Innovation is alive and well for retail bakeries in America. You can pick just about any place in the United States and find someone, somewhere experimenting with something new. For example, savory pastries continue to gain widespread popularity, as well as nostalgic desserts with a modern twist.

To gain a clearer picture of what lies ahead for the retail bakery universe in 2015, we visited one of the most progressive cities in the country, Atlanta, to explore and examine the hottest trends in bakery, including retail and foodservice. We hope you find the following ideas from innovative operations in Atlanta to be both enlightening and profitable for your bakery in the year ahead.

Breakfast is served

Sugar Shack pastry chef Carmen Brady jokes that men should not be allowed to name a bakery. In June, the owners of The Fickle Pickle, a southern cafe and deli in the heart of historic Roswell, GA, just north of Atlanta, decided to open a new bakery in a former event space behind the cafe. It was a novel idea. Restaurants, of course, serve dessert. But how many run their own bakery in the back?

Owner Andy Badgett doesn’t think like everyone else. He prefers to shake things up once in a while. Having trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, before moving south to Roswell with his wife, Jennifer, Badgett started his successful restaurant career in fine dining at Asher. Then he did an about face in 2003 with the opening of The Fickle Pickle, now a local crowd favorite that serves specialty sandwiches and the best Cajun fried pickles with creole remoulade sauce you’ll ever taste.

The Lemony Lemon Brownies are a customer favorite at Sugar Shack in Roswell, GA.

Earlier this year, Badgett’s pioneering spirit took off once again. What if they opened a bakery in the barn out back where they used to host catering events? They could serve biscuit sandwiches, nontraditional vanilla glaze beignets and creative items like bagel bombs, which are made with bagel dough stuffed with jalapeños and cheddar.

Brady, the restaurant’s pastry chef, would take on additional duties as the baker for the new Sugar Shack in the Back. The name was her idea. Badgett wanted to call it something else. “I can’t repeat the name he picked,” Brady quips. Sugar Shack was Brady’s idea, based on the 1963 song of the same name by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs.

Badgett’s first culinary job was as an assistant pastry chef at a fine dining restaurant. He said he always wanted to open a bakery but thought it would be somewhere other than Roswell. However, given the success of The Fickle Pickle and how beloved their baked goods like chocolate ginger cookies and carrot cake cookies are by customers, Badgett decided it made sense to open a bakery on Canton Street.

The bakery has unique recipes for breakfast biscuits such as the Fried Green Tomato biscuit, Brie BET biscuit and the Ooey Gooey biscuit. Biscuits come four-sided and fluffy, stuffed with bacon, egg and cheese or more innovative offerings like fried green tomatoes, pimiento cheese or Brie.

Just as the restaurant has made a name for itself with its crafted sandwiches, the bakery offers more creative bites for breakfast including their bagel bombs, which are dinner roll-sized bagels stuffed with cream cheese, bacon and scallions or pimiento cheese and jalapeños, served gooey and warm.

The bakery also produces made-from-scratch scones, pastries, cinnamon rolls and hot, glazed beignets, all baked fresh daily. The beignets are different than most people know. They come in vanilla glaze or cinnamon sugar flavors.

Everything is baked fresh daily with pastries and cookies available first thing. The coffee served comes from a company called Counter Culture Coffee while the ice cream is shipped in from the Greenwood Manufacturing Company. Customers can make their own ice cream sandwich by choosing one of 12 ice cream flavors between two cookies.
The bakery serves five or six different cookies each day, including a rich, double chocolate, gluten-free option. Individual cheesecakes, fruit tarts, pies and an assortment of cakes by the slice, including red velvet, coconut and double chocolate also satisfy a sugar craving.

Badgett got the idea to open a bakery in Roswell after seeing how much customers loved the baked goods they sold in the Fickle Pickle Cafe. He wanted to open a bakery because, “the street has a lot of dinner restaurants, but they don’t have as many breakfast options, so we just thought that was something the street needed. We have been able to see the street grow. Even though the restaurant is in the back, we know that the street itself is very pedestrian friendly. We just thought it supported the street very well.”

A Cold Shot of Pie

Finding a sweet choice of lunch options is now easier for Atlanta residents with the eagerly anticipated arrival this year of Shake Shack. This heralded gourmet burger joint recently opened in Atlanta’s popular Buckhead district with a cold blast of unique desserts, featuring signature specialties like a local flavor-only concrete called the Pecan Pie Oh My, made with vanilla custard and a slice of pecan pie from Atlanta bakery H&F Bread Co. A concrete is dense frozen custard ice cream blended at high speed with mix-ins.

Now approaching 50 locations, Shake Shack also opened its first Chicago location on Nov. 4 in the city’s River North section. As the chain does everywhere it goes, it immediately connected with retail bakeries with a name in their city to create “mash-up” frozen desserts that are becoming immediate hits with Shake Shack’s loyal following.

Retail bakeries take note: The Salted Carame’L’ concrete on the menu in Chicago is made with pieces of salted caramel donut from Chicago donut shop Glazed & Infused. Also on the Chicago menu is Da S’mores, made with pieces of Bang Bang Pie s’mores pie. A single concrete at Shake Shack sells for $4.30, a double for $6.55.

Premium ingredients like Guittard Chocolate play a starring role at Shake Shack.  The chain uses Guittard in its chocolate frozen custard and also in many cocoa-heavy “mix-ins,” ranging from chocolate toffee and fudge sauce to chocolate truffle cookie dough.  “We think it’s important to celebrate American producers that not only make some pretty sweet chocolate, but who also take great care in focusing on the people that make it,” Shake Shack says.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Shake Shack sprouted from a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in Manhattan created by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) to support the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s first art installation. The cart was such a the success that Shack fans lined up daily for three summers.
In 2004, USHG won the bid to open a permanent kiosk in the park, and Shake Shack was born. This modern day “roadside” burger stand serves up gourmet burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard, shakes, beer, wine and more. An instant neighborhood fixture, Shake Shack welcomes people from all over the city, country and world who gather together to enjoy fresh, simple, high-quality versions of the classics in a majestic setting.

Donuts for Dessert

Atlanta’s own Kamal Grant knows how to kick a donut up a notch. The young entrepreneur and owner of Sublime Doughnuts, which is located near the Georgia Tech University campus in Atlanta, recognizes the vast potential of American retail brands overseas.

Sublime Doughnuts is not afraid to experiment with flavors. The Atlanta bakery offers customers a Whiskey Apple Doughnut.

Sublime has changed the way the people of A-Town think of donuts with his unique selection of donuts including the Crème Brulee Donut, the Salted Caramel and Reduced Balsamic Vinegar Donut, and the A-Town Mocha. His Fresh Strawberry & Cream Donut has drawn acclaim as one of the nation’s best-tasting donuts. Lately, Grant has been busy inventing all sorts of new dessert-style donuts, waffles, funnel cakes and more.

Grant continues to reinvent the donut into more of a dessert, like the Peanut Butter Chocolate Bread Pudding with Peanut Butter White Chocolate Ganache and Dark Chocolate drizzle. Atlanta-based Sublime is busy refining its brand and product lineup as it plots international expansion, not unlike other notable US bakeries like Dominique Ansel Bakery and Tartine Bakery (both heading to Tokyo) that are expanding to the Far East. Sublime has two locations in Bangkok, Thailand, with more to come, Grant confirms. So far, Sublime has three retail locations: one in Atlanta and two in Bangkok, Thailand. He is currently exploring options to expand to other places internationally, like Dubai.

“People in other countries want to know it’s from America. They want American brands,” says Grant, who has assembled a team of experts geared for expansion. “You go overseas, and you are the donut chain.”

One example of his innovative dessert donuts in Atlanta at Sublime includes the Sublime Doughnuts Suzette: Flambéed Doughnuts in Grand Marnier sauce, oranges with Vanilla Fleur de Sel Ice Cream.

His summertime inventions included the following: Pineapple Brown Sugar Rum Funnel Cake with Drunk Cherries, Strawberries and Cream Waffles, Honey Vanilla glazed Doughnuts filled with Watermelon, Honey Goat Cheese and Fresh Mint, and Blueberry Doughnut Pudding with Lemon Curd and Whip Cream.

Grant’s love for baking started at a very young age when he realized that sweets make people happy and he wanted to do things to make people happy. When an executive from Dunkin’ Donuts visited Grant’s high school foodservice class and discussed his trips to the doughnut research and development lab to taste the experimental treats it sounded pretty sweet. Grant graduated from Marietta High School in 1998.

After high school, Grant joined the Navy and was stationed in San Diego on the USS John Young DD-973, a Spruance Class Destroyer. Grant used his enlistment in the Navy as an opportunity to pursue his dream as a world class baker. Grant served as a Baker–E4–3rd Class Petty Officers on the USS John Young where he quickly gained the praise of his shipmates because of the delicious cinnamon rolls he baked.

The Navy not only gave Grant an opportunity to bake, his travels around the world exposed him to international culinary treats that combined flavors and textures that he had not been accustomed to in the US. While in Singapore, an ice cream sandwich made of multicolored bread and sweet red bean soup, in Australia, vegemite on toast and Milo, a malt chocolate flavored beverage, and in Dubai, shawarmas made with roti, an unleavened flat bread, and candy made of rosewater are a few of the experiences that would forever change Grant’s approach to baking. Pastries were not just about baking, they also represented culinary art.

Grant’s love for baking led him to the Culinary Institute of America after his enlistment with the Navy. He studied at the Institute from 2002 until 2004 where he focused on high end desserts, plate presentations, classical techniques and the flavors and textures of award winning chefs. During his time at the Institute, Grant interned with the renowned Chef Keegan Gerhard, at the Windsor Court Hotel, who was named one of the nation's top 10 pastry chefs of 2002 and 2004.

After the Culinary Institute of America, Grant refined his skills of the how and why at the American Institute of Baking, where he focused on the Science of Baking. Grant put those skills to use at his first job as a supervisor at the Flowers Baking Company. During his time at Flowers, Grant learned the value of “high volume, high quality" production.

In 2008, a quick stop to buy donuts one day in Atlanta ended with Grant reading a for lease sign to an empty donut shop. The drive home Grant started to think that it was time for his culinary vision to be realized. That vision was named “Sublime Doughnuts.” Grant’s desire to create led him to launch what would represent his vision of baking. Through Sublime Doughnuts, Grant hopes to present the flavors and textures from around the world on a donut canvass.