Business and Operations
The Final Proof: Jan/Feb 2011
By Stephanie Ortenzi
By Stephanie Ortenzi
"Where’s there’s bread, there’s sandwiches,” says Laura Mulrooney of
Julien’s Pâtisserie Bakery and Café in Chester, N.S. She owns the
business with her husband, master French pâtissier Didier Julien. Since
opening in 1989, their focus has been traditional and authentic French
bread and pastry.
Catering can expand your business, but it can also take over, shifting your focus away from what keeps customers coming back
"Where’s there’s bread, there’s sandwiches,” says Laura Mulrooney of Julien’s Pâtisserie Bakery and Café in Chester, N.S. She owns the business with her husband, master French pâtissier Didier Julien. Since opening in 1989, their focus has been traditional and authentic French bread and pastry. Julien’s also offers a café, which has been part of the business from the beginning.
When Julien’s opened its doors in 1989, baked goods constituted 80 per cent of the business and 25 per cent of its revenue came from the café.
|If catering is right for you, it may create new opportunities for your business in the “celebration” market.|
“Once we got going on deli sandwiches and started cooking our own chicken, pork and beef for sandwiches, our customers were calling for soups,” says Mulrooney. So Julien’s hired two cooks to handle the savoury side of things, including a renowned lobster sandwich, which consistently sells out.
This is a fine piece of terroir worth noting. The bakery’s output is decidedly French. It’s imported, not indigenous, but authentic and highly desirable. Lobster, the jewel in the region’s crown of local foods and prized throughout the world, makes itself at home in a humble sandwich. This is an enticing, casual bit of luxury that’s garnered a great reputation for the bakery.
It’s also worth noting that, where there are sandwiches, there are sandwich trays, and there are likely to be quite a few. This part of Julien’s trade began growing quickly, and is currently a dependable and regular part of the business.
Of course, where there’s some level of catering, there’s often an interest in taking it up a notch. This is what happened at Julien’s, but Mulrooney wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“Sometimes we get requests to do weddings,” she says, “and we do them very rarely, only for special customers, and only if we can do a good job.” The reason? She finds catering all-consuming. “There’s the investment of equipment, and you need to rustle up 10 servers just like that.” Without taking her eye off her professional raison d’être – the care of a thriving bakery and café – Mulrooney is wary of any ventures that might jeopardize her business and her ability to run it. Besides, she says, “We bake all night. When are we supposed to sleep?”
Sometimes, not for 36 hours straight, according to Mario Cassano, owner of Annina’s Bakery and Café in Goodwood, Ont. Writer Michael McKay profiled Cassano for Bakers Journal in July 2009. What made the story so interesting on the catering front was Cassano’s declaration that he was using the bakery as a base for an emerging catering business. At that time, catering weighed in at five per cent of his business.
Today, Cassano’s burgeoning catering operation has grown tenfold, with a pretty sweet margin to boot.
“It was the goal from the very beginning,” says Cassano, who is no stranger to catering. In fact, he’s an experienced pro. What he’s not, however, is a baker. Cassano is a trained chef and sommelier. With buckets of catering skills, and because he has a designated master baker to keep the bakery efficiently servicing his customer base, Cassano can focus on the catering side of things.
But, he says, he couldn’t do it without the bakery.
The bakery affords him a constant stream of people who are already solid repeat customers, a foundation of traffic that has already tasted his food (the café does a fair bit of savoury takeout) and already knows Annina’s caters.
To jump to the next level, Cassano began advertising in the local papers. But his marketing began in store and went home with his customers after each visit. “We make sure that everything going out the door has our name on it,” says Cassano. Every bag, box and wrapper is branded with the company name.
The operation was already equipped for catering 500-person events. When things started taking off about four months in, Cassano decided to spend some money on an upgrade. For $90,000, he brought in an entirely new cooking line that included a grill, flat-top, fryer and more stoves, along with portable ovens, new fridges, a new freezer and tableware.
In just nine months, catering sales went from five per cent of his business to 50 per cent, with a 25 per cent profit margin.
Sounds sweet. Still, we don’t all rush to climb Everest just because it’s there, and just because we can doesn’t always mean we should. A baker/owner could try Cassano’s formula in reverse: bring in a chef or caterer to maximize facilities and traffic. Some operations may be able to scale up very comfortably. Others may not. For Julien’s, more is definitely not better. For Cassano, it’s a matter of “bring it on.” Whichever camp you’re in, there are pros and cons to your position. Before committing to making the leap into catering – or not – be sure to consider all the possibilities. / BJ
Stephanie Ortenzi (www.pistachiowriting.com ) is a Toronto-based food marketing writer.