Images courtesy of Porto's Bakery & Cafe and Busken Bakery
What works in one part of the country does not necessarily apply to another. Southern California and Cincinnati are polar opposites in ways: one is a Midwest city deeply rooted in German heritage that became home to a number of Fortune 500 companies, the other is known for cultural diversity, sunny beaches and a place where everyday people dream of becoming stars.

This is the story of two successful retail bakeries in two distinctly different locations: Busken Bakery in Cincinnati and Porto’s Bakery & Cafe in Southern California. Each is run by families committed to hard work and innovation, with a rich history of more than 50 years in business. These are a few choice secrets to their success.

Porto’s Bakery & Cafe

Any of the 6 million-plus customers who dine at one of four Porto’s locations in Southern California understands the difference between good and exceptional customer service.

At Porto’s, the long lines move rapidly. (“We serve 100 people every 12 minutes,” says Beatriz Porto, vice president of community relations.) A server greets you from behind the counter and politely assures you they’ll take care of anything you want to order (Cuban sandwich plates, potato balls or guava and cheese pastries visible behind the glass cases), and, once you pay, hands you an electronic pager to take to your table. Forget about those annoying devices that light up when your order is ready. Porto’s waitstaff brings your food directly to you because the pager tells them exactly where you’re seated.

Image courtesy of Porto's

“The biggest thing we learned was that customer service had to be treated the same as quality and pricing. Customer service has to have the same value,” Porto says. “When we first started adding new locations, we had to learn how to delegate. We had to put a system in place. That was the biggest learning curve for us.”

Founded in 1960 by Rosa and Raul Porto Sr., Porto’s operates locations in Burbank, Glendale, Downey and Buena Park, and plans to open a fifth store later this year in another Southern California city, West Covina. In addition, Porto’s is launching a new “Porto’s Bake at Home” product line that will be available nationwide through online ordering on the bakery’s newly redesigned website, Porto says that frozen products (their famous pastries, potato balls and much more) from Porto’s Bake at Home will be shipped with baking instructions to customers across the country.

Today, Porto’s has 1,200 employees. Daily reports let Porto’s managers know all the pertinent details: how many customers waited in line at each location, how many daily tickets, average check, etc. “All this technology we use now,” Porto says, “it’s fabulous.” Such attention to detail is vital because on any given Saturday, Porto’s will serve up to 15,000 customers. “We need to be aware of millennials; they want choices,” she adds. “We are now doing more seasonal items.”

Busken Bakery

Image courtesy of Busken Bakery
Busken’s store in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Cincinnati, which is attached to their production facility, opened in 1963. This remains their highest volume store and has been open 24 hours a day since day one, explains Brian Busken, who is vice president of the company today. His grandfather Joe Busken “bet the farm” on this location when he borrowed against his home to finance the project. He consolidated all bakery production to this location and decided to keep the store open 24 hours a day to accommodate all of the third-shift industry that was located around this store, including a General Motors factory. “The store was an immediate success and remains so today,” Brian Busken says.

Today, Busken Bakery operates six retail stores and does an increasing amount of wholesale business (closing in on 50% of total sales) with supermarket and convenience store chains. “We partner with certain channels to put our signature products (donuts, iced and tea cookies) that are highly desirable in the paths of more customers,” Brian Busken says. “Our products are in 120 convenience stores and 60 to 80 Kroger stores.”

The company is also retooling the look of its retail store concept with new graphics and a modern color palette, starting with Busken’s Kenwood location. They are filling the store with “good smells” by baking cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies in close proximity to customers, striving to emphasize the fresh baked component.

Brian Busken points to the importance of knowing your numbers and where they are at all times to ensure your bakery is profitable. “It comes down to the importance of three measurements: controlling stales, watching sales in the store and customer counts, and managing labor costs. If you don’t know these numbers, you can quickly get into trouble.”