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Baking Up The Perfect Batch

Tue, 10/05/2010 - 11:00am
Krystal Gabert, Editor

After nearly 20 years, Zingerman’s Bakehouse is still serving artisanal bread to the residents of Ann Arbor, driven by a commitment to quality products and the community they feed.

In 1992, when the owners of local Ann Arbor business Zingerman’s Deli decided they wanted to begin baking their own bread, they contacted Frank Carollo, a man with a passion for artisanal bread. Carollo jumped at the chance to open a bakery and opened Zingerman’s Bakehouse later that year.

Zingerman's Bakehouse uses over 120 labels on the packaging of its various products.

Zingerman’s business is unique — the company encompasses a wealth of diverse food segments and houses them under one umbrella. The Zingerman’s community of businesses includes coffee roasters, candy makers and a creamery in addition to the Bakehouse. Further, it operates a deli — Zingerman’s Delicatessen — a catering business, an organizational training business, mail-order services and a full-service restaurant.

Each Zingerman’s business is operated by managing partners who share stake in the company with Dancing Sandwich Enterprises, Zingerman’s parent company. And though each of the businesses operate somewhat separately from the parent company, they share a commitment to the Zingerman’s brand and to each of the other businesses and their products. Zingerman’s candy and coffee, for example, can be found in the Bakehouse’s store along with a wealth of bread and pastry products produced within the bakery.

Production Heats Up

Almost 20 years after joining Zingerman’s community of Businesses, Zingerman’s Bakehouse is serving up artisanal bread and other bakery products to the residents of Ann Arbor and beyond. At 2:30 AM trucks loaded with bread and pastry leave the facility for deliveries to the bakery’s more than 100 wholesale clients in the area, and by 3 o’clock each morning, the baking begins. Two more rounds of deliveries are made throughout the day to the company’s local customers. To fill this demand and that created by the retail store attached to the company’s production facility, Zingerman’s Bakehouse produces over 40,000 items per week.

The Bread Box

Zingerman’s bakes all of its products with attention and care, and its goodies give “word-of-mouth” a whole new meaning. Below are some of the Bakehouse’s most popular treats.

Bacon Cheddar Scone

Introduced to the Zingerman’s Menu: 2009
Annual Sales: 18,000
Fast Fact: Each scone is hand rolled and made with Nueske’s applewood bacon and aged Vermont Grafton Cheddar.
Best Served With: Scrambled Eggs

Old School Apple Pie

Introduced to the Zingerman’s Menu: 2007
Annual Sales: 2,000
Fast Fact: The pies are baked with a lard and butter crust and are only available when the local apples are in season.
Best Served With: Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Sourcream Coffeecake

Introduced to the Zingerman’s Menu: 1992
Annual Sales: 40,000
Fast Fact: This Zingerman's staple is the only Bakehouse product currently wholesaled nationally and is the most popular gift at zingermans.com.
Best Served With: Coffee (duh!)

Attention to detail is key, as evidenced by two specially-ordered Fringand baking ovens from France in which the Zingerman’s bakers bake their bread. The masonry ovens each contain 50,000 pounds of brick in the baking chamber and can handle between 225 and 360 loaves of bread at a time. For the loaves that require it, the tops are hand-sliced before being placed in the oven, and are brushed with water during the baking process in order to provide the right crust texture.

A Zingerman's baker braves the bake-room heat, loading hand-sliced loaves of bread into one of the bakery's two specially-ordered Fringand ovens.

Carollo can still be found each day in the bakery’s bread department, baking alongside some of the company’s 130 other staff members. “I love to make good food,” says Carollo, and his passion for his work could have something to do with the company’s steady growth. Beginning with only eight employees, Zingerman’s Bakehouse has grown over the last 18 years, now spanning two buildings boasting 16,000 square feet, and posting annual revenue of $7.7 million. Located in an unlikely spot for a consumer business — near the back of an industrial park — Zingerman’s Bakehouse’s retail store now sells $1.4 million in bread and pastries each year.

This commitment to quality products and a focus on the Ann Arbor community have led Zingerman’s Bakehouse to continued success and growth.

Beyond The Bread And Butter

While the sale of bread is still the bakery’s primary focus — comprising 60 percent of its total annual income — the company currently has a very broad reach, producing products from bread to pie to pastry to cake. The pastry department is thriving and currently makes up 30 percent of the company’s annual business. Pies and other pastry are baked inside two spiral convection ovens, ensuring even, consistent baking.

The cake department is a new and growing area of the business. In addition to full-scale wedding cakes, the cake-baking team makes between 100 to 120 small cakes per week, which are sold to both wholesale and retail clients.

In addition to the many baked goods produced at the Ann Arbor facility each day, Zingerman’s Bakehouse has found unique ways to extend its business reach into the community. Recently, Zingerman’s Bakehouse opened a wedding cake showroom, in which brides, grooms and their families can meet with Zingerman’s consultants to special-order the right cake for their event. The room, filled with catalogs and sample cakes, can be reserved for private meetings.

In the same building — purchased six years ago to help keep up with the Bakehouse’s rapid growth — is Zingerman’s Bakehouse’s new educational kitchen, which opened in 2006. The BAKE! program run by the Bakehouse invites local residents and groups into the facility to learn Zingerman’s artisanal methods in a hands-on setting. In the past year alone, about 2,000 “students” have passed through those kitchen doors. BAKE! even offers popular “bake-cations,” which provide week- or weekend-long instruction on specific baking techniques.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse also makes sure its employees play an integral role in the baking and quality control process. A daily tasting takes place in each of Zingerman’s Bakehouse’s departments, allowing employees to enjoy the fruits of their labor and ensuring consistency in taste and quality from day to day.

Counting The Loaves Before — And After — They’re Baked

A high-powered mixer blends ingredients destined to become a signature Zingerman's pastry.

In order to keep up with the increasing demand for their product and to temper the complications inherent in operating a business with such divergent arms, Zingerman’s Bakehouse turned to FlexiBake software. FlexiBake is a business management software package specifically designed for bakeries and food manufacturing facilities. Through the system, Zingerman’s Bakehouse has been able to streamline order entry and fulfillment, tracking orders through the baking process and providing delivery drivers with accurate reports on which items are to be delivered to which clients. These functions, in addition to increased accounting capabilities have helped Zingerman’s Bakehouse better manage its growing business.

The installation and transition to the new system has been trouble-free. “FlexiBake hasn’t changed our process. It just makes it easier,” says Jaison Restrick, Zingerman’s Bakehouse Service and Distribution Manager. And the company plans to roll out some of the software’s more in-depth features soon, hoping to have all aspects of the FlexiBake software system fully operational within the next two years.

The Perfect Batch

The company is committed to fostering growth in a way that keeps in mind the creativity and commitment to quality that helped the business grow to this point. Carollo chalks the company’s success up to their drive to operate differently, putting quality first.

“We did something that other people hadn’t done, and we saw an immediate response from the community,” he explains. And watching Carollo in the baking room, one can see that he still possesses this drive to get things right and a love of the product he and his team are creating. As one baker pulls a batch of freshly baked loaves from one of the Fringand ovens, Carollo shouts, “Nice batch!”

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