Ones to Watch | By Lynne Miller
Gary Worthington grew up inhaling freshly baked bread in the kitchen of his childhood home in Grantsville, Utah, a small farming community 40 miles west of Salt Lake City.
Decades later, Worthington still enjoys the comforting aroma, though now it comes from his own business. Worthington and his family operate Kneaders Bakery & Café, a chain known for European-style crusty breads and pastries.
“We didn’t model Kneaders after any other bakery,” Worthington says. “It has evolved over the years.”
He and his wife, Colleen, opened their first bakery café in Orem, Utah, about 45 miles south of the state capital, in 1997. Though they weren’t bakers, the Worthingtons got an education in restaurant management from Subway. They worked as franchisees for 12 years, operating nine Subway shops in Utah and Colorado. Wanting to strike out on their own, they sold the franchises and learned everything they could about bread at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas. In classes, they were introduced to crusty European-style breads, and the experience made an impression.
“We fell in love with European breads,” Colleen says.
That love drove the Worthingtons to Italy to visit a foodservice equipment manufacturer. They took lots of photos of Italian bakeries and other businesses to capture the look of a European operation. Since the first Kneaders opened, subsequent stores have been built with stone and stucco exteriors mimicking that style. Currently half the stores have Italian hearth ovens. Eventually all stores will be equipped with one, Colleen says.
Breakfast offerings include: sandwiches served on freshly baked croissants, featuring eggs, cheese, and a choice of meat; freshly made, chunky cinnamon French toast served with a caramel sauce; sourdough pancakes; fruit smoothies; cinnamon rolls; and raspberry and chocolate filled croissants. Other pastries are also available. Soon Kneaders will add fruit parfaits for customers looking for something light and healthy, Colleen says.
Soups, sandwiches, and deli salads are on the lunch and dinner menus. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Kneaders sells breads, rolls, and other baked goods for customers to take home. The average check is $12.61.
Freestanding stores, which average 3,000 square feet, have busy drive-thru windows that account for 30 percent of sales, Gary says. To speed up service, employees routinely leave the stores and use handheld POS devices to take orders from customers waiting in line in their cars.
New restaurants under development will be built with seating for 90, twice the number of seats found in older stores.
Each restaurant has its own kitchen, staffed with bakers and pastry chefs. The arrangement offers restaurants the ability to respond quickly to same-day requests for birthday cakes and other special orders, Colleen says.
Customers get friendly, personal attention at Kneaders. The Orem store manager knows the first names of 70 percent of the regular diners. Colleen does too. She clears the dining room tables and takes orders at the drive-thru since she’s in the store every day.
“I enjoy that,” she says. “We want to reach out and have a relationship with our customers. We have a huge percentage of return customers. It amazes me. Some days, we see the same people three times.”
The Worthingtons learned a lot about managing employees and satisfying customers while operating their Subway units, and they continue to learn. While they take pride in the authenticity of the house special—crusty bread—the features that make it unique also cause challenges. All the loaves are baked without preservatives, so the breads have a short shelf life. Calculating how much bread to bake every day is the trickiest part of Gary’s job.
“Probably the biggest challenge is we do everything fresh,” he says. “The challenging part is to make sure we have enough and don’t have too much left over. We don’t sell day-old breads.”
Kneaders is having a growth spurt. In the coming months, franchise operators will open five more stores in Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. Franchisees can expect to spend $25,000 for the initial franchise fee, and a minimum of $200,000 for the bakery café, leasehold costs, and equipment purchases.