By Katie Fallon
Little European Bakery shares a 30-year tradition
Sometimes taking over a business with strong community ties can be difficult for the new owner, but Mike Rogers has successfully done just that at the Little European Bakery.
Though he had no prior baking experience, Rogers bought the bakery—which at the time was named Bruweiler’s—on Sandy Springs Circle in 1999. The bakery has been in the same location since 1981, and many long-time Sandy Springs residents remember it as Hoffer’s Bakery, which it remained until it switched owners for a few years in the mid-1990’s. But it was Bruweiler’s when Rogers bought the business.
All together, the bakery has been in Sandy Springs for almost 30 years, originally being located in the Hancock Fabrics shopping center on Roswell Road—practically next door to where it is now.
Rogers said he bought the bakery when he needed a career change.
“I had always worked in corporate America and decided I was tired of being in corporate America,” Rogers said. “I wanted something else to do and was looking for a business to buy.”
Because multiple generations of residents have been coming to the bakery for decades, Rogers said he was initially reluctant to change its name because many people still associated it with the original owner.
“If we changed the name on the outside, we thought people would think we changed the stuff on the inside,” Rogers said. “We found out after the change that we should have made the change immediately.”
Rogers has made few changes and has kept the original German roots of the bakery. Along with wife Vicki, who is in charge of gift orders, Rogers has come into the world of cakes, tortes, petit fours and bread with nothing more than a business background.
But based on the lunch time and Saturday morning rush at the store, baking and business have combined as well if not better than the many ingredients that go into cornucopia of delicious treat that Little European offers up. Rogers said that combination is not an accidental success.
“I love to cook,” he said. “My college education is in math and physics so I’m a scientist. This is chemistry lab 101.”
Previously involved in the manufacturing of cell phones and pagers, Rogers said running his bakery is much like running a factory. He still has skilled workers who follows a series of important steps to create a consistently desired product.
“We have good people who know what they’re doing,” Rogers said. “You have to make a good product that people will look forward to and enjoy.”
The best part of doing what he does, Rogers said, is the fact that the bakery has a strong following and a good reputation. Because of that, he said he would never want to open a brand new bakery that did not already have ties to the community.
In fact, Rogers has even retained some of the longtime employees of his bakery. Until last year, he employed a cake decorator who had made cakes for toddlers’ birthdays and then made wedding cakes for the same people decades later.
“We’ve got longevity,” Rogers said.
Along with that longevity has come little change at the Little European Bakery. Although some products change with the season, with more fruit-based confections in the summer and more chocolate-based in the winter, most are still made without the aid of automation. That aspect, Rogers said, is kept to maintain quality and consistency.
“We haven’t really changed how we produce things,” Rogers said. “We do a lot of stuff by hand. That gives us an opportunity to really maintain quality. Quality is a big thing for me.”
Though his work day can often get hectic and span more than 14 hours, Rogers said he wants nothing but a relaxing experience for his customers. The Little European philosophy is that the customer’s buying experience begins the moment they enter the bakery and does not end until they push away from the dessert table.
“Everything in between those events has to be perfect,” Rogers said.
To achieve perfection, Rogers said he hires friendly people who can bake a product and sell a product in such a way that after hearing a description, a customer has no choice to buy the item because it’s too delicious to pass up.
One customer who could not resist the colorful offerings is Maryanne Johnston. She said she visits the bakery on occasion to bring home a little something special for dessert for her and her husband.
“You get bored with ice cream or cookies with your coffee so I like to come here for something new and different,” Johnston said. “Plus, everything looks so good, it’s hard to make a choice.
Favoring the five-inch fruit tortes, which Rogers said are perfect for couples or to follow a small dinner party of four, Johnston said she also enjoys the atmosphere of the bakery.
“It always smells so good in here,” she said. “I don’t think I could ever get out of here without buying something.”
With the advent of mega-supermarkets with one-stop shopping and in-house bakery departments, Rogers said he tries to steer his clients away from the type of cakes, for example, that they can find at Kroger or Publix.
“It’s hard to move people away from there,” he admitted. “We tend to guide people away from those [items] and towards something more unique.”
Despite the long hours, although his bread bakers come in even earlier, Rogers seems to delight in being able to continue a tradition that combines all of his life experiences.
Henri’s remains a family affair after 80+ years
Suzette Dinardo did not get involved in the family business until after she had already entered the business world as a young adult; but when she did join the business, she committed herself to preserving the recipes created by her grandfather more than 80 years ago.
Dinardo is the owner of Henri’s Bakery, which has locations in both Sandy Springs and Buckhead.
The bakery, which she runs with three other family members and an army of staff, was first opened by her grandfather Henri Fiscus on the corner of 10th and Peachtree streets in 1921.
While Henri’s has been an Atlanta-area tradition for more than half a century, Dinardo and her siblings weren’t convinced to join the family enterprise until business got to be too much for her grandfather to handle.
“I worked outside of the company until I was 25. Then I joined forces with my sister Madeline,” Dinardo said. “None of us worked in the business, but it grew and we just had to get in here. My sister called me one day and said we had to give two weeks notice at our jobs. It’s a lot of work.”
Henri’s came to Sandy Springs in 1983 after being approached by Rich’s to buy five of its bakeries.
“We thought we’d give it a try,” she said. “After a year, we evaluated them and Sandy Springs was a successful store.”
It seems the Sandy Springs bakery has been a success ever since.
As is often the case with family-owned businesses, Henri’s has its multi-generational followers. In fact, Henri’s has developed such a following that Dinardo said she has already started to think about the holidays, which is the bakery’s busiest time of year. Dinardo herself usually sticks to the business end of things during most of the year, but said everybody has to roll up their sleeves and help out with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner orders.
During that holiday rush period, Dinardo said the business can get so busy that staff works practically 24/7, with just enough time to venture home for a shower and change of clothes. When the last dinner is picked up on Christmas Eve, the family will often pop open a bottle of champagne after locking up for the evening.
The customer loyalty, however, is not confined to in front of the counter. Henri’s still has two employees who were hired at age 14 by the original Henri. Those employees are now 65 and 67 years old.
“They’re our family,” Dinardo said. “They were here before I was.”
Similarly many managers and other employees have pressed their teenagers into service, especially during the months when they are home from college or out of high school for the winter or summer breaks.
“Everybody’s kids have worked here at some point,” Dinardo said.
Along with the consistency of the staff, Dinardo said the products Henri’s offers have changed little over the years in an effort to honor her grandfather’s recipes. While a new assortment of French pastries have been added over the years, the products still keep in line with the tradition began by Fiscus.
From the various products to the method in which they are baked, not much has changed at the bakery.
“We really try to keep my grandfather’s recipes,” she said. “To this day, we will not buy a cookie machine. We cut them out by hand.”
In addition, the bakery still uses butter and no preservatives, which is why freshly baked products not sold at the end of the business day are donated to a local shelter. That combination of ingredients, though, does not lend itself well to the more dietary baked goods. Dinardo said that was a conscious decision.
“When someone walks into a bakery, they’re not looking for diet products,” she said. “That a whole different ballgame. People come to Henri’s because they want their po-boy and they want their chocolate éclair. If we change that, we won’t be in business.”
Upon entering the bakery during a recent lunch hour, one customer knew she would find something good to gobble up.
“Oh yeah, this is going to be fun,” said Sandy Springs resident Pam Mitchell as she walked through the front door.
After choosing a ready-made po-boy from the display case, Mitchell met a friend outside to enjoy her lunch in the sun. She said she is actually a new Henri’s convert.
“I’ve driven past [Henri’s] a million times and never went in,” Mitchell said. “There are just so many places to have lunch. But then I kept hearing people talk about it and decided to check it out.”
Because of the unique offerings, Dinardo said she does not fear being run out of business by the mega-supermarkets with in-house bakeries.
“When I look at that, I think we’re a totally specialty,” she said. “People come to Henri’s because they want quality. A majority of that other stuff comes from a freezer, is iced and put in a showcase. I think it’s a whole other world.”
While the Sandy Springs location has remained a success for Henri’s, Dinardo said the Buckhead location still holds a special place in her heart because it is the direct continuation of what her grandfather created.
The Buckhead location on Irby Avenue near the Buckhead Triangle also offers an extended menu of ready-to-go meals and keeps its oven on continuously except for a period from Saturday night to Sunday. Both locations are open every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.