The chain’s in-store bakeries focus on providing customers what they want. By combining on-premise baking with specialized products from Milwaukee-area bakeries, Sendik’s is a one-stop shop for bakery options.
“The customer is always right,” is an old retail adage that modern retailers often tweak to, “the customer is sometimes right.” Not Sendik's Food Market. This family owned and operated supermarket chain, based in Whitefish Bay, Wis., takes customer service to heart with a mission statement that focuses on how to provide the best grocery shopping experience, period. Employees are required to greet all customers they see, even if they are just walking past their station.
Sendik's in-store bakeries exemplify this customer service promise. When a customer came to the Grafton in-store bakery looking for cookies on a stick, General Bakery Manager Rhonda Klug didn't have the sticks in stock and couldn't get them in time for the customer's event. Klug assured the customer she would provide the cookies, and then contacted another local bakery to make the cookies for the customer. Two days later, the customer returned to Sendik's to pick up her cookies, and all three parties (the customer, Sendik's and the local bakery) were happy.
Sendik's has a long history of making customers happy. The Balistreri family began peddling fruits and vegetables in a horse-drawn wagon at the turn of the 20th century. Thomas Balistreri opened the first Sendik's store in 1949, and in 1975, after Tom's sons, Ted and Tom Jr., took over the company, the store expanded from just fruits and vegetables to groceries and perimeter departments, such as bakery and deli. The original bakery did not bake on site, but instead established relationships with area bakeries to offer some of their signature products in Sendik's.
In 2001, Ted's children, Ted, Nick, Patrick and Margaret, took over the reins and began expanding beyond the original store in Whitefish Bay. Sendik's Food Market now has seven Milwaukee-area locations with an eighth (Germantown) slated to open later this year. Once the Germantown location opens, the company will have opened four stores in two years, a rapid growth pace for the small company.
When the Mequon store opened about four years ago, Sendik's introduced its first in-store bakery that baked on premise. Hot baking became a draw for the store, so each subsequent store has featured an in-store bakery.
John Wollner, director of deli/cheese/bakery operations, joined the company six years ago as a part-time job while working as a chef at an area hotel. When the owners began expanding, they asked him to come on board full time as head chef in the deli department. Wollner then became deli manager and oversaw the cheese department, which is no small task in cheese-loving Wisconsin. Two years ago, he added bakery to his list of duties when he was named director of the three departments.
The stores' bakery sizes vary greatly, with the smallest being the original Whitefish Bay store and the largest in the Greenfield store that opened this month. “As we've grown, each bakery has gotten bigger,” Wollner says. Bakeries are equipped with a cooler/freezer, oven and proofer at a minimum.
Each bakery has a bakery manager and eight to 20 employees. The bakery managers have almost complete autonomy to run their bakery to fit their store's demographic. “We give managers full power to set their cases with what they want,” Wollner says. “Obviously, we have certain guidelines that we need to maintain, but it's up to the managers to find what works in their area. Product lines can differ widely from store to store.”
Although all Sendik's locations are in the Milwaukee area, the demographics of each store's customers vary. Certain bakery items that sell in one location do not sell in another. For example, challah sells well in the Mequon location, but is not as successful in the Grafton location. Allowing the managers to run their bakeries similarly to a retail bakery gives the company the flexibility to meet customers' needs.
Franklin customers love their peanut squares, says Kathy Endthoff, Franklin's bakery manager. The Sendik's specialty is made with white cake layers filled with marshmallow cream, then iced with white buttercream. The iced squares are dipped in peanuts to coat them completely. “I never saw them before I came to Sendik's. It's pretty much a full time job just making peanut squares. They are on sale this week, and we sell about 100 million of them weekly even when they aren't on sale,” Endthoff jokes.
Bakery managers regularly introduce new products they think will sell in their location. “We can submit the ingredients and the cost to our general bakery manager, and we can pretty much pick up anything that sells in our store,” Endthoff adds. “They [the Balistreris] give us the freedom to pick our own products, which is really nice. That's what you really hire a manager for.”
Sendik's in-store bakery department has actually enhanced its relationship with area bakeries. As it opened its own in-stores, it continued to work with area bakery vendors, and took greater pride in the bakery department, which led to better merchandising of all the products. The in-store bakeries feature a blend of Sendik's-produced items as well as specialties from local favorites, such as Breadsmith, Suzie's Cheesecake, Simma Bakery, City Market, Broadway Bakery and Wild Flour Bakery. Sendik's also partners with bakery vendors for a line of Sendik's-branded artisan breads.
“There is a big following for the different brands,” Wollner says. “People grew up on the bakery that was close to their house, and they want that product. If we can get it, we're going to bring it in.” The company currently partners with about nine area bakery vendors.
“We offer what the clientele wants,” he adds. “It's a one-stop shop. Customers have all their favorite bakeries in one place. It might seem kind of silly to do competition for ourselves, but if the customers can have what they want, that's what we'll do. We are known for providing customer service.”
The Grafton bakery acts as central production for all locations, supplying doughs and finished products. It is equipped with vertical mixers to make all of Sendik's scratch items. With the chain's rapid expansion, Grafton has struggled to keep up with demand.
In addition to Klug, Grafton has one other skilled baker and plans to add a third so the store can add a second bake shift. The Greenfield store also has a new baker on staff, which Wollner hopes will help alleviate the strain on Grafton. Currently, Grafton is supplying the other bakeries and some delis with product at cost.
Such growing pains are to be expected in a company that had no on-premise baking as little as four years ago.
Managers phone orders into Grafton at least weekly. The newer stores, such as Franklin, are not yet able to get a good read on the number and types of products they need on a weekly basis. Franklin opened less than six months ago and is still seeing an influx of people who are checking out the store for the first time. “[Customers will] buy a lot of a product, and then that product will totally die down,” Endthoff says. “It's been impossible to predict what we need on a daily basis, but we keep working on it.”
The bakery products, either frozen doughs or fully finished, are delivered to the locations daily. Sendik's two trucks begin deliveries at 8 a.m. and circle around to each store to return to Grafton by 5 p.m.
The bakeries use a combination of production methods, depending on the product. They use frozen cake layers for cakes and frozen pastry sheets for a variety of pastry items. Some signature items, such as bear claws and almond horns, are produced from scratch or mix. (Chocolate-covered bear claws are one of Sendik's top sellers, Klug says.)
For almond horns, the staff mixes the marzipan batter, shapes the pieces into a “u,” dips them in slivered almonds and freezes them. The stores thaw the almond horns overnight and bake. After baking, the horns are coated with almond glaze while still warm, and the ends are dipped in chocolate.
Another popular product is almond rings. Bakers use a frozen pastry sheet, cut into 1-in. strips, and roll the ends of the strip in opposite directions to twist it. The twisted rope is then shaped into a circle, dipped in almonds and frozen.
Cakes are always big business for in-store bakeries, and many Sendik's locations sell as many as 200 cakes a week in addition to the custom orders, which vary from store to store. During a recent week, the Franklin store had 54 custom cake orders for Saturday, and Grafton had 75.
Each location has one to three decorators on site, and the newest bakeries also feature cake decorators up front where customers can watch them work. With Sendik's focus on customer service, the decorators have to help customers, which can take away decorating time.
“We can't have someone out front who doesn't wait on customers, and to get the cake orders done is next to impossible,” Endthoff says. “All employees are customer service people, including production. Whatever you're doing, you stop and help the customer.”
One solution planned for the Franklin store is to create a decorating room in the back office where volume-production decorating will occur. The decorator in front will remain for theater, custom work and to interact with customers.
“The owners really did us [the bakery department] justice because they allow us to have more hours than the average store, so we can give customer service. They are totally OK with labor being a little higher in bakery because they want whatever is best for the customer,” Wollner says.
Customers are noticing. Sendik's bakeries contribute an average 5 1/2 percent to total store sales. The Franklin bakery is more than 6 1/2 percent.
“Bakery obviously is one of the premier perimeter departments, and [the Balistreris] are always looking for new ways to grow and get better,” Wollner adds. “We aren't perfect yet, but that's why we give managers the empowerment to come up with new ideas. Our whole philosophy is we need to figure out ways to be better.”
|Vanilla French donut||$0.75|
|Broadway Bakery cream cheese croissant||$1.89|
|Whole wheat croissant||$1.59|
|City Market scone||$1.69|
|Pretzel dinner roll||$0.49|
|Ciabatta, 1 lb.||$3.19|
|Miller French baguette||$2.29|
|Bay Bakery lemon tart, 5 ins.||$4.49|
|Yellow cake, 8 ins.||$8.00|
|Triple layer Boston cream pie, 8 ins.||$16.99|
|Chocolate chip cookies, 12 count||$4.69|
|Elephant ears, 4 count||$3.99|
|Cupcakes, 6 count||$5.99|
Headquarters: Whitefish Bay, Wis.
Founded: 1949 by Thomas Balistreri
Web site: www.sendiks-foodmarket.com
Management: Ted, Nick, Patrick and Margaret Balistreri, owners; John Wollner, director of deli/cheese/bakery operations; Rhonda Klug, general bakery manager
Bakery contribution to store sales: 5.5 percent average per store
Number of stores/bakeries: 7/7
Competitors: Pick'n Save, Roundy's
Major bakery equipment: vertical mixer, proofer, rack oven, bread slicer, pan washer
Bakery supply distributors: BakeMark, Lapari, Sysco, Valley Bakers Cooperative Association,
Plans: open eighth location later this year, consider building a central bakery production facility