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Recipe for success
Local bakers find ingredients to compete
(Published March 20, 2006)

By ARIEL TUNG KAH YEE
Staff Writer

The "recipe for success" has found common ground in the bakery business with all-natural ingredients, homemade products, special designs and even catchy names for baked goods.

Furin's, a trademark in the upscale neighborhood of Georgetown for its handmade cakes and cookies with special designs, started out as a catering-cum-café business in the 1980s. Subsequently it incorporated a bakery business.

"I started the bakery because customers wanted to have special order cakes," the 72-year-old owner, Bernard Furin, said. "Our signature handmade iced cookies are made in all sorts of designs from flags to corporate logos, whatever the customers want."

The special order cakes are so popular that they amount to 90 percent of Furin's bakery business.

"More and more businesses are using ready-made ingredients. But we make everything from scratch, even the buttercream icing on the cakes," Furin said. "We make just about any designs the customer wants -- for example, cakes with stained-glass windows. You wouldn't be able to find that at a supermarket bakery."

Heller's Bakery also credits its sweet-smelling success to its wide range of handmade cakes, pastries and baked goods that are different from those offered by a supermarket bakery.

"They may offer lower prices, but you wouldn't know where they get their products from or whether they make it themselves. On the other hand, our customers know that we make our products fresh and good," said Aleksander Duni, the elder of the two owner-brothers.

Heller's Bakery has been a historic name in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood since the 1920s, but it has changed hands five to six times. Undaunted by the fact that the previous owner went out of business after three years, the Duni brothers were determined to pursue the bakery and café business in its original name, concept and looks.

"Nothing has changed, from the exterior look, the sign above the door, to the interior furnishing," Duni explained. "We want to keep Heller's Bakery the way it has been known."

A native of Greece, Duni and his family have lived in Mount Pleasant since 1998.

"We recognize the potential of a neighborhood bakery from the perspective of being Mount Pleasant residents ourselves," Duni said. "I observed that people will come to the bakery even if it is just ordinary. If you make it good, business will be excellent."

His far-sightedness has proven correct. The Duni brothers recently celebrated the business's first-year anniversary on Feb. 28 with the lease of another retail outlet in Bloomingdale. This spelled good news for the retail bakery, which has dwindled down to the Mount Pleasant location from a string of bakery shops prior to Duni ownership.

Another growing café-cum-bakery, CakeLove, prefers to use all-natural ingredients rather than chemicals and additives.

"Our products are made from scratch using all-natural ingredients. Not only are they healthy and easily digestible, they taste so much better," said Ellice Perez, managing director of CakeLove.

CakeLove steadily grew from a small bakery on U Street NW to a chain of three outlets, with a fourth one in development. The "#1 Bakery in Best Bets 2005" by customers' voting, CakeLove's success story began with the owner, Warren Brown, quitting his job as a lawyer to start his own bakery business in 2001. From a sole baker and proprietor, Brown now has 60 employees under his wing.

The first CakeLove bakery was so well received that in 17 months, Brown decided to set up Love Café right across the street.

"We have two types of customers coming in. CakeLove caters to customers who want to buy whole cakes for birthday parties and other occasions, while Love Café caters to customers who want to sit down and enjoy their slices of cakes with coffee in a warm and cozy atmosphere," Perez said.

On the other hand, CakeLove in downtown Silver Spring, Md., opened about two months ago, is a combination of both bakery and café. It is more than twice as big as the original outlet on U Street.

"Due to the restriction in our lease, we are unable to incorporate indoor seating in our Silver Spring outlet, but many of our customers don't mind standing around the counter area to eat their cakes. On the other hand, we have customers who want to carry out," Perez said.

Renowned for its unusual names on cakes and baked goods such as "Neil's Hat Trick," "My Downfall," "Crunchy Feet" and "Buzz Balls," Perez said that one of their success factors lie in creativity and the continuous churning out of new products about twice a month.

These days, despite being a busy food show personality on "Sugar Rush," a 13-episode series on the Food Network, Brown still finds time for his original passion baking.

"Warren is always coming out with new ideas. He is always at the bakery trying out new things. He will put something together and our staff will get to taste it. But every staff member is encouraged to come up with new ideas," Perez said.

She also noted that the entire staff is passionate about the bakery business.

"Passion is one big component of the cake-making business, just as CakeLove is a product of Warren's passion in cake-making. We'd like to provide an environment conducive to the pursuit of individual staff's passion," Perez said.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator