Tony Stricker may be the retired owner of Swiss Maid Bakery, Harvard, Ill., but his passion for the bakery business will never rest. His son, Paul, and grandson, Adam, run Swiss Maid today, but Tony continues to work in the bakery when he can and he’s always willing to share his experiences.
For Tony, baking means family. Tony’s parents, Anton and Rose Stricker, and his in-laws, Paul and Sophie Planzer, emigrated from Europe and operated bakeries in Chicago in the 1920s. Tony grew up working in his family bakery and eventually married Planzer’s daughter, Shirley. The couple, along with raising six sons, took over Planzer’s bakery in 1955 and opened Swiss Maid in its current Harvard location in 1967. Swiss Maid also has a second location in Woodstock, Ill. Tony has 17 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
A life-long baker, Tony has seen the business environment for bakeries change dramatically over the years. “Years ago, we’d have 20 guys waiting outside the bakery to apply for baker jobs,” Tony said. “One guy even climbed through our sky light, so he could be first in line for the job.”
Baking careers today fly well under the radar for most job seekers, but bakery owners can take steps to make the trade and their businesses appeal to prospective bakers, cake decorators, customer service people and other roles on the bakery team. Tony offers these tips for making your bakery a desirable place to work.
• Be nice to your staff
It sounds like a no brainer, but bakery management that is kind to its employees attracts good people and keeps them longer. Set standards and be clear about your business expectations of course, but also create a welcoming work environment. If your employees want to be there, your customers will too. “Compliment your employees once in a while. That goes a long way,” Tony said.
• Maintain equipment
Tony has long been an advocate of purchasing and maintaining the right bakery equipment for your bakery. He says sheeters and cookie machines are the two most important pieces of equipment at Swiss Maid. “Mechanize as much as you can,” Tony said. “It builds moral for the people working for you to keep your equipment in good working order.”
• Cross-train staff
Production staff should be cross-trained to handle multiple different tasks in the bakery and operate all equipment. Tony admits bakers will specialize in certain aspects of production to improve speed and skill. But, bakers who can multi-task will become a more vital part of the team and can step in to help in the event of production challenges or team member absences. Tony said he used to keep two or three mixers going at the same time. “Just don’t talk to me when I’m mixing,” he said.
• Nurture novice bakers
“You don’t have to be a scientist to be a baker,” Tony said. But, novice bakers do need to be eager to learn and given a chance to hone their hands-on skills under the tutelage of mentor bakers. Especially today with so many other better paying, easier career options, a new person expressing interest in the baking field needs to be shown what it takes to be a success. “We had one kid come to us in ’84 from an old baking program. He was all thumbs and a really slow worker,” Tony said. “We had to show him how to do everything. We couldn’t just explain it; we had to show him. Today, he’s the most valuable guy in the shop.”
For more information, visit Swiss Maid Bakery.