Rolf's performs a balancing act
Through production efficiencies and highly skilled labor, Rolf's Patisserie juggles fine pastry making and volume baking with finesse.
To walk a tightrope, you need to focus on one goal, take careful steps and maintain your balance. Rolf's Patisserie's focus has always been fine cakes and pastries. The Lincolnwood, Ill.-based wholesale bakery has taken the right steps over the years, yielding 15 to 20 percent average annual sales growth since brothers Lloyd and Ford Culbertson purchased the business in 1984. And the Culbertson brothers provide the balance.
Family does not always make good business. But in Rolf's case, Ford and Lloyd form the perfect partnership. They have different strengths, but they share the same goal: to produce high-volume gourmet cakes and pastries without compromising quality.
Lloyd, a former investment banker, is president of the company. He's the voice of the business, the numbers man and business administrator. Ford, a master baker and certified pastry chef, is the executive chef. He's the soft-spoken baker, teacher of the craft and the creative brain behind Rolf's product line and production operations.
Producing bakery products in volume and maintaining fine, quality detail is a true balancing act. Rolf's Patisserie masters the feat by incorporating production efficiencies and training a highly skilled labor force.
“We want our product to look like it was made by a pastry chef in the kitchen an hour before it was served to you,” Lloyd says.
Rolf's Patisserie was an established 250-sq.-ft. retail bakery in Chicago when the Culbertsons purchased it. Twenty-six years later, they have kept the bakery's name and its stellar reputation for fine cakes and pastries. But their business today is far different from its humble beginnings 26 years ago.
Rolf's currently operates out of a 20,000-sq.-ft. facility with a staff of 134. Ninety percent of its business is wholesale, and the company is opening a new 60,000-sq.-ft. plant in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., in January of 2011.
The company's move to wholesale baking occurred soon after the Culbertsons purchased the business. Hotels, restaurants and foodservice operations that once housed pastry departments were looking to outsource their dessert business, and Ford used his industry connections to let them know Rolf's could handle the job. “They were looking for a high-quality source for fine baked goods that could be serviced properly. We quickly claimed that niche,” Lloyd says.
Lloyd officially joined the company as president in 1989 when Rolf's moved to a 3,000-sq.-ft. location to accommodate the growing wholesale side. Fresh-baked delivered products soon dominated the business, with the bakery reaching wholesale customers as far as 200 miles from Chicago.
“When chefs hand off the pastry process to someone else, they lose the quality control they once had,” Lloyd says. “We flourished in supporting their business because we offer such high-quality product at a very competitive price. And, we're completely dedicated to servicing the account.”
By 2000, Rolf's booming business had moved to its current 20,000-sq.-ft. location in Lincolnwood just north of Chicago. Soon after moving, the Culbertsons seized another opportunity. They saw demand for frozen high-end cakes and pastries for the distributor-served market. Broad-line foodservice distributors, bakery supply houses and supermarket chains eventually became Rolf's largest customer base and the future of its business. “The beauty with working through distributors is we don't have to deliver it,” Lloyd says. “The trucks come to us, and we fill them with their purchase orders.”
The bakery is divided into three production areas: baking, assembly and decorating/finishing. Ford and Alex Kovacs, production manager, organize the production process to ensure no downtime of labor or equipment. “We're a 24/7 operation,” Ford says. “Everybody always has a job to do.”
The baking department prepares the cake layers, mousses, ganache, icings and other pastry products for the assembly department. The assembly department slices, fills and base ices cakes and pastries so that the decorating department can add the finishing touches. The glue between all three departments is the “in-process cooler,” which serves as the staging area. Sponge cakes, for example, move from the oven to the cooler, ready to be cut and used in the assembly of the cakes. The cooler then houses the assembled cakes staged to be finished by a decorator. The “packaged freezer” holds product that is ready to be distributed to customers.
As the business evolved to 50 percent frozen and 40 percent fresh local delivered, bottlenecks in the production process emerged. Refrigeration and freezer space reached capacity, and corrugated packaging for the frozen line needed attention and storage. “Refrigeration isn't just for storage of the product, it is part of the process,” Lloyd says.
Along with refrigeration, packaging is a critical part of the process for the frozen line. Delicate products have a long way to travel on some inevitably bumpy roads along the way. Distributors' trucks pick up pallets of frozen product for storage in their warehouses with eventual delivery to grocery stores or foodservice operations across the country and finally to the end consumer. Cakes and pastries need to arrive to the end consumer as if the distribution process never happened — Rolf's reputation depends on it.
Continue to next page
Reprints and Licensing
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
Acceptable Use Policy blog comments powered by Disqus