With half of its customer base being New York City restaurants, hotels and other highend foodservice operations, Umanoff & Parsons was hit hard by 9/11. Like so many other businesses at the time, the specialty wholesale bakery, which produces a full line of gourmet cakes, pastries and other desserts, struggled to maintain national accounts as well.
In response, the bakery did two things: It cut costs internally, and it focused business exclusively on the New York City market. Investing in its home territory proved a worthwhile gamble for Umanoff, with the city's economy turning around this year and the bakery's broad product line and customer service in high demand.
The bakery's sales reached $2.2 million dollars last year, and it is on track to hit $2.7 million this year, Owner Simon Seaton says. Even with the low-carb diet craze reportedly in full force last year, bakery sales grew, he adds.
“I saw nothing of it,” says Seaton of low-carb dieting's effect on his business. “The majority of restaurant customers still want a great tasting dessert. Sales increased last year and more into this year.”
Seaton credits much of his company's success to its staff's talents and commitment to company goals. He believes Umanoff has been able to retain talent through its open communication-about where the company stands and where it would like to go.
“To develop corporate loyalty, you have to run a very honest, openbook business,” Seaton says. “By knowing information they work along-side you, not against you.”
Within the year, Umanoff & Parsons will move from its current 8,000-sq.-ft. space to a new 28,000-sq.-ft. facility. The new building will be a “green building” with an energy efficient, environmentfriendly design. For example, a heat exchange system will allow the bakery'sovens to help heat the building, and the bakery can recycle its own water with a water tower on its roof.
More space will allow the company-to expand its all-natural line of desserts and revisit national distribution. Umanoff's quiche, cheesecake and cupcake lines have shown tremendous growth, Seaton says. The bakery's Chocolate Mud Cake, however, likely will remain its topselling product. The cake consists of a Vienna fudge torte pressed into a crust, filled with chocolate mousse and chunks of the Vienna fudge torte, and topped with a generous drizzling of bittersweet ganache.
“Our Chocolate Mud Cake never goes out of style,” Seaton says.
For a man whose e-mail address is “outtadough,” Todd Wagner and his family operate a bakery that is anything but. His family's full-line retail bakery, Wagner's European Bakery & Cafè in Olympia, Wash., sells 750 loaves of its popular cinnamon bread a week, 15 to 20 tortes a day and pulls in about $1.3 million in sales annually. “We also got into cut-out cookies for kids, which do especially well at the farmer's markets,” says Wagner, general manager.
The 12,000-sq.-ft. bakery has operated in the same location, two blocks from the capitol building, for 66 years, with Todd's father, Rudy, purchasing the bakery in 1968. The key to its success has been the family's commitment to offering the very best quality products to the marketplace, Wagner says.
To help bring more quality products to the public, Wagner turned to farmer's markets instead of opening additional storefronts. “I originally turned down the farmer's markets because all they wanted were breads, and we don't do many breads. But as the product demand expanded, I got into them because I saw it as an area for growth,” he says.
One market is located 10 blocks from the store, right along the waterfront in an upwardly mobile economic area. The cost of opening another location in that area would be very expensive. “This way the bakery gets exposure for low cost,” he adds.
To help keep operating costs and product prices in balance, Wagner keeps track of the purchasing price of primary ingredients on two 8-ft. long boards in the production area. “We pay premium prices to get the best ingredients. We still crack our own eggs and use butter. Our motto is: ‘Buy the best. We do.'”
While most of Wagner's advertising is through wordof-mouth, the bakery helps keep its name in front of consumers through donations and its relationship with organizations for disabled adults and at-risk teenagers. Wagner has established a six-year relationship with one such organization for disabled adults, which provides the bakery with its clean up crew, an area where Wagner had previously experienced high turnover.
Wagner trained the organization's management how to clean the bakery, and they in turn train the employees they send to the bakery. Employees may change, but they come onto the job knowing what is required. “It has gone incredibly well. I thought in the beginning that it might cause problems, but my staff has been very receptive. It's the neatest thing to watch them overcome their adversities,” he says.
Part of this commitment to community may stem from the Wagner family's commitment to the bakery. At one time, four generations of Wagners worked in the bakery. Along with Rudy and Todd, Wagner's grandfather worked in the bakery for 22 years. Wagner's mother, Linda, and wife, Heidi, help with the bookkeeping and his daughter, Tasha, helps out one day a week.
“Our staff, product line and location all play an integral part in the reputation we have built,” Wagner says.