A Century of Service

 

“In cooperation with the Dunwoody Institute we have gathered the most practical and scientific talent and offer real service to any baker who has a problem to solve. All of us are of the trade, with a feeling of fellowship toward every baker here at this exhibit.”

Opening remarks by RBA president Eugene Lipp at the 1922 annual convention of the Retail Bakers Association of America

Founded in 1911, seven years before the Retail Bakers of America first organized, Roeser’s Bakery in Chicago still operates as one of America’s oldest retail bakeries. Owner John Roeser III chalks up their success to adapting to the ever-changing neighborhood. When his grandfather John opened the bakery on North Avenue, the neighborhood was dominated by Scandinavian, Norwegian and German immigrants. Sweet rolls, Danish, rye bread and cakes were the most popular items. After World War II, the next big influx to the city came from Poland. The bakery introduced paczki during this time. By the 1980s, the neighborhood shifted again to predominantly Puerto Rican. Cakes for family celebrations gained importance.

Today, Roeser’s Bakery continues to forge on under the day-to-day management of Roeser’s son, John Roeser IV. When asked how the family bakery has survived 107 years in the same location, John Roeser III offers a simple explanation. “Each time there’s been a change in the neighborhood, there’s been a new John,” he says.

Every decade of change required a slightly different approach to doing business. Each new generation ushered in a fresh approach to customer service and product offerings, as the older generation took a graceful step aside. All parties understood that change was inevitable, so it was best to embrace it rather than fight it tooth and nail.

In much the same way, the Retail Bakers of America (RBA) has withstood the test of time by embracing change at every critical juncture along the way.

A Rich History of Community

 

It was the spring of 1918, the same year World War I would end, when a movement in the United States began to organize retail bakers into a national body. On July 16 in Chicago, a temporary organization to be called the Retail Bakers Association of America is created. Eugene Lipp of Chicago is named president pro tem. The same year the Dunwoody Institute launches a baking program, which eventually leads to the establishment of the American Institute of Baking and attracts future bakers like the Entenmann brothers to Minneapolis for the next 80 years.

By 1919, the Retail Bakers Association of America holds its first annual convention Jan. 27-29 at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. John Roeser I is among those who attend. The convention had been scheduled three months prior but had been postponed because of the influenza pandemic.

Around this time, Dawn is originally founded as the Century Bakery by Eugene Worden and Grover Lutz in Jackson, Michigan. They choose the name “Dawn” because of the time of day bakers do their work. Dawn’s donut recipe soon becomes so successful that Worden and Lutz buy a bigger building and install equipment for mixing and packaging. In 1920 they form the Dawn Donut Company, the nation’s first industrial bakery mix company.

In 1928, the same year that Otto Frederick Rohwedder’s loaf-at-a-time bread slicing machine ushers in the beginning of packaged sliced bread, Joe and Daisie Busken open Busken Bakery in Cincinnati. Joe borrows $500 (a small

fortune at the time) from a relative with a failed cigar box company, puts an oven in the back of the store, and begins to sell bread, breakfast sweets and cookies. Joe and Daisie’s grandson Page Busken would serve as RBA president from 1981 to 1983.

Fast forward to 1970. Page Busken joins his brother, Joe Jr., in leading Busken Bakery. By then, breakfast sweets and donuts from the bakery in Hyde Park had a 24/7 hold on the lives of most Cincinnatians. The brothers continue to add stores, new products and new services: corporate catering, fund-raising programs and corporate gift-giving during the holiday season.

“In the early 1970s, the retail bakery business began to switch from production driven to marketing driven,” says Page Busken. “Before the ‘70s, whatever you made, you sold.”

In the 40 years that John Lupo has been a baker, the current president of the Retail Bakers of America has witnessed a dizzying array of changes. Few gas stations sold donuts in 1978. Frozen puff dough and frozen cookie dough were just gaining momentum. The retail baking world was about to redefine convenience. “That was a game changer. Frozen puff dough was a big time saver for us, and it opened the floodgates for a whole bunch of items,” recalls Lupo, who first opened the doors to his bakery (now Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake, Minnesota) in 1978. “You could really broaden your offerings and work less hours.”

Signature items at Roeser’s Bakery, like their devil’s food hot milk sponge cake, have been the same formula for as long as anyone can remember. In the early years, every item was made from scratch. But that was before the baby boom and two-income families. Roeser III’s generation faced a higher population and the onslaught of instore bakeries and Dunkin Donuts. “It wasn’t competition with another bakery down the street,” he says. “My generation was the transition into convenience.”

For three generations, Termini Brothers Bakery in Philadelphia has polished its reputation as one of the leading Italian bakeries in the United States, producing top-notch products including their signature cannoli. Since 1921, the family-owned business has grown to four retail stores and an online storefront, yet all production remains in the original shop.

The third generation, Joseph Termini and Vincent Termini Jr., continues the tradition that their grandfather and father entrusted to them. The family legacy of hard work and attention to detail still serves as the cornerstone of Termini Brothers’ success. “People are more health conscious now. Our customers are more informed about health issues than they were 20 years ago,” Vincent says. “You have to be able to adapt.”

Those retailers who bemoan what it was like to survive the Great Recession of 2008-09 have nothing on Busken Bakery, which opened its doors just prior to the Great Depression. The year was 1928, the tail end of the Roaring Twenties when America was about to swallow a hard dose of hard times. Joe Busken Sr. knew a good bit about the challenges of the retail baking business when he opened the first Busken store in the Hyde Park neighborhood. His father, Clem, had run a bakery in Oklahoma City after working as a route salesmen for Fleischmann Yeast Co. In Busken’s early years, Joe would bake all night and sell all day, counting every penny along the way.

By the 1950s, business was expanding and more locations were added. Joe Busken Jr. joined the family business in 1952 at a time when there were about 50 employees. An engineer by trade, he designed an efficient production workflow inside their first big bakery: “Commodities would come in through the back docks to a storage area, and the mixing and processing would occur nearby,” according to Busken history. “The heavy mixing zone would give way to six ovens: from the ovens, baked goods would move into the decorating zone or into walk-in freezers, which could also hold unbaked goods. From there, the goods would head to boxing zones and decorating areas back near the loading docks before being shipped to grocery retailing partners or one of the satellite Busken stores.”

Innovation would come again in the 1970s with Joe’s son, Page, at the helm. Supermarkets were opening bakeries, and competition was getting fierce. The industry was shifting from production driven to marketing driven, and Page Busken, armed with a business degree from college and a wealth of bakery knowledge from the family business, was up to the challenge. “In the 1970s, we introduced the bakery cafe, with breakfast and lunch, all before Panera was around,” Page recalls. “That was really successful.”

Other bakeries have followed different paths as they moved from one generation to the next. In Cincinnati, Servatii Pastry Shop & Deli has 12 stores throughout the tri-state region and numerous wholesale customers. The Gottenbusch family has been preparing fresh baked goods since the 1800s. Great grandfather George started out in Muenster, Germany, driving a horse-drawn wagon door to door selling his fresh baked goods. His son, George, attended Germany’s most recognizable baking school and received his “Konditor Meister” status as Master Pastry Chef. By the early ‘50s, George opened Café Servatii, next to St. Servatii Church — named after an Italian saint — on Servatii Platz, in the heart of Muenster, Germany. His son Wilhelm followed in his footsteps. He earned his Master Status, traveled the world, working in Australia, Poland and on an international freighter before settling in Cincinnati.

Now, the fourth generation has continued the family tradition. Wilhelm’s sons, Gary and Greg, both apprenticed in Germany. Gary continued his training and earned his Master Baker Certification in 2001. He is the third Gottenbusch to reach this level.

Poland was the home country of the Jucker family, which now operates Three Brothers Bakery in Houston. The Jucker family began baking in Chrzanow, Poland, in a building in which Napoleon had spent a night. For five generations and almost 200 years, the Jucker family has been baking traditional breads. The Jucker family estimates the first bakery in Poland opened between 1825 and 1841. The last known name for the bakery in Poland was Morris Jucker’s Bakery. When two of Morris’s children, twins Sigmund and Sol, were 10, they went to work at the bakery because there was a bakers’ strike in 1932, and there was no one to work. Everything was truly handmade because there were no mixers. The dough was placed in a trough, and everything was mixed by hand.

Sadly, the European era of the Jucker family bakery ended when Sigmund and Sol were 19 years old, and the family was sent to Nazi concentration camps in 1941. They survived the war and on May 8, 1945, Sigmund was released from the concentration camp after World War II ended. He was fortunate to have survived with his two brothers and their older sister. Then on May 8, 1949, Sigmund, Sol, and younger brother Max opened Three Brothers Bakery on Holman Street in Houston. They sold $19 worth of product the first day.

Three Brothers continues to be owned and managed by members of the Jucker family. Sigmund’s son, Robert, a fifth generation baker, now runs the business along with his wife, Janice. “The most important thing about our family is we are a family of survivors,” Janice Jucker says. As a tribute to the history of the family bakery, the Jucker family uses old wooden work tables as tabletops. Robert Jucker explains that you can still see some deep grooves in some of the wooden tabletops where bakers kneaded the dough for so many years. “It’s a unique way to celebrate something that we have had in our family for generations,” he says.

The Role of Education

 

At Grandma’s Bakery, their first wholesale order was a delivery for one dozen donuts to a local hotel that was experimenting with a continental breakfast program. What began as one dozen quickly grew to 10 dozen and word spread to other hotels and convenience stores in the area. By the mid-1980s, the bakery had three morning delivery routes all over the Twin Cities area. “When I started, bakeries were bakeries. There were no specialty shops to speak of. You were full line or nothing,” Lupo says.

As business grew they soon were doing more wholesale business than retail. Decorated cake business also began to grow. Lupo continued to study baking and improve his craft, working with the best bakers in America through the RBA. In 1989, he became a Certified Master Baker.

Today, the RBA is nationally recognized for exceptional educational programming and top-notch certification programs. Through the RBA certification program, members can earn Certified Journey Baker, Certified Baker, Certified Master Baker and Certified Decorator credentials. Throughout the year there are opportunities for bakers to attend expos and seminars.

John Roeser III still remembers his first RBA convention in 1976. “The RBA is a very important part of my life, and for my dad, even more so. There would be huge booths — Kraft Foods, Standard Brands — and we used to buy shortening direct from Armour. These people who worked the booths were a wealth of knowledge, and those conventions were the epitome of networking. The sales companies were so engrained in helping you want to do better. Nothing replaces face-to-face interaction. That’s where you really learn stuff. Watching a machine run on YouTube is not the same as being there in person.”

Lupo credits the rise of the independent specialty, or boutique, bakery for injecting innovation into the retail marketplace. “Bread bakers really started the movement to specialty items,” he says. “The level of everything has risen, and the public really likes it. It’s elevated our industry, and people are really interested in bakery today. The creativity that has flourished from independents is amazing.”

Responding to younger customers with different needs remains a crucial path to success.

“It’s a different world now, but that doesn’t mean the RBA doesn’t have just as important of a place,” Roeser says. “Think about this. Most millennials are into locally sourced foods and artisanal foods. The threat that millennials are to Sears and JCPenney, it’s the opposite for bakery.”

That’s why Lupo is so optimistic about the future, and the importance of the upcoming National Bakery Day, set for Sept. 14.

“I’m not saying we are recession proof, but people always want a little slice of happiness,” he says. “That bodes well for the future. There’s demand out there. There’s creativity. There are not enough bakeries to fill the demand. Just as an example, we just celebrated National Donut Day and we easily doubled the sales we normally do on that day. It was fabulous. At our bakery, we are just trying to do what we do better, and we’re seeing continued growth because we are doing better.”

The RBA is dedicated to helping bakeries flourish. The association caters to retail bakeries, allied suppliers, educators, students and other industry partners, and is committed to the success of the baking industry.

“Our mission is to help bakeries flourish particularly during times of growth, change and opportunity by providing the programs, support services, networking opportunities and strategies to help retail bakeries succeed,” according to RBA.

Lupo believes current RBA leadership is well prepared for the future. “We’re on a good path, and I am very excited. The RBA is great for business advice, support and networking. It’s like my chamber of commerce — that’s where we get the information targeted for our business. I live off that.”