Being popular is nice. But Ruth Wardein, the entrepreneur behind a fast-growing and beloved bakery, is learning that popularity comes with a new set of challenges.
Quiche. Waffles. Cream puffs. “The best pizza crust people say they've ever tasted.”
Those are just some of the items drawing customers — some of whom visit daily — to Epiphany Gluten Free Bakery. Since moving into a storefront on Immokalee Road in Naples earlier in 2017, Ruth Wardein's formerly home-based business is really cooking. It's both a blessing and a challenge.
“The demand is there,” says Wardein. “If anything, we can't produce enough.”
So now she's focusing on operations, to keep customers happy and continue to grow her business. That means things such as implementing various software programs to create systems for production, and hiring more employees to boost her current staff of eight, are a priority for Wardein.
“I have an amazing staff and appreciate them very much,” she says. “We just need more of them. We could be selling more if we could be producing more, so we probably need to add in shifts and have night bakers.” Another pressing need: a shipping manager to handle online orders. Wardein hopes to launch an online shopping cart on the bakery's website soon.
Through the holiday season, she planned to keep her focus on the bakery's “front door,” producing items for walk-in business and custom orders. After that she'll turn to the wholesale side of her business, where she's received inquiries from local restaurants and shops interested in stocking her gluten-free products.
“I'm going to pick and choose, because I don't want my stuff everywhere,” says Wardein. “I'm going to selectively choose where things are going so everyone has a little bit of something.” She says she's in the middle of those negotiations now with at least 10 businesses.
One place she is supplying is the cafe at NCH North Naples Hospital, which is across the street from Epiphany. She also continues to sell her baked goods at the Third Street South Farmer's Market, even though she has her own storefront now. “I have so many customers there for so many years,” she says.
Transitioning from home to retail comes with its own learning curve. “The most difficult thing is life, like when staff get sick,” says Wardein. “You have to cover so many different bases and it's such a balance. You never know. We're not busy one day, and then we're slammed the next. It's crazy.”
The bakery hasn't had a set menu, but Wardein is taking a look at what's been popular with customers and assessing their feedback to figure out what they really want (or don't) when they walk into the shop. She's doing more vegan items, as well as Paleo and dairy-free foods. “What our customers really love about this place is they feel like it's their personal place,” she says. “We see some people every day; it's become their home.”
Franchising or expanding is always a possibility down the road. It's something brought up with Wardein frequently, but she knows she's not ready for that yet.
“I know the want and need is there. I'm told all day long that we need to be bigger and that everyone wants more of us,” she says. “We feel loved, that's for sure. But I want to make sure we really have a solid operation. We need to be open longer and have this place running like a machine before we can do something like that.”