After emigrating from Denmark, Keld Pedersen and his wife, Jodi, opened a full-line retail bakery in Huntington Beach, Calif. Thirteen years later, the bakery’s Scandinavian treats have found a home, but cakes have become the real draw.
Keld Pedersen is a true American Dream success story, although, truth be told, he was pretty successful in his native Denmark as well. After apprenticing in Denmark's Beck's Bakery, he baked pastries for Scandinavian royalty, including the King of Sweden and the Queen of Denmark. But he dreamed of going abroad and sharing his creations with a wider audience.
He emigrated 24 years ago, and worked in several high-end hotels, including the Los Angeles Sheraton and Caneel Bay Resort in the Virgin Islands. His dream of owning his own bakery became a reality in 1997, when he and wife Jodi opened The Great Dane Bakery in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Keld was fortunate to find a Scandinavian bakery for sale with a customer base already firmly established for the products he planned to offer from his native country. As the bakery made a name for itself in Southern California, Great Dane became known more for its high quality decorated and wedding cakes than its Danish pastries, although those remain popular. It was a desire to expand the wedding cake business, specifically to create a wedding cake studio, that drove the Pedersens to open a second Great Dane location in Los Alamitos almost six years ago.
With 12 decorators between the two stores, the bakery is able to decorate as many as to 25 wedding cakes and 150 custom-decorated cakes every weekend. The recession hit the wedding business hard, but cake orders are slowly starting to creep back up, though the cakes are scaled-back versions of what the bakery was doing a few years ago, Jodi says.
“Before the recession hit, people were recklessly spending money, and I saw a huge increase in people getting huge, lavish wedding cakes. Now, people have scaled back and are a little cautious. A small percentage is always going to do a couture wedding cake, but I think a lot of people are coming in with a couture idea and scaling back to a more realistic version. They come in wanting a Mercedes, and somehow they get the Honda,” she says. Wedding cakes make up about 60 percent of the cake category sales, says Nataly Stein, manager of the Huntington Beach location.
To market wedding cakes, Great Dane participates in two bridal shows in the first few months of the year. Shows after February tend to draw brides planning weddings for the following year Jodi has found. “It's kind of hard to book a cake that far ahead,” she says.
To help bolster wedding cake business, the bakery recently launched its Eye Candy Events program, featuring novelty candy stations and dessert tables.
“We're doing whole tablescapes, with backgrounds and different cookies and cupcakes,” Nataly says. The tablescapes generally are designed around a custom-decorated cake for weddings, showers and birthdays. “We started doing the candy buffets in November, and we've done eight. We have another four on the books so far,” Nataly adds.
The two Great Dane locations are about 12 miles apart, and production is divided between the two stores. At 7 p.m., cake production begins; all cakes are made from a mix. “We switched to a cake mix about three or four years ago. I was finally convinced, and since I switched, I haven't gotten a complaint about a dry cake,” Keld says.
At 2:30 a.m., the bakers start arriving to begin baking off bread and Danish pastries, which are made from scratch. Bread varieties include Danish rye, French bread, baguettes and buttercrust. Most of the baking is done by 9 a.m., but staff can pull items, such as cookies, from the freezer to bake off during the day as needed. Two pastry chefs make a variety of upscale pastries.
Huntington Beach, which has a slightly larger production area, handles all of the bread and cookies production for the two locations, while the majority of cake baking and all the wedding cake decorating are done at Los Alamitos. A delivery van shuttles products between the two stores twice a day. Cake decorators begin arriving at both locations at about 7 a.m. Each store has three full-time and three part-time decorators.
The bakery offers about 500 total products, and everything is available daily, except for tarts made with seasonal fruits. While the bakery is well known for its wedding and decorated cakes, it hasn't lost sight of its origins of Scandinavian pastries, which are popular in their own right.
“We have one of the best lines of Danish and coffee cakes of anybody else I've seen,” Keld says. His secret is the almond paste filling. Danish account for about 15 percent of sales. The bakery offers 12 types of coffee cakes and about 20 different Danish varieties.
While Keld always planned on offering Danish specialties when he opened the shop, the product line available today, with its focus on cakes, was a gradual evolution. “When I started off, I was really excited about the breads, but I've cut way back on the bread line,” Keld says. “There's not a lot of profit in them, and I decided to become more of a cake bakery.” Cakes are the largest product category, making up 40 percent of the bakery's sales.
Cake varieties available daily include German chocolate, carrot, fudge, red velvet, strawberry ladyfinger, Chocolate Decadence mousse cake, chocolate truffle, white chocolate truffle, lemon crème and chocolate banana bombe.
“The fruit Charlotte is amazing,” Nataly says. The white cake features Bavarian and whipped cream with chocolate on top. Fresh fruit cake is the bakery's bestseller. “Our truffle cakes also are good sellers. They have chocolate roses and shavings on top. People really like them.”
To help differentiate the bakery from the competition, Jodi has made a concerted effort to retain its mom-and-pop atmosphere. “I want it to have a feel that we are actually making all the stuff in the back of the store,” Jodi says.
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Being part of the community is key to the bakery's ambiance. She has warm memories of going to her local bakery while growing up, and she wanted to replicate that feeling for her customers. Great Dane participates in the local “Taste of…” festivals, as well as a reading program with area schools. For every book a child reads, they receive a coupon that can be redeemed for a cookie in the bakery.
Customer service and attention to detail also are signatures of The Great Dane Bakery.
“We are a little more expensive, but we go the extra mile. Everything gets edible glitter on it, even the store cakes in our cases and our cookies and petit fours. Glitter makes the cakes pop, and it's our signature,” Jodi says. “Everything is better with glitter.”
A glittery mom-and-pop bakery…perfect for Orange County.
|Carrot cake, 8 ins.||$26.95|
|Hazelnut truffle, 8 ins.||$36.95|
|Fruit Charlotte, 8 ins.||$36.95|
|Chocolate mousse, 8 ins.||$41.95|
|Princess cake, 8 ins.||$36.95|
|Marble mousse cake, 8 ins.||$31.95|
|Strawberry ladyfinger, 8 ins.||$47.95|
|German chocolate cake,|
|8 ins., double layer||$26.95|
|8 ins., single layer||$18.95|
|Chocolate banana bombe||$31.95|
|Lemon cream cake, 8 ins.||$41.95|
|Red velvet cupcake||$2.75|
|Strawberry Boston cupcake||$4.95|
|Petit fours, small||$1.95|
|Chocolate Decadence, 3 ins.||$4.95|
|Peanut butter cookie||$0.75|
Location: Orange County, Calif.
Founded: purchased by Keld Pedersen in 1997
Management: Keld and Jodi Pedersen, owners; Nataly Stein, Huntington Beach manager; Trisha Sandavol, Los Alamitos manager
Annual sales: $3 million
Number of locations: 2
Size of locations: each about about 3,000 sq. ft., evenly split between production and retail space
Bakery's primary business: retail, 85%; wholesale, 15%
Number of employees: 32
Product line: full line of cakes, pastries, cookies, cupcakes, dessert bars and some breads
Product breakdown: Decorated cakes, 40%; pastries, 20%; cookies, 15%; Danish, 15%
Production methods: scratch/mix
Major equipment: vertical and spiral mixers, sheeter, rack oven, reach-in refrigerator/freezer
Bakery supply distributors: Dawn Food Products, Lakeside, Qzina