Down to a Science: Kneaders Bakery & Café

Once natural levains are allowed to ferment for 24 to 48 hours, depending on the type of dough, the head baker at each Kneaders Bakery & Café location leads their team through the locked-down procedures of baking 12 types of daily bread selections, not including seasonal options.

“In each store, we have a head baker who is trained to our specifications, so breads are consistent every day,” explains Neil Checketts, chief operating officer for Kneaders.

After 21 years in business, this 60-store chain, one of the fastest growing bakery cafes in the nation, has the daily process of offering delicious artisan breads to the public down to a science. Unlike Panera Bread and others, there are no central production facilities at Kneaders (each retail store bakes its own bread), and the bread flour comes from a single source.

“We use a very specific flour blend,” Checketts says. “We have an exclusive with Lehi Roller Mills, and they contract with farmers in Idaho for a specific grain, with the right amount of protein. That Idaho grain makes really great bread.”

Since 1906, Lehi Roller Mills has been supplying premium flours to customers ranging from consumers to corporate accounts.

Kneaders’ full-service, on-site working bakeries powered by artisan bakers continue to be unique within the fast-casual restaurant industry, a key contributing factor in Kneaders’ impressive expansion across eight states. In 2017, Kneaders opened four stores in two new markets located in Missouri and Kansas.

With new store openings this year in Idaho, Kansas and Utah, the company is projecting $110 million in sales in 2018 with an estimated 120 new hires across all markets.

Justin Alcorn serves as corporate executive baker at Kneaders, having worked for the company for more than a decade. He is certified in breads and rolls by the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.

“We have several individuals who have specific training from the San Francisco Baking Institute and the American Institute of Baking,” says Checketts. “Our breads are baked from scratch in Italian imported ovens (Polin brand), and our hearth breads are made with simple ingredients: flour, water, salt, natural levain.”

Checketts previously served as vice president of food safety and quality assurance at Kneaders. He has extensive experience in project, people and change management having worked in a wide variety of segments within the food industry. From 2011 to 2015, he worked as vice president of food safety for Sobeys, a national retailer in Canada with 1,600 stores. During his tenure with Sobeys, his role included oversight of regulatory affairs, private label quality programs and quality control functions for the entire organization.

Grand opening in Overland Park

Kneaders officially opened its doors to the Overland Park, Kansas, community during a May 10 grand opening events, including a special ribbon cutting with speaker and chamber president Tracey Osborne Oltjen, city council president Jim Kite, chamber board members and volunteers, and representatives of Kneaders franchise partner Four Foods Group, co-founded by Shauna and Andrew Smith.

Franchise owners Shauna, who is chief merchandising officer, and Andrew, chief executive officer, bring a wealth of energy and experience to their roles. In 2008, the Smiths embarked on their first experience with restaurant ownership. For this new culinary adventure, they chose Kneaders. For many years, Kneaders had been a popular restaurant in Utah County, where the Smiths lived, but it had yet to grow beyond that area. As the Smiths opened their first location, they began to develop big plans to grow this Utah Valley staple to new levels.

In 2009, they negotiated an exclusive multi-state development agreement between their Four Foods Group and GCW Corporation, parent company to Kneaders. In 2015, an additional 15 states west of the Mississippi were granted to Four Foods Group to develop up to 110 new Kneaders restaurants over the next five years.

The Overland Park location spans approximately 4,200 square feet and offers a customer floor space of 1,600 square feet, with available seating for 84 guests. The store will create an anticipated 40 jobs for the community. In addition to opening the Overland Park location, Kneaders celebrated their third Idaho location with their April grand opening in Twin Falls, and will open another store in St. George, Utah in mid-late summer of 2018.

At the Overland Park opening, Kneaders offered giveaways of its signature Chunky Cinnamon French Toast to the first 100 people in line at the public opening on May 11 and 12.

Known for serving exceptional European hearth bread, delicious pastries, fresh salads and artisan sandwiches, the Overland Park location marks Kneaders’ second restaurant in Kansas and the 58th location nationally.

“We are so grateful to the Overland Park community for making our grand opening such a great success,” says James Worthington, Kneaders’ chief executive officer. “We look forward to both serving a menu of high quality, made-from-scratch dishes and desserts while becoming more involved in giving back to our local community in Overland Park.”

Giving back to communities

Kneaders donated 10 percent of its opening weekend sales (just over $1,300) at the new Overland Park location to KidsTLC on May 11 and Emma’s Place for Exceptional Children on May 12. Additionally, Kneaders will continue to make a charitable impact on the Overland Park area through its bread donation partnership with Shawnee Community Services. Over the past 20 years, Kneaders has donated over one million loaves of bread to local communities. Kneaders has also raised over $350,000 for childhood cancer research with their HOPE Fights Childhood Cancer Campaign.

Located at 12180 Blue Valley Parkway in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb, the new location includes a retail shop with home decor, customized gift baskets and individual hearth and sweet breads available for purchase.

Customers can visit the store (or take advantage of online ordering at kneaders.com) Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Kneaders is closed on Sundays. Customers can now order gift baskets, home decor and specialty food items anywhere in the country by visiting Kneaders’ new online store, “On the Shelf” by Kneaders.com.

Celebrating a milestone

The Kneaders family marked the close of 2017 with incredible milestone moments, which included breaking $100 million in total sales and celebrating 20 years in operations with recognition from various high level elected officials, including the Utah governor.

Kneaders co-founders Gary and Colleen Worthington celebrated the company’s 20th anniversary on Dec. 2. Citing “their unprecedented entrepreneurial work,” the Worthingtons were honored by Utah Governor Gary Herbert and First Lady Jeanette Herbert at the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City, with an official proclamation announcing the milestone date as “Gary and Colleen Worthington Day.”

In addition, both the Utah County Commissioners and Orem Mayor Richard Brunst issued their own local “Kneaders Day” proclamations recognizing the Worthingtons’ business acumen and charitable giving, noting that over the past 20 years, Kneaders has donated more than one million loaves of bread (a donation value of $2,590,000) to organizations serving people in need. Kneaders has raised $580,000 for cancer research and children’s hospitals to date.

“We are so grateful to have been able to serve our loyal customers over the last 20 years,” Colleen says. “The love and generosity of each one of our communities is what has made Kneaders successful and that is what will continue to carry us forward.”

As part of its 20th anniversary celebration, Kneaders announced Utah customer Tazia Moss as the winner of the anniversary grand prize, a paid trip to the King Arthur Flour Baking School in Burlington, Washington. Tazia and a friend were awarded a two-day baking course with instruction from master bakers, learning how to bake flatbreads of India, Mediterranean breads, rustic spring tarts and cake, followed by a hotel stay in downtown Seattle while taking in the sights of the city.

Since opening their first store in Orem in 1997, Kneaders has focused on building loyalty by delighting customers with hand-crafted, scratch-baked, authentic European hearth-breads made with their 200-year-old proprietary bread starter, which is based around simple ingredients like flour, water and salt.

Origins of a bakery cafe

Decades ago, upon retiring as franchisees of nine successful Subway restaurants, Gary and Colleen Worthington began thinking about their next endeavor: scratch-made artisanal breads. Their interest in traditional bakeries led them to research and develop a restaurant concept featuring the highest-quality ingredients for authentic European hearth breads.

The Worthingtons’ endeavor led them to study at the American Institute of Baking and the San Francisco Baking Institute, where they trained with industry professionals in mastering the use of world-class levains, pure ingredients and baking environments for unique hearth breads. Following their studies, the Worthingtons worked closely with Lehi Roller Mills in their home state of Utah to develop an exclusive flour blend. The proprietary flour was rated as one of the highest quality blends among European flours by the San Francisco Baking Institute. Knowing they needed the right tools to create genuine artisan breads, the Worthingtons imported their first hearthstone, steam-infusion oven from Verona, Italy, and in 1997 the first Kneaders Bakery and Café was opened in Orem, Utah.

Twenty years later, the Worthingtons are still serving their original nine European hearth breads made from the exclusive Lehi Roller Mills flour blend, along with 42 handmade pastries, a variety of fresh salads and soups made in-house daily. Kneaders has become one of the fastest growing companies in Utah, expanding its reach to nearly 60 locations in six Western states.

Kneaders has received numerous local and state awards, including Best of State breakfast, best sandwich, best baked goods and best pastries. The Worthingtons are actively involved in day-to-day operations at their corporate headquarters in Orem. Colleen Worthington’s added touch of offering themed boutique retail items, home décor, seasonal decorations and beautiful gift baskets has made the restaurants a favorite spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner.