Sweet Life Patisserie chooses sugar over vinegar
Sisters Catherine and Cheryl Reinhart, owners of Sweet Life Patisserie, Eugene, Ore., manage their bakery the way their mother taught them to. “Our overall philosophy is to treat people well,” Catherine Reinhart says. “We manage using the ‘golden rule–you attract more bees with sugar than vinegar,’ and all the things our mother used to tell us.”
Before owning her own bakery, Reinhart experienced the loud, bullying management style often found in professional kitchens. “Chefs like to scream at people, and I felt it didn’t work. People thrive on support, not oppression,” she says.
Since opening in 1999, Sweet Life has grown to support a staff of 50 to 60 people. Having systems in place to allow employees more freedom has been the key to what Reinhart calls their “sustainable management” approach.
Systems include a thorough employee manual, message boards and regular management meetings. The manual includes charts and directions for everything from specialty cake ordering to handling equipment breakdowns. The manual is extensive, but easily referenced with tabs and thoughtful organization. The Reinharts designed the manual so staff could solve problems without having to always ask a manager. “Initially, we relied on people to remember everything, but there is so much to know in a bakery,” Reinhart says.
Keeping an open line of communication among managers and staff is a key component to Sweet Life’s sustainable management style. The Reinharts installed message boards where new information can be posted daily and staff can leave messages for one another. They also host meetings every other month where managers can hash out problems and discuss ideas. Regular meetings have eliminated the finger pointing and shift blaming that often occurred before the meetings were policy. “It is important to make people talk to each other,” Reinhart says.
This open management style requires hiring people who are self-motivated, creative and willing to learn. People who work better in a more regimented structure probably would not be the best fit for Sweet Life. If an employee is not working out, it is better to terminate employment early rather than drag out the inevitable over months or even years. “Kindness doesn’t necessarily mean softness,” Reinhart says. “Its obvious pretty quickly whether or not someone is going to work out.”
Once the right people are in place, Sweet Life goes the extra mile to retain employees. The bakery offers health insurance, profit sharing and even an in-house dental plan. Dental insurance was too expensive for employees, so Sweet Life gives each employee $250 or $500 (depending on hours worked) to use toward dental visits each year.
The bakery also encourages cross training to avoid boredom and fatigue that can occur in a repetitive job. A cake decorator may want to learn baking, for example. The Reinharts also move training responsibilities around to different employees, so more people can take on the leadership role of being a “trainer.”
Giving people recognition for a job well done goes a long way, too, Reinhart says. Both Catherine and Cheryl are actively involved with day-to-day operations, and they make a point to notice people and give them compliments when deserved.
“I feel like because people are happy, it comes through in our product,” Reinhart says. “It’s a good cycle instead of a fear cycle.”
Hofer’s stays true to its German baking roots
Hofer’s Bakery & Café is located in a bustling Bavarian-themed town. Tourists visit Helen, Ga., to get a taste of Germany, and Hofer’s is a central attraction.
“We get tourists from all over the world here,” says owner Ralph Hofer. “We’re also home to the longest-running Oktoberfest.”
Being located in a tourist town is good for business, but also presents its own challenges. Fluctuations in seasonal business can be dramatic, so managing the bakery to accommodate both busy and slow periods is key.
Hofer credits his supervisors for much of the bakery’s organized operations. “We have good supervisors in place who provide good training, and we treat people like family,” he says.
His bakery has very low employee turnover with some bakery personnel who have worked at Hofer’s since it opened in 1991. “Professionalism–that’s the main thing we strive for,” he says. “And mutual respect. Nothing is going to be asked of them [staff] that managers wouldn’t do themselves.”
A highly skilled baker himself, Hofer sets the standard of professionalism for the bakery. A pastry chef by trade, he learned baking from his father, Horst, who immigrated to the United States from Germany with his mother, Gerda, in the late 1950s. They opened the original Hofer’s Bakery in Atlanta in 1973, and Horst took over the Helen location when his parents retired and closed the Atlanta location in 1995.
Staying true to his German baking roots and seizing new opportunities for the business, Hofer has evolved the cake bakery into a full-line bakery café with outdoor beer garden. Sales of Hofer’s pretzels, apple strudel and other German specialties have grown exponentially since the addition of the large beer garden deck four years ago. Beer and wine are served along with giant Oktoberfest pretzels and bratwurst. The bakery even hosts live bands on weekends. “The beer garden draws people off the street,” Hofer says. “It’s like a customer magnet.”
The town’s seven-week Oktoberfest celebration, which begins the week after Labor Day, is high time at Hofer’s. The bakery sells about 350 apple strudels a day during that period. To keep up, Hofer’s adds as many as 10 people to its regular staff of 25.
Hiring qualified people in both temporary and permanent positions is critical, Hofer says. His supervisors are good trainers, but Hofer’s hands-off approach requires staff to step into their roles quickly.
“I have an anti-micromanagement style,” Hofer says. “I let people do the job they were hired to do and leave them alone unless there’s a problem.”
Hofer is too busy to micromanage. Along with decorating cakes and producing pastries, he continually seeks new avenues for marketing his business. He advertises in print media, billboards and on TV. “I make sure I have a presence in every hotel room, condo, cabin and rental property in northeast Georgia,” he says.
The bakery also does an extensive mail order business, which it advertises in German-American publications. And, he keeps up with Facebook and other social media sites to keep Hofer’s Bakery and Café a top tourist destination.