|Owner Alex Gori, here with his wife Teresa, designed his new bakery to fit his custom needs.|
Gori sketched the design of the new bakery on three taped-together pieces of graph paper. That hand-drawn sketch now occupies a place of honor in his tiny office. It is a point of pride that every square foot of the 600-sq.-ft. retail shop and 2,600-sq.-ft. production area is used efficiently.
In the front of the shop, Gori organized the store by product/category line, keeping breakfast items separate from cakes and pastry, with two registers to handle customers with different needs and time schedules.
He set up deliveries to come into a contained storage space to avoid interrupting the busy production area. A central walk-in refrigerator/freezer separates the self-contained decorating area from the din of the ovens and production.
Gori, whose 65 percent wholesale and 35 percent retail business draws customers from north New Jersey as well as commuters heading to and from the New York boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn, made some conscious cosmetic decisions when he outfitted the new bakery.
“The other place was very traditional, all white, everything matched. The ‘it’s a bakery, paint it white,’ look,” he says. In the new space, he used Italian tile and painted the walls a terra cotta color. He also installed custom showcases and neon signs. The neon Pastry Chef sign, along with neon signs in the shape of a coffee cup and a piece of cake added another $3,000 to his costs, but he believes the signs set the right mood.
“As soon as we moved, I wanted there to be a buzz, a sense of excitement about the place, “ Gori adds.
He also removed several rows of outside brick below the front windows, allowing for larger plate glass to entice passers-by into the store. “That was an extra $10,000, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Anybody walking by can now see directly into the shop,” he says.
| After moving, The Pastry Chef sales increased 20 percent within a year. |
With his $700,000 investment, the retail business increased 20 percent in the first 10 months after the move.
While investing in cosmetic finishes was important to him, Gori’s real money was spent buying equipment and outfitting the production area exactly to his specifications. Aside from the cappuccino machine out front, which is easy to operate and makes lattes that rival Starbucks’, most of the investment was in the back.
Expanded walk-in refrigeration/freezer space was key, but Gori wanted the main walk-in to be accessible from several sides. He installed a 10-ft. by 20-ft. walk-in refrigerator/freezer in the center of the production area with doors on two sides. He also sunk the freezer six ins. below the floor, so the entrance is flush with the floor. Employees no longer have to push fully loaded racks uphill into the freezer. Two new 30-pan rack ovens and a 20-pan washer were the other big-ticket items.
Focusing on wholesale
In the 10 years he’s been in business, Gori’s emphasis on the wholesale market has grown. His business has grown incrementally, increasing at least 30 percent annually since the first year of $250,000 in sales.
“I had to concentrate on retail in the beginning, because I was doing everything and couldn’t go out and sell,” he says. “Money was tight, and we were just making it. In the second year, I got the wholesale going.”
The wholesale business started with packaged cookies for small grocery stores under The Pastry Chef label, but has since grown to include restaurants, caterers, country clubs, casinos, a six-chain supermarket, delis and specialty stores. His biggest account is an Atlantic City casino that buys an average of 9,000 miniature pastries and cookies every week.
“I think we have a good mix of customers, and it’s growing as I continue to develop new recipes,” he says.
Gori handles all new product research and development, much of it requested by his wholesale customers. For example, a supermarket wanted a new seven-layer cake, and it now buys 800 at a time.
“Sometimes the simplest ideas are what they like,” he says. The same supermarket also wanted 8-in. tarts, and Gori developed several different types. “As an afterthought, to make an even dozen, we did a cream puff tart–basically chocolate dipped cream puffs inside a tart shell filled with cream. They fell off their chair, and that was the easiest idea we sent them.”
|The Pastry Chef recently switched to cake mixes to help maintain consistency.|
Although The Pastry Chef is predominantly a scratch operation, Gori has introduced some mixes and bases into production. The bakery is now 70 percent scratch and 30 percent mixes and bases.
“We recently switched to vanilla and chocolate mix for some of the cakes,” Gori says. “I find I’m getting a more consistent, moist product, especially with the wedding cakes.” The bakery had experienced problems with the bottom layers of a stacked cakes not being able to withstand the weight of the cake. Switching to a mix solved the problem, so Gori began using mixes for many of his cake varieties.
“I think that in today’s world, it’s rare to have 100 percent scratch operations and be successful,” he says. “Concentrate on what you do well, then provide excellent product to fill a need. The ‘if it’s not made here, I can’t sell it’ mentality doesn’t really work anymore.”
Gori plans to purchase a designated production space and concentrate fully on a wholesale operation. In his current bakery, he feels he is only five to 10 good customers away from being at capacity.
The complete switch to wholesale does have a downside for Gori. “I’d miss the retail. I love the customers. But, I haven’t taken a vacation in seven years. I don’t believe in getting too comfortable, and the customers always have to come first.”
The Pastry Chef....at a glance
Headquarters: Tinton Falls, N.J.
Sales breakdown: 65% wholesale and 35% retail
Market served: 50-mile radius, including central and north New Jersey and commuters to/from Brooklyn and Staten Island
Bakery size: 3,200 sq. ft.
Key personnel: Alex Gori, owner/president
Founded: June 1996
Product line: Retail–bread, 10%; breakfast, 20%; pastry, 25%; cakes, 25%; cookies, 20%; Wholesale–pastry, 50%; cakes, 40%; cookies, 10%
Production method: scratch, 70%; mixes/bases, 30%
Number of employees: 20
Major equipment: vertical mixers, divider/rounder, proofer, two rack ovens, pan washer
Plans: purchase a production-only facility for wholesale business
Bakery supply distributors: Otto Brehm
The Pastry Chef....a sampling of prices
Novelty cake… $14.00
Half sheet cake… $48.00
Full sheet cake… $90.00
Apple pie, 8 ins.… $8.00
Fresh fruit tart, 9 ins.… $15.00
Italian load, 24 ozs.…$3.00
Cinnamon raisin bread, 1 lb… $3.75
Little bit of novelty pays off
| Decorator Kathy Altman designs 12 unique specialty cakes for every holiday. |
Kathy Altman, a decorator with almost 30 years of experience, had left the well-known Ritz Bakery in Manasquan. “I’d heard of Kathy 10 years ago,” Gori says. “The Ritz was top dog for a long time, and her name just kept coming up.”
Gori’s wedding cake business was exploding, and he needed help. “I sent word that I was interested in talking to her, and I waited,” he says.
When the two finally sat down to talk, Altman agreed to join The Pastry Chef team, with one caveat. Because of her husband’s schedule of active duty in Iraq, she wanted to wait six months, until June 2005, to start the new job. Although it was difficult not having the seasoned decorator for the busy wedding and holiday season, the wait proved worthwhile.
Altman has taken over much of the wedding cake business, including creating a cake she calls the sand castle. Designed to look like a sand castle on a beach, the cake’s “sand” is actually finely ground graham cracker crumbs, although the pail, shovel and shells that go with the tableau are real.
“While it’s not traditional, it’s popular for couples who are having a beach wedding,” Gori says. The Pastry Chef sells an average of 20 wedding cakes weekly, with the traditional stacked, tiered cake the most popular design.
|Altman’s specialty is making realistic looking cakes, such as this hot dog.|
For Halloween, she created a Frankenstein cake, a haunted house made of gingerbread, cakes haunted with hovering ghosts and a pumpkin that looked real enough to carve. Her summer designs include an incredible Weber barbeque grill, complete with sizzling hot dogs and burgers and meringue “flames,” as well as a cake that looks uncannily like an Italian sub sandwich.
Best of all, most of the average $14 price tag for each novelty cake is profit. “I could charge a lot more for them, but I want to keep the price low to help move the cakes out of the cases,” Gori says. “I never expected the novelty cakes to take off like they have, but our customers love them. They’re a lot of fun.”