By streamlining his product line, owner Andrew Swartz focuses on items that sell. Quality ingredients and smart branding keep customers returning.
Residents of Marion, Ohio, upon spotting a neighbor carrying a bright pink paperboard box, immediately recognize it as having come from Andrew's Pastries. The boxes and the bakery have become synonymous since Andrew Swartz opened his bakery in 1995. Yet Swartz takes no credit for scoring a marketing coup. In fact, pink was among the last colors he would have selected.
Minding his available start-up cash, the then 31-year-old pastry chef was on the look-out for opportunities to minimize costs. “A local box manufacturer offered me a really sweet deal on some existing stock,” Swartz recalls. “Trouble was, the boxes were pink, and he would only sell the whole lot — tens of thousands of boxes. But, I couldn't pass it up.”
He still has a few years' supply remaining, and, he admits, he likely will replenish the inventory with, you guessed it, pink boxes.
“At least, I'll have my logo printed on the boxes,” he says. Gold foil “Andrew's Pastries” labels currently identify the boxes for the uninformed.
The bakery produces pastries and sweetgoods destined for a diverse customer base from donuts for a Whirlpool Corp. manufacturing plant to European-style tortes and tarts for the country club set.
“We have flourless tortes, fresh fruit tarts and gift boxes of cookies, brownies and other items, which attract physicians, attorneys and pharmaceutical salespeople. And, special products, like white chocolate mousse cake or tiramisu, appeal to transplants from all over the country,” Swartz says. “The vast majority of customers, however, want basic products — donuts, cookies and decorated cakes.”
Before opening the bakery, Swartz was familiar with the community. Born in Cleveland, Swartz and his family moved to Marion, 40 miles north of Columbus, when his father purchased a fast-food franchise.
In 1984, he graduated from Tri-Rivers Career Center, majoring in culinary arts. He worked in several restaurants in Columbus and Cleveland until 1986, when he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y.
After graduating from its baking and pastry program, Swartz spent six years working in several upscale restaurants in North Carolina and Washington, D.C., including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His wife, Rebecca, an English teacher, handles the bookkeeping and marketing duties.
Despite his familiarity with Marion, “I had to do my homework,” Swartz says. He visited bakeries throughout the area. “I ate every shop's donuts within a 90-mile radius of Marion,” Swartz says. He also befriended retired bakers in Marion and surrounding communities to learn what they had sold.
His research and on-going customer contact has resulted in a streamlined mix of 100 different items offered daily. “Along the way, we dumped slow sellers and have focused on items that sell,” he says. “We put our time and effort in products that give the most margin, such as cookies, brownies, bars and decorated cakes.”
The bakery's signature products include cookies, cheesecake, biscotti (see accompanying article) and donuts, though when Swartz graduated from culinary school, he was convinced that he would not sell donuts. “But, in our market, donuts are our hook. Besides tasting great, our donuts look like they came from a magazine ad,” he explains. “And, donuts have drawn in customers who became attracted to buy our cakes. We built customers' trust through donuts.”
His Signature Cookies line includes Presidential Sweets, named in honor of Marion-born Warren G. Harding. The oatmeal-coconut concoction contains golden raisins, dried cherry pieces, pecan bits, chocolate chips and espresso powder. Sweet Dreams cookies are a chocolate chip variety with cinnamon, ginger and pecans, rolled in confectioners' sugar.
The cheesecake is as dense and tart as that found in New York, but its texture is creamier and less crumbly. Among the ingredients are premium quality cream cheese, freshly cracked eggs, just-squeezed lemon juice, and pure vanilla extract. “I have customers originally from New York who take our cheesecake back to New York when they visit Marion,” Swartz says.
All decorated cakes are custom ordered and, he notes, offer great potential, especially cakes for children's events. “I want to grow the cake business, but we will limit the number of varieties to a manageable number and do them with top quality,” he explains. “We're too small to be all things to all people and take on every request.”
Occasionally, the bakery makes custom-ordered specialty cakes, such as a black walnut cake. In some cases, these are one-off cakes that require extra time and command accordingly higher retail prices. “We have a reputation that our products are expensive. But, our customers know that they get what they pay for,” Swartz says.
He, as many bakers in other markets, is experiencing growing interest in decorated cupcakes for weddings in lieu of wedding cakes. Prospective brides have ordered 200 Andy's Cakes cupcakes with special stands. Andy's Cakes are old-fashioned, all-butter cupcakes (flour, sugar, butter, milk, vanilla and leavening) iced with scratch-made buttercream icing (butter, confectioners' sugar, milk, pure vanilla extract).
Swartz welcomes the orders, explaining, “For me, they mean less labor, and the customer pays basically the same price.”
He and his crew prepare most products from scratch, using high-quality American and imported ingredients, such as Belgium chocolate, sweet cream butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice, real whipped cream and pure vanilla extract.
Scratch-made items include cookies, sponge cakes and carrot cakes. The bakers use mixes for donuts, cakes and muffins and frozen dough for Danish and puff pastry. “In a small bakery like ours, making scratch Danish is not worth the cost,” Swartz observes. “It helps that the quality of the mixes and frozen dough has improved so much.”
Operating a small bakery also requires him to identify opportunities to enhance productivity, Swartz says. When opening the bakery, he purchased an automated production table for yeast-raised donuts, which with cake donuts, account for the greatest unit sales. “Besides making production faster, it gives us more product consistency,” he says.
Swartz and his crew also have learned to use the freezer more efficiently to produce cookies, especially decorated varieties. “This is a small bakery, and we must be prepared for large swings in demand,” he says. As much as two weeks' inventory of made-up cookies are in the freezer, and the quantity is increased for large volume periods, such as May and football season.
The bakery also uses its freezer to store baked sponge cake and carrot cakes.
Correct use of a freezer is critical, Swartz says. “You have to keep your freezer clean, double-wrap your product and turn your inventory frequently, at least every two weeks.”
Improved production efficiency also has enabled Andrew's Pastries to aggressively pursue what has become a sizeable wholesale business — 40 percent of total sales. “This is our bread and butter because if the weather turns lousy and the store is quiet, our wholesale customers still receive their orders,” Swartz explains.
Wholesale accounts include manufacturing plants, foodservice operators, convenience stores, hospitals, utility companies and senior citizen residential facilities, among others.
Spreading the word about Andrew's Pastries largely rests on the shoulders of Rebecca, who is responsible for paid advertising and generating publicity through newspapers and radio and television stations in Marion and Columbus. “Every bakery has at least one story that would interest their local newspaper,” she says.
She has been successful in pitching ideas to the Marion Star. For example, it published an article about a bakery employee, a native Mexican, who learned baking while taking the steps to become a naturalized citizen. Throughout the process, the employee never missed a day of work, Rebecca says. “I thought the newspaper would be interested because Marion has a large Hispanic population.”
Before Christmas, she convinced the newspaper to feature Andrew constructing a large gingerbread house made totally from scratch, including faux stained glass windows made with poured sugar. She asked the contact, “How long has it been since children, even adults, saw a gingerbread house put together?”
Armed with a videotape she prepared of Andrew and his crew creating a gingerbread house, Rebecca approached a Columbus television station, using a similar pitch. Her action resulted in Andrew demonstrating his skill from the station's studio.
Recently Rebecca invited a Marion radio personality, who was developing a series of reports about local businesses, to visit the bakery to learn some basics about baking.
The media are interested in different, unusual topics, she says. “Certainly, having a high quality bakery and pastry shop in Marion, Ohio, qualifies. Now, when I e-mail the food critic at the Columbus Dispatch, he responds immediately.”
Having a personable, outgoing partner helps her efforts, Rebecca says. “Andrew really enjoys these things. His enthusiasm comes out during the interviews. Of course, the bakery is easy to promote because the products are so wonderful.”
While Rebecca's efforts encourage more residents to patronize the bakery, employees use those visits as opportunities to sample new or different products. For example, the bakery's Italian cassata, a three-layer sponge cake.
The cake differs from traditional Sicilian cassata, an ice cream confection. Strawberry cassata, for example, is a strawberry shortcake, prepared with three thin layers of sponge cake containing fresh egg yolks, filled with two thin layers of custard filling containing thinly sliced strawberries, iced with Italian buttercream (whipped meringue containing sweet butter) or whipped cream, and garnished with apricot-glazed whole strawberries.
Though introducing new products is challenging and can be rewarding, Andrew says he also plans to bring back products that have faded from bakery shelves because skilled veteran bakers are retiring and not passing on their knowledge.
Last November, he introduced his guest baker program, in which he invites retired bakers to work side-by-side with him and his crew. The plan is to have a different baker two to three times a year demonstrate his or her skills.
“Many products haven't been around here for several years,” Andrew says. For example, the first participating baker made bon bon cookies (mini shortbread cookies with chocolate centers) and almond macaroons. “Our customers, especially senior citizens, love them” he adds.
“I'm interested in old product formulas. It's part of identifying with the people of this community,” he explains. “And, these formulas and products will become lost if we don't collect them.”
Andrew is starting with retired bakers whom he knows personally. As the program takes off, he plans to reach out to bakers in other areas.
Also on his plate will be opening a coffee house and bakery this summer in a new professional office building adjacent to a hospital. Business, Andrew says, will come from employees, pharmaceutical sales reps, patients and their families.
Andrew's Pastries will supply the bakery foods; another supplier will provide sandwiches. His employees will make only coffee and espresso drinks. “The menu will have limited varieties, but the quality will be the best,” he says.
Each activity is part of Andrew's strategy to fulfill his business' niche. “If you want to make this much money,” he says, holding a hand at waist level, “open your doors. But, if you want to make this much,” he continues, raising the hand to head level, “find out what your customers want and fill a niche.”
Every time he sees a bright pink cake box in the community, he smiles with confidence, knowing that the strategy is working. “Yes, this business has been good to me.”
Location: Marion, Ohio
Web site: www.andrewspastries.com
Management: Andrew and Rebecca Swartz, owners
Business: retail, 60%; wholesale, 40%
Market served: greater Marion south 40 miles into Columbus
Bakery/store size: 2,600 sq. ft.
Number of employees: 8, including owners
Sales: approached $400,000 in 2004 and since have increased steadily
Product line: full line of about 100 different pastries and sweetgoods daily
Major equipment: vertical mixers, automated production table, donut proofer and fryer, convection ovens, donut filling injectors, walk-in refrigerator, off-site freezer
Plans: open coffee house/bakery, increase donut sales, expand wholesale biscotti business, increase advertising
Bakery supply distributors: Dawn Food Products, Corbett Co., U.S. Foodservice
|Glazed yeast-raised donut||$0.80|
|Muffin, 3 ozs.||$0.85|
|Danish, 3 ozs.||$1.25|
|Croissant, 3 ozs.||$1.50|
|Chocolate chip cookie||$0.80|
|Presidential Sweet cookie||$0.80|
|Sweet Dreams cookie||$0.80|
|Seasonal fresh fruit tart||$12.00-18.00|
|New York-style cheesecake, slice||$2.75|
|Italian cassata cake, 8 ins.||$21.00|
|Decorated cake, 8 ins.||$18.00|
For a retail bakery, central Ohio is not biscotti country. Yet, Andrew's Pastries has generated demand for his biscotti sufficient to comprise 10 percent of total sales.
“Biscotti sells in my store,” says Andrew Swartz, pastry chef/owner. “But, biscotti really moves in coffee shops and restaurants.” The bakery offers its premium quality biscotti, which features extended shelf life, for wholesale only.
The bakery's primary customers are a bakery supply distributor and a multi-unit coffee house operator/wholesaler, which sell biscotti to coffee shops, casinos and hotels, mostly in Ohio and Kentucky. Varieties include almond, chocolate almond, hazelnut, chocolate hazelnut, pistachio, sun-dried cherry and chocolate cherry.
Swartz attributes growing sales to the use of top quality ingredients and production procedures adapted for his style of biscotti. For example, his bakers use all-natural Italian nut extracts which cost $150 per liter. They also add whole nuts to the dough. “This retains the nuts' identity. Our biscotti have one of the highest ratios of nuts to dough that I have seen,” he says.
Swartz's biscotti does not contain butter, as does the traditional product. This yields a lean dough (flour, milk, sugar, eggs, nuts, extract and leavening) that is lower in fat, which appeals to many consumers, he says. “We tell customers that it's a healthful alternative to fried bakery items.”
Andrew's Pastries' biscotti, which is Italian for twice-baked cookie, are baked only once. Traditionally, bakers roll biscotti dough into logs, bake and slice them and then bake them again. Several years ago while working in an upscale Italian restaurant, Swartz forgot to bake a batch a second time. The head chef and he agreed that the taste and less crunchy texture were better, and the cookies still remained intact after being dipped into coffee. Swartz has not double baked biscotti since.
“I want to do more of these types of premium wholesale products,” Swartz says. “People are willing to pay for them, and they give the largest margins.”