Executive Pastry Chef Chad Durkin took the helm of this specialty wholesale bakery last year and is creating desserts with unique textures and flavors for foodservice clients in the Philadelphia area.
Kalamansi Crunch, Red Grits, Lemon Excelsior-the names are intriguing; chocolate velvet, chestnut spaghetti, vanilla snow-the descriptions evocative. Certified Pastry Chef Chad Durkin, owner of the specialty wholesale bakery Desserts International in Exton, Pa., chooses his descriptive words as carefully as his ingredients to let prospective clients know his cakes and pastries are anything but ordinary.
Last year, company revenue was about $500,000. Durkin projects double that this year. As of the end of last year, Desserts International had 17 regular clients of various sizes. Average orders range from $500 to $2,000. Six clients average $12,000 to $64,000 per order.
Durkin attributes much of the company's success to his mentor and Desserts International founder Gunther Heiland. Heiland, a globally renowned Certified Master Pastry Chef, started Desserts International in 1986 to produce handcrafted cakes and pastries for hotels, restaurants, country clubs, casinos and airlines. Prior to his retirement from the company last year, Heiland hand-selected Durkin as his successor.
Operating out of the original 6,000-sq.-ft. bakery, the seven-person staff at Desserts International produces and sells more than 100 varieties of specialty cakes, individual and breakfast pastries, petit fours and cookies. Durkin is constantly adding new products to the line, including at least five cakes and three to four individual-size products and petit fours per season, many of which are suggested during regular “open forum” sessions with the bakery's staff. The company creates custom pastries for clients as well.
Raised in a restaurant-owning family, Durkin, who had hoped to become an artist, has a particular affinity for creating chocolate showpieces and decorating and hand-painting cakes. He also applies his artistic talents to combining and layering different sweet and savory flavors and crunchy and creamy textures, resulting in an ever-growing selection of original and signature offerings for the bakery.
“I like to experiment with all kinds of things, such as adding white pepper to banana mousse, layering that with flourless chocolate cake and peanut butter crunch and topping the whole thing with swirls of curried caramel ganache to create our own version of one of Elvis' favorite sandwiches [peanut butter and banana sandwich],” he explains. “I'll often take classic ingredients, such as chocolate or caramel, and add an element of mystery, such as sage, rosemary or habanero pepper, to subtly accent the sweet flavors.”
An example of Durkin's flavor and texture layering technique is one of his newest pastries-Chocolate Royale. The combination of a rum syrup-brushed pistachio nut biscuit and chocolate flex (sponge), chocolate feuilletine and mousse dusted with vanilla “snow” quickly earned signature status since its debut last summer.
Innovative decoration is another hallmark of Desserts International products. A spray of dark or white chocolate takes on the texture of velvet. Light dustings of confectioners' sugar and cocoa become vanilla and chocolate snow. Unsweetened chestnut paste is thinned and sweetened with simple syrup, combined with Xantana and pressed through a pastry tip to resemble spaghetti strands.
A number of products also are given exotic names to command attention and encourage trial. The individual Kalamansi Crunch, for example, consists of a shortbread base, cocoa sponge center and mousse made with 64% milk chocolate and kalamansi mousses, topped with kalamansi glaze and roasted cocoa nibs. Kalamansi, a.k.a. calamansi, is a Southeast Asian fruit with a flavor described as a cross between a Mandarin orange and a kumquat. Red Grits is a raspberry gelee-filled patterned vanilla sponge cake finished with apricot glaze, and Lemon Excelsior packs a quadruple citrus punch with layers of lemon-spiked vanilla sponge, mousse, glaze and candied zest garnish.
Desserts International's wide variety of bakery products and sizes (cakes come as 8-in. and 10-in. rounds and full sheets) and spanning a range of price points allows clients, such as casinos, corporations and other institutions, to use the company as a one-stop shop for pastries for every format, from buffet to white tablecloth operations. One example is the Philadelphia location of Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), where Executive Chef Jack Shoop has been featuring Desserts International's cakes, tortes and other pastries on the deluxe buffet offered to patients, caretakers and employees in the institution's dining room since he took the helm last year.
When CTCA opened a facility in Goodyear, Ariz. last December, Desserts International also became its supplier.
Scott Campbell, executive chef at Downingtown Country Club in Downingtown, Pa. buys 100 percent of the desserts for the club's restaurants and banquet facilities as well as wedding cakes from Desserts International. He also includes the bakery's Danish and croissants when his members and clients request breakfast buffets as part of their events.
“Chad also often customizes desserts for us,” Campbell says. “In addition to providing the products, he lays out the entire presentation, sketching the desserts' positioning on the plate and suggestions for sauces and complementary and decorative components.”
Desserts International also supplies wedding cakes for upscale local hotels and country clubs. During peak wedding season from June through November, the bakery averages eight to 10 a week and at least four to six a week the rest of the year. Couples work directly with Desserts International and have the option to upgrade their cakes, which many do.
Foodservice clients have the option of ordering their cakes as plain, frozen layers to be finished at their own sites on an as-needed basis, or already filled and glazed, iced and decorated. Instead of a blast freezer, Durkin uses a 1,600-sq.-ft. regular freezer that operates similarly to a blast freezer. The freezer stays between -10°F and 0°F at all times and provides more circulation than the typical blast freezer.
In winter, individual desserts and petit fours comprise about 60 percent of Desserts International's overall sales, and cakes 20 percent. The rest is attributed to cookies, breakfast pastries and other dessert items. In summer, the percentages are reversed.
Desserts International's best-selling product is an individual dessert called Chocolate Marquis Pyramid, a moulded milk chocolate mousse with raspberries, vanilla crème brulee and chocolate sponge, sprayed with chocolate velvet. The bakery also offers petit fours in a variety of forms, including rounds, domes, pyramids and tarts. They can be produced in moulds (upside down to ensure complete enrobing) or cut from sheets, which provides a visual peak at the layers inside and are less expensive to produce.
The growing popularity of sugar-free items has recently led the company to offer a menu of adaptations of its regular 10-in. cakes, including Raspberry Creamsicle, chocolate mousse, strawberry and nougat. These cakes are priced at $21.95.
In addition to standard sugar-free selections, Durkin and his crew developed an original collection of “pie tortes” made with sucrée dough topped with apple, blueberry or cherry filling and coconut streusel. Upon request, the company can use maltitol to create no-sugar-added versions of the majority of its cakes. Many also can be made lactose- and gluten-free.
Durkin plans to grow Desserts International into a multi-million dollar company. For the foreseeable future, he is focusing on developing existing markets and orders from current clients.
“Despite the nation's general economic crisis, there are still people who have money and are spending it,” Durkin says. “Even at restaurants, diners will often splurge on a great dessert because it is an affordable luxury and makes a meal special. The more varieties of individuals and petit fours a restaurant offers on its menu, the more likely customers will be to order several and share.”
As for profit potential, restaurants can purchase an individual dessert for $1.25 and sell it for $5 or more. A $16 to $17 cake can sell for at least $4 per slice.
“My ultimate goal is to enhance recognition and demand for our brand, both among our wholesale clients and among their customers,” Durkin explains. “We want customers to ask their caterers, cafes and restaurants, ‘Where did you get this fabulous dessert?’ and we want our clients to be proud enough of our products to tell them.”
at a glance
Location: Exton, Pa.
Primary business: Specialty wholesale
Key personnel titles: Bill Glah, president; Chad Durkin, executive pastry chef; Jessi Tebay, assistant pastry chef
Market served: Philadelphia area and East Coast
Number of locations: 1
Product line: specialty cakes, wedding cakes, pastries and cookies
Facility size: 6,000 sq. ft.
Annual sales: $500,000
Production methods: scratch
Major equipment: vertical and vat mixers, batter depositor, reversible sheeter, rotary rack and deck/hearth ovens, glazing sprayer, decorating airbrush unit, pan washer, refrigerator, freezer
Bakery supply distributors: Swiss Chalet, BakeMark, Zilka, Qzina, Assouline and Roth, The Program, Wrigleys Nut Co., Julius Silvert
Plans: Grow existing markets
Desserts International …… a sampling of wholesale prices
|Chocolate Royale cake, 62 ozs.||$24.95|
|Banana cake, 61 ozs.||$23.50|
|Lemon Excelsior, 32 ozs.||$14.95|
|Plain cheesecake, 42 ozs.||$16.95|
|Bourbon pecan tart, 63 ozs.||$19.95|
|Apricot ginger crumb cake, 22 ozs.||$14.95|
|White coffee petit four, 3.5 ozs., per dozen||$10.95|
|Red Grits pastry, 3.2 ozs.||$1.50|
|Kalamansi Crunch, 3.5 ozs.||$2.50|
|Lemon Charlotte, 3.7 ozs.||$1.75|
|Hazelnut Fingers, 0.63 oz., per dozen||$7.95|
|Orange ganache petit four, 0.91 oz., per dozen||$7.95|
|Linzer Finger, 0.78 oz., per dozen||$7.95|
|Chocolate chip cookie, 2.8 ozs., per dozen||$9.95|
|Biscotti, 1.06 ozs., per pound||$11.50|