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Just because the business carries her name doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s the bread winner. But Sandi Smith is definitely someone you’d like to break bread with.
All puns aside, Smith is a master bread maker, and because she is, she can craft her breads pretty much the way she sees fit. Smith chooses to do so with her customers in mind.
Not only does she make breads with a personal touch, Smith makes breads that are healthy, tasty, and good for you. As trite as it may sound, Sandi’s Breads is in the people business.
“For me, the most rewarding part of the business is the customer interaction,” said Smith. “It’s wonderful to see people come in and enjoy what we’re producing. All week long we’re working and working, but we get feedback on the weekends. We have a strong, regular, loyal customer base. They know us. A community has been built and relationships have been formed. The key to success for small businesses are relationships.
“We’re committed to bringing an exceptional product to the public, one they can’t get anywhere else,” continued Smith. “We believe we are bringing good food to people that they can enjoy. You’re not going to find our product anywhere else, and we like people. The relationships we have with our customers are important.”
It is no coincidence that Sandi’s Breads is also locally-owned and family-operated.
Smith and her husband Tom, who reside in Palmyra, are the hard-working parents of four. With a small staff, they operate the Sandi’s Breads bakery out of Farmstead Farmers Market in Grantville, together.
“I think the most challenging aspect of it is coming up with recipes and ideas that keep our customers engaged,” said Smith. “I’m always looking for different products to develop, just to make sure we keep our customers interested. It’s something we work on together. I might come up with the recipe, but we fine tune it together.
“Whole grains are the key to a healthy diet,” added Smith. “What people don’t get is the ‘whole’ part. To balance your diet, you’ve got to be using whole grains. When you put it with other proteins, it helps your diet. If you’re just eating grains, you’re not going to have everything. If you’re only eating protein, you’re not going to have everything.”
Sandi’s breads are unique and tasty and wholesome. But Sandi’s Breads is so much more than just breads.
The sandwich rolls, cookies, brownies, sticky buns, cakes, pies, Grab-A-Nola bars and 70 varieties of muffins are all handmade, and it is those products that make it a bakery. Sandi’s creative recipe books are voluminous, and there are both retail and wholesale sides to the business.
“You get a lot of people who say they’re cutting carbs, and they’re cutting whole grains out of their diets,” said Smith. “I think in other cultures, people rely on bread as a main part of their diets. In America, they see bread as a side dish.
“There are no businesses in our area that are using whole grains and milling their own flour on a daily business,” Smith added. “I think there’s one near Philly and there might be one near Boston. But the only large operation similar to ours that I know of is in New Orleans.”
Another way Sandi’s Breads’ people-first approach has manifested itself is through a weekly newsletter that Sandi writes and produces. She started it ten years ago and it has become a way for her to stay connected with her customers, as well as a way to feed her inner writer.
“I talk about what’s going on in our lives,” said Smith. “It’s all about food, and each week I’ll share a recipe. It’s just a way to promote our products. Sometimes I’ll do shameless promotions, but it’s pretty rare. We also do a lot of education. We’ll ask people who come in, ‘What are you looking to pair it with?’ It’s easier to make customers happy with our products if we know how they’re going to use it.
“It’s (the newsletter) a way of connecting with our customer base,” continued Smith. “And I get responses from people. Yeah, I’m a writer. But I don’t always have the time to do as good a job as I’d like to.”
In one way, Sandi’s Breads was born to fulfill a need. In another, it was born out of necessary.
The Smiths founded the business in 2003, when Tom’s job was down-sized and Sandi was a stay-at-home mom and home schooling their children. In 2006, they took the plunge and pursued the business full time, and a year later, they established the bakery at Farmstead Farmer’s Market.
“Does anbody, ever?,” said Smith, when asked if the business has ‘made it’. “We struggle like any small business does. We have a wholesale side and we have a retail side, and we have to have balance to make sure we’re profitable. We can give you our formula for bread and it’s not going to turn out the same. We use top-of-the-line ingredients, but another part of it is how we do it.
“We specialize in whole grains, and that’s what makes us who we are,” added Smith. “We do what we do because you should be able to eat good food that makes you feel good. There’s definitely an investment in grinding our own grain and milling our own flour. It’s an investment we make in our product.”
Entrepreneurship and business ownership certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. The Smiths estimated that between them, they work about 100 hours a week at the bakery.
“It would be easy to say that it takes drive,” said Smith. “It also takes a certain amount of curiosity and being willing to explore. You have to be willing to take risks. At different phases of our business, we’ve taken some very big risks.
“I think we work a reasonable amount for what we’re doing,” Smith added. “Some days we work more than others. Weekends are intense. We crank out a significant amount of product. But we can optimize our time with the bakery located in the farmer’s market. It’s nice because people can see what we’re doing. It’s nice when people walk in and see us pull product out of the oven and put it on the shelf.”
In the big picture, it’s pretty amazing to imagine how far the Smiths have come over the last 15 years. Yet the ceiling is nowhere in sight.
“We definitely still have room for growth,” said Smith. “Our business fluctuates. Times change. We have several fluctuations in our retail business. We always have to be ready to manage those types of things. We always welcome (new) business.
“We think about the future,” Smith continued. “We’d like to see a greater presence in the wholesale arena. Do we want to open a second location? I’d love for us to be busy enough to have a second shift. We have this investment, and we’re only using it a third of the day.”
Turning dough into bread, and bread into dough.
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