Busken Bakery: Serving Up American Classics with a Side of Smiles

Cincinnati, Ohio-based Busken Bakery is synonymous with affordable indulgence and sweet, sweet nostalgia. Four generations of Busken family members have steered the company through 84 years, or seven-dozen years in baking terms. Every Busken baked good starts with the finest raw ingredients, whether those at the foundation of classic American staples or of-the-moment flavors. Though the fifth generation of Buskens is all under the age of 10, the family’s history has proved its passion runs deeper than just genetics.

Clem Busken Sr. founded Busken Bakery in Oklahoma City, Okla., with the simple vision of feeding his family. Eventually, Clem’s son, Joseph Busken Jr., relocated the company to Cincinnati, where it remains today. Busken Bakery headquarters and flagship retail store are housed in a 25,000-square foot building that produces every single item in the Busken Bakery product line.

“My father actually created a written policy for the company, explaining that if any one of his six children wanted to work at the company, there had to be an open position,” recalls Dan Busken, president and CEO of Busken Bakery. “But we were all required to work at least three years after college for another company.”

Dan runs the company with the help of his brother, Brian, vice president of Busken Bakery. All six Busken children of the fourth generation grew up working holidays and vacations at the bakery, but Dan and Brian are the only two permanently at the company today.

Even so, both Busken brothers joined Busken Bakery after establishing careers in other industries. Dan came to the company in 2004 after a career in construction management, while Brian signed on in 2006 after a successful four-year stint in advertising.

“We know how rare it is these days to see companies even make it to the second generation, so we decided to make every year a celebration,” says Dan. The bakery decided to mark the occasion every year with a weeklong series of celebrations in the first week of August. To mark the occasion in 2012, Busken Bakery decorated all 10 of its retail locations and gave away 84 birthday cakes and a wealth of other Busken Bakery signatures, like the company’s Original Iced Cookie with a smile face.

“We’re a full-line bakery so we can produce just about anything, though we don’t because we know we can’t possibly be everything to everyone,” admits Dan.

Pastry with Purpose

Busken Bakery churns out classics and a rotating sampling of seasonal and specialty items that may or may not be folded into the permanent offerings. Some of Busken Bakery’s staples include Chess pie, a buttery, sugary, egg-yolk based piece of Southern Americana, as well as the Double Butter Coffee Cake, an unabashedly decadent, butter-laden pillow of heaven. Newcomers, on the other hand, include a Maple Bacon Stick donut, which starts with one of Busken Bakery’s light-as-a-feather donuts drenched in a maple icing and is finished with a hearty slice of bacon.

Busken Bakery also introduced the Skinny Iced Cookie, a retooled version of the company’s signature Original Iced Cookie with half the fat of the original. “We’re not trying to kid ourselves,” admits Dan. “We know we specialize in flavor and indulgence, and if you reduce the fat and sugar in something, you lose a lot of the flavor. It was only after doing several blind taste tests that we really felt confident we had developed a cookie that stood up to our original in taste.”

An overwhelming amount of taste-testers couldn’t differentiate the Skinny Iced Cooke from its full-fat counterpart. It wasn’t until the cookie stumped Page Busken, chairman of the board of Busken Bakery, as well as Joe Jr., that the team was willing to give it the green light.

Expanding an Empire

These products eventually made it to shelves across Cincinnati, southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. Busken Bakery’s distribution reaches all 13 locations of Cincinnati’s last independent grocers, Remke-Biggs, as well as 180 convenience stores in the metro Cincinnati, northern Kentucky and Dayton markets. “We have had a very long-term relationship with this convenience store chain, which we have been supplying with our signature iced cookies for at least 20 years,” adds Dan.

The latest partnership with the same convenience store chain spent seven years in the making, when Busken Bakery began rolling out its donuts for sale at the stores in April 2012. The increase in distribution required Busken Bakery to expand production hours at the factory to 20 hours a day and also required additional loading docks and production lines be squeezed into the facility.

Busken Bakery also forged a seasonal partnership with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 2011 to supply seasonal cookies for Valentine’s Day and Easter. “Through packaging upgrades and reformulation we were able to extend the shelf life of the cookies from 14 days to 120 days, which allowed us to distribute to 3,200 of Wal-Mart’s stores nationwide,” adds Dan.

Also on the docket is a retooling of Busken Bakery’s retail model. The company plans to explore an express format with consolidated product offerings to streamline production and focus on products with the highest profit margins. “We’re exploring a smaller footprint of retail store that would focus on coffee, donuts and cookies and would also include a drive-thru for convenience,” states Dan. In whatever way the team decides to pursue growth, Cincinnatians will delight in Busken Bakery’s creativity and commitment to putting a smile on every customer’s face.