By Katherine Martin
Modern Baking Editor, Heather Brown (center) awards Porto's Bakery's management, (from left) Tony Salazar, vice president, production; Beatriz Porto, sales manager; Margarita Navarro, vice president and Raul Porto, president.
To improve customer experience, Porto's employees deliver cafe orders directly to customers' tables using a number system.
The makeup line in Porto's commissary is used to produce a dozen different products.
Similar to Henry Ford's desire to make affordable automobiles, Raul Porto along with sisters Margarita Navarro and Beatriz Porto have made it their mission to offer high-end bakery products to mainstream consumers. And, also like Ford, the key to Porto's Bakery success lies in automation and processes that provide a smooth procession from raw ingredients to finished products.
"With our ingredients and our processes, we're selling to mainstream America high-end products at regular prices and I think we've grown the most since going that route," says Raul Porto, coowner of Porto's Bakery in Glendale, Calif.
This dedication to quality and automation helped the single-unit retail bakery post more than $14 million in sales last year. While its sales are impressive, Porto's Bakery could not have achieved them without top-notch business management. For this, Porto's Bakery was named Modern Baking's 2005 Retail Bakery of the Year.
This winter, Modern Baking put a call out to its readers and the bakery supply community to nominate the best retail bakeries in the country. The nominations were judged on several criteria, including sales, product quality, management systems, merchandising, training systems, marketing plans and industry service. Porto's Bakery's success offers a model other retail bakeries can emulate.
Porto's traces its roots back to the family's native Cuba, where the siblings' mother, Rosa, made cakes out of their home. On the flight to Los Angeles to immigrate to the United States, she fretted about how she and her husband were going to support the family, Raul Porto says.
"When we landed, one of her friends from Cuba was waiting for us, and she said to my mom, 'I'm so glad you came because my daughter is getting married in three weeks and I need a cake.' And, so she knew what she was going to do," Porto says.
From the outset, the Porto family rarely rested on its laurels, constantly evolving to stay ahead of business trends. Rosa opened a 600-sq.-ft. bakery in Los Angeles in 1975. In 1978, the family opened a second location in Glendale. A few years later, they sold the L.A. shop, and moved across the street from the Glendale location in 1988. In 1993, the bakery moved again to its current Glendale location. And, in 2003, Porto's purchased the restaurant next door and also added a 15,000-sq.-ft. commissary in Irwindale.
"Two years ago, we realized we were growing every which way," Porto says. "When we looked at our sales, the bakery was growing, but the sandwiches were stagnant. Our sales were going up, but our customer counts were stagnant, so we knew that only the people who were buying a lot were coming to the bakery, and we had to do something."
The solution: buy the franchise restaurant next door, shut it down and expand the bakery by adding a cafè, complete with coffee bar. With the addition, the bakery grew from 21,000 sq. ft. to 28,800 sq. ft., including the cafè; a second floor party store, featuring a wedding cake consultation area and decorated cake ordering center; and a basement with storage and decorated cake and fruit tart production.
"After our latest grand opening, we saw a 40 percent jump in sales," Porto says. "Every time we expanded, we saw a 30 percent to 40 percent sales increase."
About 10 years ago, the bakery began expanding beyond traditional Cuban pastries. It shifted to upscale European-style products with a Cuban flair, Porto says. "We will not make any changes unless the quality stays the same or gets better," he adds. The bakery produces every product, except for chocolate and yellow cakes, completely from scratch.
"We stay away from the easy products to make. We like the complicated stuff that nobody else wants to make," he says.
The basis of Porto's quality is its ingredient selection. "We don't skimp on ingredient quality no matter what the prices are," Porto says.
Whenever possible, the bakery orders directly from manufacturers, made possible by its volume. "Even when we don't buy direct from the manufacturer, we always give them a call and try to establish a relationship. We explain what we are trying to do, why we picked their product, and how they can help us make our products using their ingredients," he says.
Porto's consistent quality draws 3,000 retail customers a day and 50 percent more than that on weekends. In order to produce the volume of products needed, the bakery has compartmentalized each department. Cakes are ordered in the party store, which has a separate entrance, and are picked up at a dedicated counter in the cafe. Pick up times for the ordered cakes are staggered, with the majority picked up by 3 p.m. and the last pick up time at 5 p.m.
Each day's cake orders are printed and placed in an order book by both the customer's last name and order number. This way, if the customer does not have the order confirmation with them, the sales staff can still find the customer's order in the book. Each report directs the sales people to the location of the cake in the refrigerator and lets the sales people know if the customer also ordered other items, such as sandwiches.
With more than 800 cakes going out of the bakery on an average Saturday, organization is vital. Reports are produced from a bakery software program that the family has modified. The bakery software serves as a database to run a variety of reports.
Reports for every department are run and distributed nightly, so each department knows what is needed for the next morning and the day after. The reports for each department only contain the information that is pertinent to that department to keep them easy to read.
Porto's has 18 employees in the cake decorating department alone, with production starting at 1 a.m. The first employees to arrive cut and set up the cakes. At 3 a.m., the icers arrive, and by 5 a.m., the cakes are ready for the decorators.
The best selling products from the cake and pastry department are the fruit tarts, then mango mousses and specialty cakes. "The fruit tarts have become such a big department for us that we had a conveyor machine custom made for us," Porto says. "We make hundreds of them, and we asked ourselves how we could use our volume to our advantage."
Baked tart shells are shipped from Porto's commissary to the bakery for finishing. Custard is automatically deposited into the tart shells. Once positioned on the conveyor, up to 10 employees can place fruit as the tarts move down the line. At the end of the conveyor, a
sprayer disperses a preset amount of glaze over the tops of the tarts to finish them. The conveyor speed can vary, depending on the number of employees working. "At Christmas, we ran three tarts a minute and had eight people working on the line with two or three more washing and cutting the fruit," Porto says.
Volume requires automation
"We're efficiency freaks," Porto says. "We've been able to offer highend products at reasonable prices, and the only way is because we're so automated." Much of the bakery's automation has moved to the commissary, which produces the majority of the bakery's products. Most products are still finished and baked at the Glendale location, but are mixed and made up at the commissary and trucked to the bakery two or three times a day. Porto thinks moving production to the commissary improved product quality.
Every bakery department faxes orders to the commissary every morning, so the 19 production employees know what to produce or pull from the freezer for shipment, says Tony Salazar, vice president, production. The heart of the commissary is the makeup line that is used to produce 12 different products, such as meat pies and croissants. It is currently set up to run three rows, but can be retrofitted for five.
The plant runs one shift, six days a week and relies heavily on a large blast freezer, Salazar adds. The commissary is currently running at 75 percent to supply the Glendale location, but also will supply a second location when it opens.
"I was aggressive in buying equipment before we could justify it," Porto says. The bakery bought a potato ball machine about a year before they thought it was absolutely necessary. But, with the bakery selling 5,000 potato balls on a Saturday, and the machine able to produce 50 a minute, the investment quickly paid for itself. Potato balls, a Cuban specialty, are mashed potatoes filled with seasoned ground beef, breaded and fried.
Porto's philosophy has been to spend money on equipment instead of hiring more employees. He has been able to successfully automate his bakery to improve production and retain quality.
Porto credits much of the bakery's recent success to the addition of the cafe. About 30 percent of sales now come from the cafe. A bakery and cafe together is a very strong concept, Porto says.
Porto's Bakery always offered sandwiches and beverages, but with the cafe and the busy lunch hour, the bakery had to make some adjustments. Since the cafe opened, beverage sales, including coffee, went up more than 100 percent, and a new product, smoothies, are selling nearly 6,000 a month. Sandwich sales also took off.
The capacity again called for a new system of food ordering and delivery. When the cafe opened, the customers ordered and then waited for their orders at the counter before sitting. This led to a crowd of people waiting for their orders.
Cafe brought changes
Now, after customers order, they seat themselves, and servers bring their orders to them, according to an order number customers set up at their tables. On weekends, as many as seven employees are dedicated to serving and bussing the tables.
With the changes in the cafe, the bakery hired a director of operations who had experience in the restaurant industry. Porto wanted someone who had experience dealing directly with foodservice customers, something that bakers often lack.
The focus on customer service also changed the way the bakery trains its employees. The bakery now has a human resources department and has changed its interviewing process. It developed a training manual and dedicated plan for bakery and cafè training. Trainees spend at least four hours a day for one week in training with a designated trainer, and name tags also note that the employee is in training.
Porto's is not finished tweaking its systems. The family is opening a second 11,000-sq.-ft. location in Burbank. Since only about 10 percent of Glendale's sales come from downtown offices, the family decided not to open in Burbank's downtown area, but rather on the main road to Burbank's airport.
The new location will be modeled after the Glendale location, but better, Porto says. "I'm hoping that Burbank can draw 15 or as much 20 percent away from Glendale. That guarantees us success in Burbank and sets us up for the growth we should continue to have in Glendale," Porto adds.
"Organization is what keeps us alive and functioning, but our growth comes from a commitment to quality. Quality is number one regardless of everything else," Porto says.
A sampling of Porto's prices
White cake, 7-in. ..............................$12
Cuban cake, 10-in. ...........................$15.50
Meringue fruit torte, 10-in. .............$21
Fruit tart, 8-in...................................$13.05
Mango mousse cake, 8-in. ..............$21
Porto's at a glance
Company name: Porto's Bakery