TASTEEZ' BAKERY WAFTS SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tasteez Market & Bakery here tells the "fresh story" with its bakery and, as a result, continues to see sales rise, officials said.Indeed, the concept -- a fresh-meals store in the genre of EatZi's -- was designed around its huge, French deck oven, the first element customers see when they enter the 9,200-square-foot store.After visiting alternate formats and some of the more progressive

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tasteez Market & Bakery here tells the "fresh story" with its bakery and, as a result, continues to see sales rise, officials said.

Indeed, the concept -- a fresh-meals store in the genre of EatZi's -- was designed around its huge, French deck oven, the first element customers see when they enter the 9,200-square-foot store.

After visiting alternate formats and some of the more progressive supermarkets that have meals programs, Tasteez' owner Scott Wagner said he knew from the start that he wanted to spotlight the concept's from-scratch bakery operation. He hired consultant Mark Garcia, a veteran of Wegmans, H.E. Butt Grocery Co., and EatZi's, to help him put the concept together. Garcia, a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, has his own consulting business, The Retail Food Group, San Antonio.

Wagner noted that the bakery products keep customers coming back on a consistent basis, saying "they love our artisan breads and our pastries."

Six months after Tasteez opened, its customer traffic is still beating projections, Wagner said. Both he and Garcia emphasized that a good, from-scratch bakery can be a powerful magnet that also generates other sales.

"Bakery indicates freshness in a big way. In every concept I've done, I've tried to make the bakery really unique, and definitely a scratch operation. Who doesn't love fresh, hot baked bread, the real thing?" Garcia said.

"Think about the smells. What field trip did we love best as kids, besides the ice cream plant? I don't know what it is about freshly baked breads, but it can really set a retailer apart. They're good for incremental sales, too. You don't usually just buy a loaf of bread and walk out," he added.

The Denver area, which Englewood is near, is a particularly advantageous location for a concept that features its baked goods, said Tasteez' executive baker Michael Bortz.

"Denver is not overflowing with great bread bakeries. People are amazed that we're making artisan breads right here. They can see bread coming out of that $50,000 deck oven all through the day. Also, when I bake brownies, I load them on a rolling rack and move them around to different parts of the restaurant. When people smell them, they buy them," Bortz said.

"Some places can be visually stunning, but they miss something without those bakery aromas. That's a big miss.

The bakery here is a big, big factor in the concept."

Physically, the bakery production and display area occupies about a fifth of Tasteez' total space, and it accounts for about 20% of total sales. Unlike the bakery at EatZi's, it also brings customers face to face quickly with bakery display cases.

"It's a little nicer layout than at EatZi's. There, you walk into what looks like the production area, but here you see the beautiful pastry cases right away as well as the ovens right in front of you," Bortz said.

Officials at EatZi's have said in the past that 80% of their customers buy something from the bakery. Tasteez is not quite up to that point yet, Bortz said. He estimates that 65% to 70% of Tasteez' customers make a bakery buy, "but I think over the holidays that figure will go up."

Newly introduced holiday items particularly are expected to attract more customers to the bakery counter. Sun-dried cranberry bread is one of those and was introduced just before Thanksgiving. Made with sun-dried cranberries, orange zest and pecans, it retails for $4.99. Pumpkin bread and pumpkin and pecan tarts have also joined the holiday lineup.

The bakery's repertoire includes a classic European pastry, marjolaine, one of Bortz's personal favorites. It's a four-layer hazelnut meringue with vanilla bean, coffee and chocolate butter cream. That particular item retails for $3.50 a slice, served with vanilla bean sauce.

"It's a beautiful, old classic European pastry that you don't find much in this country," Bortz said.

The nature of some of the more than 80 items the bakery turns out makes the operation sound much more labor intensive than it is, Bortz explained. The key with an all-scratch operation, he said, is choosing the right product mix to maximize efficiency and profitability. And he added that Tasteez bakery has been profitable since the third month is was open.

"It's amazing how much a well-organized bakery team can produce if you do the right stuff. For example there are a million great desserts, but there aren't a million that look great, taste great, hold up great, and sell great that you can also mass produce.

"The idea is to be able to mass produce an item without sacrificing quality or the character of the product," he said, and Garcia underscored that comment.

"People get in trouble when they try to cut corners. Instead, it pays to hire a professional baker who can train people. If a bakery is run correctly, a two- or three-person team can pump out about 1,000 pounds of dough a day," Garcia said.

The single-unit Tasteez, which opened last July in the midst of Englewood's Tech Center, gets most of its traffic at lunchtime, but evening business is building, Wagner said.

One of the concept's differentiating elements is a bar serving alcoholic beverages and that's expected to eventually bulk up evening business. Seating is provided for 125, and currently 70% of Tasteez' business is eat-in. A chef's display case, much like the one at EatZi's, shows off such items as pecan-crusted trout and New York strip steaks, as well as a variety of sandwiches and salads. A hot grill is also part of Tasteez' set-up.