Thinking of Buying a Fast-Casual Franchise? Read this report first.

Ones to Watch | By Lynne Miller

Bread Alone
bread alone

Bread Alone offers a lot more than loaves.

Located in New York’s Hudson Valley, the bakery café loads up the breakfast table with free-range eggs, buttery handmade pastries, and sausages. Lunches feature soups, sandwiches, and paninis.

Bread Alone was ahead of its time when it opened in the 1980s. Nobody knew the wholesome attributes of whole grains when the bakery opened.

Today the menu has expanded to entice customers to stay for a while rather than grabbing just a roll and coffee on the way to work. Seventy percent of sales are generated by dine-in business, says Daniel Leader, who founded the company as a wholesale bakery specializing in crusty, European-style breads.

Bread Alone’s signature breads are made from organic stone-ground flour, whole grains, and other organic ingredients Leader purchases from local sources. The assortment includes sourdough rye with caraway seeds, sesame semolina, mixed-grain, cranberry almond panini, whole spelt, and foccacia onion and olive.

The breads play host to a variety of sandwich fillers. The Croque Monsieur blends Emmenthaler cheese, grainy mustard, cornichons, and ham on whole-wheat sourdough. The Catskill Cubano pulls together pulled pork and jalapeño and Swiss cheeses on a ciabatta roll. The average check ranges from $8 to $10.

“We keep expanding our sandwich, soup, and pastry lines,” Leader says. “We’ve expanded in all directions.”

Beyond breads the company also offers wedding cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and biscotti. And for customers who can’t make it to one of the stores for their favorite offerings there’s a Bread of the Month Club, where members can have specific varieties shipped straight to their doors.

Leader didn’t start out as a baker, though. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he worked as a chef in white-tablecloth, French restaurants in New York City. After-hours, he learned to bake bread, toiling until 3 a.m. in Little Italy’s bakeries.

After working 10 years as a chef in Manhattan, Leader was anxious to do something else.

He moved his family to the Catskill Mountains and began selling loaves out of his Mazda hatchback.

Bread Alone

FOUNDER: Daniel Leader

HQ: Boiceville, New York

YEAR STARTED: 1983

ANNUAL SALES: $7 million

TOTAL UNITS: 3

FRANCHISE UNITS: 0

WEB SITE: www.breadalone.com

In 1984, Leader made the first of many trips to France to get his hands dirty in European bakeries. For the next 10 years, he divided his time between New York and France, where he would work for weeks at a time in the bakeries, learning from the pros how to make baguettes and boules.

Meanwhile, Bread Alone developed a following. Its wholesale customers grew to include food stores, farmers markets, and restaurants.

The bakery added a café and pastry room in 1988 and opened two more cafés in the 1990s. The largest of the three restaurants is 2,500 square feet with seating for 65. Measuring 1,000 square feet, the other stores can accommodate 44 diners.

Like other bakeries, Bread Alone took a beating when low-carb diets became the rage about seven years ago. Sales plummeted. Every day, customers would ask Leader if he made low-carb bread. The trend was “horrible,” Leader recalls with a shudder.

However, the new healthy image of whole grains is naturally good for business.

“That’s helped tremendously,” Leader says. “We’re selling more whole grain breads than anything else.”

Inside the cafés, the décor is clean, crisp, and unpretentious. Burnt orange walls warm up the interiors, which are simply furnished with wooden tables and modern-looking black chairs. Photos from Leader’s cookbooks hang on the walls. Customers watch workers make sandwiches behind the counters.

Charitable acts are also an integral part of the business. While doing consulting work in South Africa, Leader was asked to teach a bread-baking class by Gail Johnson, founder of Nkosi’s Haven in Johannesburg, a clinic that treats children infected with HIV. From there the idea for the South African Whole Grain Bread Project was born.

The project helps establish community-based microbakeries to produce fresh, high-quality whole grain bread to improve the nutrition of adults and children in the area. In addition to the health objectives, the baking initiative is also designed as a small-business and social-development project to bring money to South Africans living with HIV/AIDS.

Before the recession hit, Leader was interested in opening more restaurants, but he’s put his growth plans on hold. Still, the wholesale bakery is thriving. Sales increased 30 percent in 2008 and are up 15 percent so far this year. Bread Alone supplies about 200 supermarkets and restaurants and, at the height of summer, 45 farmers markets in the region.

So, for the time being, Leader’s focusing on expanding the wholesale side of his concept. “We can grow that without any capital expense,” he says. “We have the trucks and the infrastructure.”