Frank d'Amore, founder of bread bakery Pane d'Amore, Port Townsend Wash., had to convince his son, baker Gabe d'Amore, that their operation was deserving of special recognition for commitment to quality.
“I had to remind him how he spent his most recent vacation coming in every day to keep an eye on production, check dough temperatures and make sure everything was functioning,” d'Amore says. “Sometimes you don't realize how much goes into something that you love.”
Pane d'Amore opened seven years ago, the realization of Frank d'Amore's dream after more than 20 years as a baker. Even in a town of 8,000 that already had a bakery and a supermarket in-store, his bakery has grown every year. He gives a lot of credit to his staff.
“If you hire a staff of intelligent people, and give them enough of the standard incentives — healthcare, vacation pay — and just treat them right, that makes them care enough to become self-policing,” he says. “It's everyone watching out for everyone else, making sure their partner is holding up their end of the bargain. Everybody here is so committed.”
The most common threat to consistent quality is what d'Amore calls drift. Employees are taught to do something a certain way, but over time, left to their own devices, they drift away from the standard.
“When there's a drift in habits, we need to bring the product back to a predetermined shape, look, flavor. It's not that people are making big mistakes, but they slowly drift away from the standard. It can be monotonous work, so it's understandable,” d'Amore says. “When we see a batard that isn't quite right, or see croissants getting too long, we'll show employees the measurements, and people respond. I drift sometimes too, but we rely on each other to be checks on our work. It takes a committed staff.”
Consistent quality also takes frequent communication. The employees running the ovens have to be on the same page as the person on the mixer, otherwise there's confusion. That's where mistakes happen.
D'Amore doesn't want his employees to be afraid to make mistakes, though. “My policy is that there are too many elements involved in making a dough for it come out perfectly every time or me to blame any one person for it going wrong,” d'Amore says. “The only thing I'll blame someone for would be letting an inferior product go out to be sold. Stuff will go wrong, that's all right, but it can't pass you by. Employees have to catch their mistakes.”
Being open to others' criticism is as important as being your own critic, and d'Amore says he's no exception. As long as he and his employees are willing to hear criticism constructively, the bakery is able to improve and maintain consistent quality. Employees are expected to be vocal, and rely on one another to ensure product quality.
“We never stop working, never stop analyzing our product. Because the way we do everything is hands-on and scratch; we aren't relying on anyone doing any mixing for us, or doughs, or fillings,” says Linda Yarkush, d'Amore's co-owner and partner. “This means we can do things the way we want. As a result, it's a consistent product in an environment where everything around you is inconsistent.”
When Cynthia Daube started Daube's Bakery 22 years ago, she was on her own getting the business off the ground. Shouldering sole responsibility meant she was in exclusive control of her bakery and its products; after all, it was her name that was on every box. This bred a commitment to high standards and a refusal to accept product that is just “good enough.”
“I'm very concerned about control over the quality of the business,” she says. “I'm there every day, overseeing everything. You can find low-quality baked products just about anywhere; you don't have to hunt for them. But we aspire to be exceptional.”
Daube's Bakery, Rochester, Minn., is known for its carrot cake and chocolate carrot cake, as well as a Czech specialty, the kolache. The bakery also does a wide array of bread, as well as celebration, wedding and mini cakes. Six years ago, she opened two more locations. Daube's Down Under, cleverly located in an underground pedestrian mall in a business district downtown, specializes in breakfast and commuter-friendly items. Jasper's Alsatian Bistro offers a full food menu, but features Daube's desserts and breads.
Daube's commitment to quality is evident in her unrelenting quest to improve. “I never believe that we have hit the best, that we've done the best, as there is always room for improvement. Some standard recipes we're very happy with, and there are some things that are harder to improve on than others, but not everything is perfect every day, we are in the real world.”
What is close to perfection? “Our carrot cakes and our white cakes,” she admits, “I would be hard pressed to do something better. But they are the culmination of years of work, and modification. When we first tried cream cheese carrot cake, I knew it wasn't right, so we worked very hard for a very long time to get where we are.”
She also says her breads, though fantastic now, recently weren't up to her standards. If she isn't happy with any element of an item, she and her staff select it for improvement before moving on to work on the next item.
“It really took a team that was willing to be compulsive about the details; temperatures while mixing, proper methods, to get it to be where I wanted it to be.”
This commitment by the staff was not easy to come by, but after 22 years in business, she has gradually assembled a team that she fully trusts. Her mixers are fully capable of handling the nearly 100 percent scratch product line, and her decorators impress her every day. And now with three businesses, she's found herself relinquishing some control.
“I've had the same team of decorators for a long time, and they keep getting better. That helps when you're in business a long time. When you're new, some stick, some don't,” she says. “The longer you're in business, the more you find people who think the way you do and work the way you do. Nothing is perfect all the time, but we're getting closer.”
Return to the 2009 Leadership Awards here.