Baking specialty shops provide consumers with a wide choice of products, whether it’s cupcakes, pies, French pastries or any flavor of pretzel imaginable.
But long before these latest one-product shops were the rage, full-service bakeries filled the needs and desires across America.
“There are a lot of fine bakeries around, but there really aren’t many full-service bakeries in Cedar Rapids,” said John Rocarek, who bought Sykora Bakery in Czech Village in Cedar Rapids 12 years ago.
“I decided to go into this industry because of my Czech heritage,” Rocarek said. “If it wouldn’t have been for that, I would never have bought this bakery.”
Rocarek considers himself an atypical bakery owner, saying, “I probably only put in about 40 hours a week.”
Three to five part-time employees handle the production and retail segment of the business, which depends greatly on the area’s seasonal tourism traffic flow to keep the operation in the black.
“My bakers generally come in around 11 p.m. and work until 7 a.m., when we open,” Rocarek said.
“We are probably the only bakery in Iowa that makes a kolach the old-world way. It takes seven hours to make them, if you do them right.
“The dough rises five times and you can’t rush them.”
June is the busiest month for Sykora Bakery.
“During our peak season we’ll do 120-dozen kolaches a day,” Rocarek reported. “Very little of our business is wedding related — kolaches, doughnuts, cookies, sweet rolls, turnovers, and breads are what we do here.”
Big business in cakes
John Lentz, bakery manager for the Hy-Vee Food Store on Edgewood Road NE in Cedar Rapids, said the store’s bakery produces a variety of baked goods from buns to wedding cakes.
Lentz, who has worked in the grocery business for almost 20 years, went into the bakery side of the business in 2009.
“I’m not going to lie, there are some hours involved,” Lentz admitted. “We finish our doughnuts overnight and we are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., but there is someone here all the time.
“There is only about an hour gap when my closers leave and my doughnut person comes in to work.”
His baking team numbers 16. Graduation season is their busiest time.
“Christmas is a big week, but graduation is a couple of big months for us,” Lentz said. That season begins in mid-April and runs through the middle of June.
Cakes play a key role in overall business sales.
“We do a lot of weddings,” he added, noting that cake in general is a category for their business. “I’d say cake “is about one-third of our overall bakery business.”
He added that the Hy-Vee bakery is moving toward a healthier product.
“We have switched from using bleached bromated flour to unbleached, non-bromated flour,” Lentz said. “Just this week we rolled out 100 percent whole grain in our buns.
“It’s something we really haven’t had much of in the fresh bakery business. I love it, and our dietitians are excited about it and behind this program.”
Made from scratch
Jamie Powers, owner of Deluxe Cakes and Pastries in Iowa City, said baking was her passion, “but now it’s my business” — and will be for 10 years come next month.
“We start baking at 5 a.m., and we close around 7 p.m. It just depends on the day as to when I get to go home,” Powers said.
The full-time baker-owner, wife and mother previously worked in kitchens and pastry shops in Chicago, Denver and Iowa City.
“In this bakery, we make everything in-house and everything from scratch using butter,” Powers said. “We do not use any Crisco or margarine, and we do not cut ingredients as far as price goes.”
All of the butter and dairy used in her production comes from within a 60-mile radius of Iowa City.
“All my eggs come from within 20 miles away,” she added. “In a week, we go through about 144 pounds of butter, 200 pounds of flour, 200 pounds of sugar and probably 300 eggs.“I believe we are the only full-service bakery in Iowa that hand-makes croissants. We also make French macaroons, and that’s something nobody else makes.”
Deluxe Cakes and Pastries is known promotes its specialty designs in birthday, anniversary and wedding cakes. Powers recently had three wedding cakes to complete in the same weekend.
“It is the wedding cakes and the birthday cakes that allow us to do things like the macaroons and other different challenges and offerings,” Powers said. “There are four of us here, and we work around the clock.
“People who want somebody that can cover the whole spectrum of baking come to us. People who want a trend go to cupcake shops.”