November 2, 2009
By Tuija Seipell
If you want an easy life, don’t buy a bakery. If you do buy one, and
still think you would like an easy life eventually, you do not run it
the way husband and wife Mark and Valerie Engels are running their
two-location Bubby Rose’s Bakery & Café in Victoria, B.C.
| Valerie and Mark Engels, owners of Bubby Rose’s Bakery & Café in Victoria, B.C. Photography by Ted Topping / Creative Insights Inc.
If you want an easy life, don’t buy a bakery. If you do buy one, and still think you would like an easy life eventually, you do not run it the way husband and wife Mark and Valerie Engels are running their two-location Bubby Rose’s Bakery & Café in Victoria, B.C.
As avid learners focused on ingredient and product quality, they work constantly at improving and perfecting their products and operations. It’s not the easy way, but it’s the right way for them.
An article in a Victoria newspaper about Bubby Rose’s a couple of years ago was appropriately headlined “‘It’s good’ is just not good enough.” In the article, Mark was quoted as saying: “I don’t let people get away with ‘It’s good.’ I don’t feel comfortable with anything less than ‘great!’ If it’s just good, we want to know what would make it better.”
With around 90 items in regular production and each ingredient and preparation method constantly under the owners’ scrutiny and subject to change for better, there is never a dull moment. Since the day they entered the bakery business in 2002, the Engelses have sought to improve every aspect of every product – taste, appearance, nutritional value, healthy qualities, consistency and ease of preparation.
|The mid-morning rush at Bubby Rose’s includes many regular customers who appreciate the food and atmosphere.
Before becoming bakery owners, Valerie worked in early childhood education, while Mark’s career was in restaurant and hospitality management. In 2002, Valerie was ready for a career change when the Rising Star Bakery, a neighbourhood bakery with a good following, came up for sale in their home neighbourhood of Fairfield, a well-established residential area within walking distance of downtown, seashore and parks.
Valerie and Mark bought the business and entered a permanent learning experience. The first thing they wanted to change was the name of the 879-square-foot bakery. “We created lists of attributes that we wanted to promote – natural, nurturing, homey, comfortable, loving, relaxed – and we kept coming back to Bubby Rose’s,” Valerie says. “Mark is Jewish and ‘Bubby’ is the Jewish grandmother, and Rose runs in both families: Mark’s mother is Rose, my middle name is Rose and my grandmother is Rose.”
Bubby Rose’s transformation continued with changes to the ingredients of many products, from baked goods to sandwiches, soups, chilis and pizzas. Whenever possible, they switched to more wholesome, organic and natural ingredients.
Four years later, they needed more space, especially freezer and storage space. They expanded by opening another Bubby Rose’s in September 2006 in a 1,550-square-foot former video store seven blocks away.
Today, they operate the healthy two-store business with 32 staff members. About eight per cent of their revenue comes from wholesale, mostly to local cafés. The product range is still wide – too wide, the owners feel. Bubby Rose’s offers baked goods such as cookies, bread and pies, plus lunch items ranging from soups and sandwiches to pizza, quiches and lasagne. Coffee is also one of Mark’s passions, so a fine selection of espresso drinks made of local Discovery Roasters coffee is also available. Many items are vegetarian, organic, Jewish or specialty – flourless, gluten-free – products. Mark is diabetic, and specialty items catering to diabetics are in the mix.
“We counted a few years ago and, unfortunately, the total number of items was around 110,” Mark says.
“I’d like to think it’s at around 85 now, and I want to see it at around 65, but every time we cut something out, it’s like cutting a toe,” he adds with a laugh. “We don’t feel right about taking something out that the customers expect to find.”
Improving ingredients is Mark’s passion. Anyone in the bakery business knows that changing a single ingredient in a single product is no small feat. To achieve a croissant, cinnamon roll or chocolate chunk cookie that not only wins awards in local publications’ “Best of the Island” reader surveys, but also has the most wholesome ingredients, looks good and turns out consistently well, is a complicated and time-consuming task.
The learning continues on both sides of the counter. “We also try and educate the customer about why the product does not look exactly the same every day,” Valerie says. “When you are dealing with organic and natural ingredients and individual bakers, you do not get a factory-produced look. It looks homemade, because it is! The quality is always good, but it may not always look the same.”
One method for educating customers is an in-store newsletter that Mark produces. In short-paragraph format that is easy to read while enjoying a snack or standing in a line, it talks about the ingredients – what’s happening in the world of wheat or what’s happening to honeybees – and profiles team members, preparation methods, news and other goings-on. Another successful education and marketing tool has been the website, www.bubbyrosesbakery.com. It has brought new business and has a lot of potential, which is why a complete overhaul of the site was underway in October.
The Engelses have divided their duties along what comes to each of them naturally. Mark oversees production and marketing, while Valerie is in charge of human resources and esthetics. A front-end manager and an assistant manager divide the daily in-store duties at both locations. Valerie does not bake, but is responsible for some specialty ingredients such as the vegetarian mincemeat for the Christmas season. Mark bakes daily only if a baker is on vacation.
“Otherwise, I get to ‘play’ whenever I can, experimenting and developing new products from time to time,” he says. “Baking is a most wonderful activity for me.”
Expansion is not in the books in the near future. “Our focus is on improving our bottom line and business infrastructure,” Mark says. “We must operate more smoothly before expansion can be considered. We have been tempted many times by enticing offers to open in different locales, but we have decided to keep our heads down and improve what we already have – for now.”
Things are looking good for Bubby Rose’s even though customers are paying more attention to their money. This can be good for a bakery such as Bubby Rose’s that invests so much in quality.
“If you are going to indulge, make sure that what you indulge in is really something very good,” Valerie says. “And if it isn’t, you’ve got to tell us, so that we can improve it!” Mark adds.
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