh. And everything is made to order. We bake all of our own turkeys and chickens and sauces. So you’re getting the freshest ingredients, and the sandwich is made right there. We try to be as quick as we can, as well.”
Foley believes that while people still want fast food, they want high-quality food, fast. They also want something a little more healthful, he says. “Bottom line is: I think places like Subway have helped [nurture] that [demand]. I mean even our kids would rather have a sandwich than a fast food hamburger nowadays. And I think that that’s really changing a lot of people’s tastes,” he adds.
“Sandwiches can save you,” Enloe says. “It’s endless what you can do to a sandwich. And our lunch business is such a big part of what we do. What better meal than to have fresh vegetables, spreads, meat and cheese on a good bread? A sandwich is a great thing.”