Servatiiat a glance
Company name: Servatii Bakery and Deli
Grace Gottenbusch, partner, Servatii Pastry Shop
Depositors have allowed the bakery to produce sheet cakes 10 times faster than by hand, says Baker Don Manyet (right).
Cakes, tortes and cookies make up nearly half of Servatii's sales in its 10 locations around Cincinnati.
Gregory Gottenbusch, rotating president of Servatii, earned journeyman pastry status from the Kopling School in Germany.
Wanda Gross (left) and Charles Hardesy work together to produce poppy and rye horns.
Head Decorator Robert Ayres rearranged the fruit pieces on top of Servatii tarts from a concentric circle to a more random placement. "We saw an immediate rise in sales," Gottenbusch says.
When Servatii Pastry Shop opened three new retail bakeries in twelve months, customers were surprised. But no one was more surprised than the well-known Cincinnati chain's owners.
Siblings Grace, Gary and Gregory Gottenbusch, operators of the 10-unit chain, had already been planning to launch their recently developed bakery cafè concept with the opening of a new location when they learned that another local bakery was selling its six retail stores. They quickly decided to take over two of them.
"For a family operated business like ours, getting three stores up and running in one year is a real stretch, especially considering the fact that we hadn't planned on two of them," Grace Gottenbusch points out. "But we saw a real opportunity and knew we had to go for it."
That willingness to "go for it" has served the Gottenbusches well over the past four decades, enabling them to grow their business from a single shop with peak annual sales of $220,000 to 10 locations with revenues of more than $7 million.
Their father, Wilhelm (Bill), was a third generation Konditor Meister (Master Pastry Chef) when he left his native Germany. He settled in Cincinnati, where he found a solid baking community and an opportunity to use his Old World pastry making skills.
First American Servatii's
In 1963, Bill opened a 3,000-sq.-ft. corner bakery in Hyde Park, a highend residential community. He named it Servatii Pastry Shop, the same as his father's bakery on Servatii Street, next to Servatii Church in the small town of Muenster, Germany.
At first, Bill focused on the European-style pastries that were his specialties, but soon expanded his offerings in response to the community's need for good bread and rolls. After 10 years, he moved his burgeoning business to a spacious 8,300-sq.-ft. facility a few blocks away.
In the mid-80s, Bill opened his third Servatii location in downtown Cincinnati. To maximize the efficiency and profitability of this more expensive downtown shop, he added a deli.
"The basic idea of the pastry and deli combination was a good one, but we made some design mistakes in the beginning, one of the most critical being a layout that had the bakery in one part of the store and the deli in another," Gottenbusch explains. "Customers came to regard them as two separate entities, which shouldn't have been surprising since each had its own staff as well as its own part of the store."
Bringing bakery and deli together
To bring the two segments into harmony, the Gottenbusches developed a concept they named Choice Harvest Bakehouse in 1996.
"Customers knew by our dècor and bakery products that the same people who operated Servatii were behind Choice Harvest, so there was a built-in level of familiarity and trust." Gottenbusch says.
Higher average sales and savings of about 20 percent in labor costs made the delis a winning concept. In the Choice Harvest locations, deli represented as much as 40 to 50 percent of total sales, compared to 20 percent at Servatii units with delis. But there was one major problem.
"Other bakery/deli franchises were able to offer a limited menu of products-maybe 15 breads, six or seven varieties of bagels, a total of 100 selections tops, many of which are variations on 20 basic items-which made for very high levels of efficiency," Gottenbusch notes. "But customers expect a much broader variety from a local company and particularly from us."
Although Choice Harvest Bakehouse was based on the idea of reducing the number of offerings from Servatii's traditional 400 plus products down to about 200, customers wanted more. The result was that, as the menu expanded, the differences between the Choice Harvest and Servatii locations became increasingly blurred.
"We felt that the Choice Harvest concept had done its intended job of highlighting our deli operation, so last summer we decided to bring everything back under one name again to strengthen our overall brand identity and presence in the marketplace," she explains.
Of Servatii's 10 locations, five have traditional delis and four offer deli catering. The newest store, opened last fall, launched a third concept, Servatii's Cafè.
"When Dad came over from Europe, cafès didn't have the cache they do now. They were pretty much seen as all-day coffee diners," Gottenbusch says. "Now cafè is a hot concept with an upscale, yet accessible feel that fits right in with where we're going."
Central bakery supplies units
The cafè and other Servatii locations are supplied by a central bakery. Expanded last November from 18,000 to 35,000 sq. ft., the central bakery provides fresh and preproofed, flash frozen products to the company's retail stores and to wholesale customers, which account for 20 percent of Servatii's total sales.
Eight of the Servatii locations have small convection ovens in front for baking off pretzels, pretzel sticks, raspberry cheese croissants, M&M™ cookies and cinnamon rolls. The other two units are cold sites.
"Before we centralized several years ago, we used to ice and decorate cakes at the Hyde Park store and do deli production at another store. That made for a lot of hubs to connect every morning," she recalls. "Now we have a much better flow. The ingredients come in the one dock, are stored close by, enter the production area, get processed and are distributed out the back door."
The central bakery expansion also allowed the Gottenbusches to purchase time-and labor-saving equipment, including a 45-ft. multi-purpose production line and four depositors. Although Baker Don Manyet prefers to mix sponge, angel food and chiffon cake batters by hand to maintain a lighter texture, he was surprised to discover that he could run the batters through the depositor without squeezing the air out.
"I do hundreds of sheets a week, and the depositor has allowed me to do them 10 times faster than when I spread the batter by hand," Manyet notes. "We have four of them and we use them for everything, including depositing and icing cookies."
Build profits with wedding cakes
Besides foodservice, the Gottenbusches also are focusing on wedding cakes as a profit center for their stores. In two of the older locations, the delis have been converted into wedding cake display and consultation centers.
"Currently we do about 10 to 15 wedding cakes a week, but we saw that our business in that area was dying down because others were aggressively marketing their wedding cakes and we weren't," Gottenbusch says. "We always had a space for the cakes in our stores, so all we really had to do was showcase that space by decorating with sample designs, adding photo albums and providing seating for consultation. Our sales have already picked up. The fact that Robert [Servatii's head decorator] won silver in the national decorating competition in California hasn't hurt either."
Cincinnati is a very competitive town for retail bakeries, with neighborhood shops on just about every corner. And, for 40 years, Servatii has remained a consistent stand-out in the highly competitive Greater Cincinnati market by creating signature product offerings ranging from the almond sponge Palermo Torte covered with chocolate truffles and filled with pistachio and amaretto buttercream, to light and airy French rum macaroons.
Following in their father and grandfather's footsteps, Gary and Gregory honed their baking skills at the Kopling School in Muenster, Germany, where Gary specialized in bread and Gregory earned his journeyman status in pastry. Gary earned his certified master bakery certification in 2000 through RBA-The Retailer's Bakery Association.
The two brothers rotate the title of president with their sister Grace, a graduate in Entrepreneurial Studies at Xavier University in Cincinnati. They all have a hand in research and development.
"It's a blessing and a curse to be known for everything from French patisserie to Danish pastry and from bagels to Irish soda bread¯and heaven help us if we try to drop even one variety of donut from our menu," Gottenbusch says. "But it also gives us the opportunity to evolve along with our customers' tastes and preferences, so we can live up to the tagline in our new radio spot that describes Servatii's as 'the German bakery with the Italian name and the taste that everyone loves!'"
Servatii builds sales with unique products
To a Cincinnatian, no dessert is more satisfying to a sweet tooth than a chili-, onion-and cheesetopped Coney. But only if it is made by Servatii's Pastry Shop and Deli.
In the Servatii version of the hearty sandwich, the hot dog and bun are made from cleverly iced cake, while the shredded cheddar is yellow-tinted coconut. And the Cheese Coney isn't the only traditionally savory snack to which Servatii's has given a signature sweet twist.
"We also do three-layer burger, deep dish pizza and taco cakes," says Grace Gottenbusch, who shares the helm of Cincinnati's Servatii Pastry Shop and Deli 10-store chain with her brothers Gary and Gregory. "Decorated cakes and cookies represent 20 percent of our total sales and we're always coming up with new, fun ideas that will catch our customers' attention."
Aside from its Cincinnati snacks line, Servatii also sells a lot of flowerpot cakes, with a chocolate truffle cake pot and artificial flowers sprouting from chocolate cake crumb dirt. Another fast-moving product is the fondanticed, hand-decorated smile face cookies.
"We sell about 100 dozen of the smile faces every week and another 75 dozen cookies decorated in seasonal designs, such as snowmen for winter and sunglasses for summer," Gottenbusch notes.
Servatii also offers 6-lb. plain soft pretzels for $15.45. During a normal week, Grace estimates that the store sells between six and twelve, and more than 50 during holidays.
"With the plain pretzel, customers usually buy one of the three dips we sell for 65 cents per 2-oz. container or $5.95 per pound," she notes. "That's a very profitable add-on for us."
|Servatii sampling of prices|
|Buttercrust bread, 1 lb||$1.95|
|Championship bread, 1 lb||$2.55|
|Sourdough bread, 1 lb||$2.55|
|French bread, 14 ozs||$1.75|
|Brownies, 2 ozs||$0.65|
|Croissants, 3 ozs||$0.85|
|Sesame sandwich pretzel, 6 ozs||$0.50|
|Bagel, 4 ozs.||$0.50|
|Asiago bagel, 4 ozs.||$0.85|
|Palermo torte, 8 ins.||$22.45|
|Single layer fruit torte, 8 ins.||$10.95|
|Burgundy chocolate mousse torte, 8 ins.||$21.45|
|Cheese Coney cake||$15.45|
|Muffin, 5 oz.||$1.10|
|Smile face cookie, 4 ozs.||$0.75|
|Rum macaroon, per lb||$14.10|
|Butter tea cookies, per lb.||$8.25|
|Chocolate chip cookies, 1 doz.||$3.25|