The Vitale family, who owns Vince & Joe’s Gourmet Market, knew it wanted its new 49,000-sq.-ft. store in Shelby Township, Mich., to be a full-service grocery store that included a top-notch in-store bakery. The only question was, “How?”
Vince & Joe’s began as a simple produce store in 1982 and has grown to encompass two large gourmet markets in the Detroit metro area. Still owned and operated by brothers Vince and Joe Vitale, the company has built its reputation on offering high-quality fresh foods and stellar customer service in a shopping environment that resembles an Italian open market.
The original market, located in Clinton Township, is 22,000 sq. ft. and does not feature an in-store bakery. But, with its Shelby store’s grand opening last fall, Vince & Joe’s moved into the bakery market full boar. The 2,200-sq.-ft. Shelby bakery is a 24-hour operation that supplies bakery products daily to its Clinton store, meets demand for desserts and other baked products for the company’s growing catering department and produces a full line of gourmet tortes, artisan breads and pastries for retail sale in its own department.
Change of plans
Customers will find no cookie cutter thaw-and-sell bakery products here. That is not what Vince & Joe’s is about. Roughly 85 percent of the bakery products are produced in house using primarily scratch/mix production. Specialty bakeries with loyal local followings, such as Zingerman’s Bakehouse, supply the remaining products.
When the Vitales were designing the Shelby store, they originally planned to rent out the bakery. “They didn’t know what to do with a bakery,” says Executive Pastry Chef Orlando Santos. “They knew they wanted a full service store, but they didn’t know exactly how.”
The turning point of operating their own bakery was a personnel decision rather than a logistical one. The Vitales already had hired Executive Chef Neil Cusumano, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, to manage the kitchen and catering departments. He leads a kitchen that produces an extensive array of side dishes and main courses ready for customers to carry out. In addition, Vince & Joe’s features a large kitchen island in the middle of the store where customers can get any meal cooked using ingredients they picked up in the store.
Having a bakery to produce artisan breads, pastries and specialty desserts to complement the gourmet meals and party platters coming out of the kitchen was a logical move. Santos, a former colleague of Cusumano, left his position at The Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh, a gourmet restaurant and country club, to try his hand at retail baking.
Vince & Joe’s bakery product line is gourmet, but also offers products for every day needs at reasonable prices.
“I still try to bring fine dining to the retail environment,” Santos says. “A lot of our desserts are things I’ve plated up before, but now presenting in a retail way.”
Adapting to retail
An example of adjusting a plated product for retail sale is the bakery’s variety of mousses. All mousses are prepared from scratch and used in most of the bakery’s cakes and tortes, but also are sold as individual size mousse cups.
The raspberry mousse cup, for example, is a 4-in. round clear plastic bowl with fresh raspberries, cubes of chocolate cake and florets of white chocolate mousse artfully arrange in the open container. The ingredients are simple, but the presentation takes the mousses to the next level. Mousse cups are available in about eight different fruit and cake flavor combinations.
Bakery Manager Gina Sciarrino leads the bakery’s merchandising strategy, finding ways to package and display the more unusual bakery products, such as the mousse cups. She works with her father, Vince Sciarrino who oversees merchandising for the whole store, to design seasonal bakery displays that
promote specific products. During Modern Baking’s visit, the bakery presented a striking self-service display of pastry and bread products merchandised at various eye levels with sunflowers and wheat décor, enhancing the bakery’s natural appeal.
While some fine dining products and techniques were easy to adapt for the in-store bakery, bakery staff soon learned that producing, packaging and merchandising products for retail sale was an entirely different animal. The in-store bakery has adjusted some of its production methods, hired skilled bakers and identified new equipment needs to accommodate the larger volume and variety of products required.
“In the beginning, I wanted to hand-make everything,” Santos says. By using bread mixes and frozen cake layers, for example, the bakery has been able to maintain quality levels and keep ingredient costs in check.
The in-store bakery staffs about 22 employees with the largest shift beginning at 7 a.m. On an average day, eight to 10 bakery employees man the open-production bakery, servicing customers and finishing product. The day shift has the greatest number of staff, but the bakers on the night shift, like in most bakeries, handle much of the critical mixing, baking and preparation responsibilities required to make the rest of the operation run smoothly.
“When I told my previous boss about coming here, his one word of advice was to find a good baker,” Santos says. He did not have to look far; Head Baker Lazo Madouskei came to Vince & Joe’s when he heard about the new in-store bakery opening. “I think he likes it here because we are allowing him to be a baker. His entire heart and soul is in his product,” Santos says.
Focus on breads and cakes
Breads and gourmet cakes generate about 50 percent of bakery sales. Bakers produce a line of artisan breads using a supplied mix and their own ingredients, including prefermented doughs. Varieties include multigrain, sourdough, pumpernickel, rye, country French, pecan raisin and walnut pecan.
Traditional crusty loaves, such as baguettes and Italian bread, also have become a staple for the bakery. On a daily basis, the bakery sells about 300 loaves of Italian bread alone.
Creating a product line that is familiar to customers has proven successful for the bakery’s mousse cake line as well. The bakery team produces a broad selection of tortes in a variety of sizes and flavor combinations using fresh fruit and high quality chocolate. Customers often start with the flavors they know and become more adventurous once they have sampled the quality. The least complicated torte–chocolate mousse–is the best selling torte, Sciarrino says.
Custom decorated cakes also generate significant business for the bakery, but decorators take a more subtle, elegant approach in their designs to stand apart from other in-store bakeries. Customers will not find piped carrot designs on Vince & Joe’s carrot cakes, for example. The bakery supplies custom cakes and wedding cakes for the store’s catering department as well.
After a whirlwind of a year opening and operating an in-store bakery literally from scratch, Vince & Joe’s is already planning to remodel the bakery department this fall. More production space will allow room for a much-needed double rack oven and an additional spiral mixer to assist primarily with bread production. “If I’d have known then what I know now, I definitely would have put in a rack oven,” Santos says.
A gelato café currently sits next to the bakery, but the remodel will incorporate gelato production and sales into the bakery, better capitalizing on the synergies of both. The store currently produces 23 flavors of gelato. The revamped bakery also will offer fresh-baked pizzas baked in a wood fired oven in view of customers.
With bakery sales averaging $23,000 a week even before the upcoming remodel, the Vitale family is no doubt satisfied with their decision to take on in-store baking.
“Considering they started out as a fruit stand in 1982 and have grown to this 49,000-sq.-ft. store, I think they are very happy with their decision,” Santos notes.