Grandma’s Bakery: Delivering Turn-of-the-century Goodness

John Lupo got into the baking business on a hot summer day in 1978 when he opened a Mister Donut franchise on the east side of St. Paul, Minn., with his father. “I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a business degree at a time when nobody was hiring new college graduates,” he says. “At the time, my dad was a sales manager at 3M and he was looking for an investment.” The family purchased the franchise, and in December 1980 the business rebranded as Grandma’s Bakery (Grandma’s) and started to offer a larger variety of baked goods.

“I didn’t know anything about baking when we started,” says Lupo, current president of Grandma’s. “We had tech service people who would show you how to use everything.” Running the day-to-day operations of Grandma’s, Lupo quickly had to become the best baker he could be. By 1989 he achieved the highest level of certification from the Retail Baker’s of America, becoming a Certified Master Baker. This dedication to learning, as well as to the business and the industry, has paid off. Business at Grandma’s is booming, and the large wholesale/retail bakery has expanded its facilities and added several new products.

Grandma’s operates out of two locations: a state-of-the-art main open concept design and production/packaging facility and a bustling bakery and coffee shop, both in White Bear Lake, Minn. Lupo employs 110 people, all of whom he says are equally as important as his customers. Together this team produces cakes, cookies, donuts, rolls, breads, buns and pies, fulfilling contracts with corporate foodservice, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, businesses, churches, schools and civic groups. Along with hundreds of bakery items, Grandma’s delivers a positive working environment and a proactive approach to customer relationships. “It’s got to work for everyone: our customers and our employees,” explains Lupo.

The Goods

Lupo and his team have developed their own recipes over the years for pastries, breads and such. The diverse and ever-changing spread offers customers tasty treats as a pick-me-up, as well as custom desserts for special occasions. An experienced and talented cake staff offers elegant wedding cakes and fun holiday confections for any celebration.

Custom cakes take many forms, like a groom’s cake shaped like a tuxedo and top hat. “I really enjoy the challenge of it all,” says Lupo. “One day we did a cake for almost 100,000 people. It was 30-feet across. We worked on it for months.”

New products and initiatives are always in the works at Grandma’s. “We keep adding more and more items,” says Lupo. “We’re always trying to refine our service and response times. Our customers can order anything up until noon and have it delivered by 6 a.m. the next morning.” The team is working more with technology than ever, minimizing waste and boosting efficiency. Grandma’s is nearly self-sufficient with almost everything, including transportation and advertising performed in house. The company delivers within a 50-mile radius of the bakery, throughout Minneapolis-St. Paul and even into Wisconsin. “We have six trucks that serve 250 locations every day,” explains Lupo. “The thing that makes it tough is that we’re running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The ability to handle this volume without a slip in quality is the product of a closely managed business. “It took me a few years of working hard in the business and not working hard on the business to figure it out,” laughs Lupo. “Now, each week we produce a score card for the company. We have all of the key things we watch on one sheet of paper: retail, wholesale, costs of food and labor, accounts, payroll, etc. We can look at it and see how much we’ve thrown away and whether or not we made money.”

Success is not just measured in qualitative terms, however. Beyond the challenge of meeting an unusual design request, the Grandma’s team also finds it rewarding to give back to the community. “We donate our products and time to hundreds of local schools, churches, civic groups, sports teams, and benefits,” says Lupo. “Being part of that feels really good.”

New Endeavors

Grandma’s will celebrate 35 years of baked goods and business in 2013. “We always celebrate the anniversary with a nice dinner,” says Lupo. “We’ll do a number of specials in the store. We love to do fun marketing like that.”

Lupo is especially grateful to his staff and suppliers, who have contributed in a big way to the company’s longevity. “We have a lot of good bakers and business people,” he says. “And a lot of our suppliers have been with us from Day One. We treat our business partners fairly, and they are more than fair to us in return.”

The company continues to grow for multiple reasons. One reason is the openness to innovate new items, such as pumpkin snack cakes with cream cheese frosting. Secondly, Grandma’s has been initiating a lot of social media marketing. Thirdly, updated computer systems have been incorporated to make ordering and production more efficient and minimize waste. Finally, Lupo has managed to keep Grandma’s ahead of changing restrictions and regulations in the food industry, despite the challenges.

“As you go, different demands are put into place,” he explains. “It seems that every year there are more rules, regulations and inspections. It can be difficult to stay in compliance.” To keep his employees in the loop, Lupo has initiated weekly meetings to offer a refresher on quality standards, best procedures and safety training.

For an “old-fashioned” full-line wholesale bakery, Grandma’s stays impressively competitive. The next step for Lupo is to further diversify Grandma’s product outlets. “We’d like to start making packaged products,” he says. “Getting onto the retail shelf is a good strategy for the future and it would really help us to have a bigger presence in the retail store market. We could expand geographically with a packaged, branded item.”

Whatever sector the company explores, Grandma’s customers can count on quality baked goods and a responsive sales and customer service team. John Lupo emphasizes that his team remains energized to put customers first, a quality that has kept Grandma’s Bakery growing for over three decades.