Croissan'Time owner, Bernard Casse, offers 12 varieties of croissants every day.
The oven is framed by a brick window, which allows customers to see baguettes being prepped and baked. Since installation, baguette sales have doubled.
The bakery sells more than 1,200 baguettes a day. For optimal freshness, the bakery produces two batches of 30 every hour.
Along with croissants, the bakery sells specialty breads, European-style cakes and tortes, baguettes and individual pastries.
When customers come in to pick up an oven-fresh baguette, croissant, pastry or cookie at Croissan'Time French Bakery & Fine Foods, the prices on the menu usually make them think twice. And that's just the way Owner Bernard Casse planned it.
It's the promise of unparalleled freshness that convinces southern Floridians to drive 30 to 50 miles from three counties to find the "bakery out in the middle of nowhere" tucked away in a strip center in northern Fort Lauderdale, believes the French-born and trained baker.
"As our slogan says, any time is Croissan'Time," Casse explains. "When they come here and discover that to be true, they're happy."
The Croissan'Time menu is structured to offer discounts on multiple purchases on most of its menu items every day. This carefully regulated discounting is a key part of Casse's business strategy.
Buy more, spend less
For example, customers who buy a single baguette pay $1.95, but if they buy two, they pay only $3.70, a savings of 10 cents per loaf. Buying six baguettes yields a savings of $1.95.
Casse applies a similar pricing principal to ficelle and French rolls (95 cents apiece, six for $5.40, 12 for $9.95) and dinner rolls (40 cents each, six for $1.95, 12 for $3.50). Quantity discounts also apply to plain and filled croissants, specialty breads, individual and mini pastries and cookies.
To further reward quantity customers, Croissan'Time issues a punch card for even more discounts. Every $2 purchase earns one punch, and when the amount spent equals $60, the customer earns a $5 discount. In order for the punch card program to work, it is crucial to make sure to price products 10 percent more than the calculated food cost to cover the discount and sales staff salaries, Casse says.
The reward for such discounting has been a steady increase in volume each year. Last year, for example Croissan'Time's annual sales were $1.8 million, almost a 14 percent increase over 2003, despite two separate retail price increases.
"When customers would mention the ten cent increase in our baguette price, for example, our sales staff would explain to them that with our pricing system, they could still pay the same pre-price-raise of $1.85 per loaf if they bought two instead of just one," Casse notes. "Most customers thought that was fine, and we actually ended up selling more product."
Selling more products was a challenge Casse confronted head on the day Croissan'Time opened its doors in 1986. He determined that his breakeven would be $265, but he fell about $230 dollars short. Within three months, sales were much better.
After three years, the original 1,700-ft. single storefront bakery had expanded into the space next door. By 1999, it occupied three storefronts for a total of 4,480 sq. ft. The bakery is in the middle, flanked to the left by Croissan'Time's gourmet foods department, which sells complementary products ranging from fine wines and cheeses to pâtès and chocolates. On the bakery's right is a small eat-in cafè, with more seating available outside.
Freshness is key
While pricing is certainly one reason why Croissan'Time is such a popular South Florida destination, it isn't the only or, according to Casse, the primary one.
"It all comes back to having the freshest products," he says.
Two years ago, Casse installed a 5-ft. high, 3-ft. wide brick-framed electric exhibition oven in the front of the shop, so customers can watch baguettes being prepped and baked. The baguettes are baked in two batches of 30 every hour. Since the debut of the exhibition oven, baguette sales have doubled to about 1,200 a day.
Of course, with a name like Croissan'Time, it's no secret what product is among the specialties of the house. Every day, customers can choose from 12 different kinds of croissants in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Rectangles of the flaky dough are filled with chocolate. Crescents may be plain or feature a topping of almond slices and confectioners' sugar and stuffed with almond cream. Rounds look like Danish with centers of raisins, walnuts, cheese or fruit.
Most popular is the traditional allbutter croissant, followed by the chocolate and almond varieties. Croissan'Time introduces new viennoiserie items, such as dulce de leche and guava-cream cheese croissants, about every four months.
For the best croissants, Casse developed a two-day process. The dough is mixed one day, then laminated and cut the next. Proofing is carefully monitored, for three to four hours, at a maximum, to prevent the development of too much gas. To ensure peak freshness and full cases, croissants are baked twice a day, once around 4 a.m. to prepare for the shop's 7:30 a.m. opening. And again at 9 or 10 a.m. in the exhibition oven. If it is a busy day, another bake is scheduled for noon or 1 p.m.
In between bread and croissant bakes, the exhibition oven is used to bake off pastry crusts, macaroons, cookies and other items to keep the seductive aromas flowing and minimize downtime for the oven.
Full showcases, all day
By the time Croissan'Time opens, the bakery's cases, shelves and other displays are filled with Europeanstyle cakes and tortes, individual and miniature pastries (the bakery offers 50 different kinds of pastries), cookies and breads (six to ten varieties), as well as an array of breakfast items.
"Anytime a customer comes in, even if it's just to buy a croissant and coffee on the way to work, we want them to see everything we have to offer," Casse says.
For the crew of 20 full-timers, which includes sales staff, cleaning crew and management, plus four "independents" who work part-time when needed, getting that big of a show on the road every day takes a lot of synchronization. The day begins at 1 a.m. and baking begins around 2 a.m.
At 4 a.m., specialty breads, such as eight-grain, carrot-herb, whole wheat with raisin and walnut, and oatmeal pumpernickel, begin their 90-minute to two-hour bakes. The first croissants go into the oven around 6 a.m. A second shift of four production staffers arrives at 8 a.m. to continue the baking until 4 p.m.
With his full-case-all-the-time policy, Casse admits that calculating how much product to prepare each day can be tricky. If in doubt, he prefers to err on the side of too much rather than not enough.
Even though the bakery's packaging of plain, white bags is not as fancy as the products, customers don't seem to mind. It is the handformed-white chocolate flowers and leaves on top of the Concorde Cake, the swirled miniature chocolate cigarettes atop the Chocolate Grand Marnier mini pastry, and the rounds of pure dark and white chocolate imprinted with the Croissan'Time logo that mark the chocolate mousse and other signature pastries that customers want.
Besides, says Casse, how many customers would drive miles out of the way to the middle of nowhere for a bag?
Croissan'Time French Bakery & Fine Foods...
a sampling of prices
Baguette, 12.25 ozs. ............................$1.95
Croissan'Time French Bakery & Fine Foods at a glance
Headquarters: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida