Grandma's bakery
Grandma's Bakery in White Bear Lake, MN stays organized by using the latest technologies.

Being organized is easy. Being disorganized is very stressful. These are wise words of bakery owner John Lupo, learned from 36 years in business as a retail/wholesale bakery with two stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of White Bear Lake, MN.

One of only 150 Certified Master Bakers in the country, Lupo is equally skilled in the art and science of organization. If he wakes up in the middle of the night with a good idea, he records a voice memo on his iPhone. He tracks his own business mileage by emailing it to himself and forwarding the message to the accountant. His office inbox is always empty. Inboxes are not storage boxes, he urges. Each of their 125 employees has their own mailbox. There are systems and order to everything at his place, Grandma’s Bakery. Here, label makers are almost as important as the ovens.

“Think of your office as a machine,” Lupo says. “Make it comfortable and useful.”

The owner of Grandma’s Bakery recommends “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker as two of his favorite books as reference guides. Lupo follows the 5S approach to maximizing business productivity:

  • Sort — Sort things to get rid of the clutter.
  • Set in Order — Put things where they belong.
  • Shine — Make it easy to organize and clean.
  • Standardize — Keep everything the same.
  • Sustain — Review procedures and results.

There’s never a dull moment managing two retail stores and a wholesale baking operation that produces hundreds of different bakery items that they deliver to corporate foodservice, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, churches, schools and civic groups.

Lupo keeps multiple types of files in his office for various needs. There is the “waiting for” file that contains 12 folders (one for each month) with reminders of what’s needed throughout the year. There is the “magazines” file where he stores formulas and product manuals. The “someday/maybe” file contains big picture ideas on his wish list. The “oddball order supply guide” holds a list of invoices and details from everything they’ve had to fix, and the “knowledge database” folder is another valuable time saver.

“We keep track of every problem we’ve had to fix and how we solved it,” he says. “Like a lot of bakeries, we’ve solved every problem at least once, but sometimes we forget how we solved it. This is perhaps the greatest time saver I have.”

Lupo firmly believes that people prefer to work in a clean and organized environment and nobody wants to be the “weak link.” There are also customers to consider when recognizing how important cleanliness is to your operation. “People love to watch what we do, which forces us to keep things very clean.”

Here are some other organizational tips and ideas that bakers may want to consider in various parts of their operations:

In the 1,300-square-foot freezer that holds 200 racks of product at Grandma’s Bakery, they keep track of a running freezer floor plan of every pan of product before it goes inside. He calls it the Kanban system. “The Kanban card system that we use is essential to replenish the stock in that freezer,” he says. Employees start from the top of the rack and work their way down. Once they reach the bottom, the Kanban card at the bottom of the rack specifies the reorder amount (the formula is also on the card). When the rack is empty, the card goes into the inbox.

They keep a scale model on the outside of freezer of what’s inside the freezer. A label is applied to a block of wood representing one rack in the freezer, which tells the employee what’s exactly on each rack. There is one block of wood for each rack in the freezer. This system affords the flexibility to organize products inside freezer differently based on different product needs throughout the year.

“We couldn’t do the holidays without it,” Lupo says. “There are so many different items at the holiday, so many types of cookies, 10 pans of this, 10 pans of that. We may only need a pan or two to bake off in one day. You couldn’t make all that variety from scratch and keep up with it. This allows us to make a tremendous variety on a very short time frame for the customers’ needs.”

Lupo strongly urges other bakers to use new technology tools to keep pace with organizational flow and best practices. “Start taking videos during your busiest days and interview your employees” he recommends. “Find out what worked and what didn’t work.”